Monsoon forced evolution of savanna and the spread of agro-pastoralism in peninsular India

Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 27;11(1):9032. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88550-8.


An unresolved issue in the vegetation ecology of the Indian subcontinent is whether its savannas, characterized by relatively open formations of deciduous trees in C4-grass dominated understories, are natural or anthropogenic. Historically, these ecosystems have widely been regarded as anthropogenic-derived, degraded descendants of deciduous forests. Despite recent work showing that modern savannas in the subcontinent fall within established bioclimatic envelopes of extant savannas elsewhere, the debate persists, at least in part because the regions where savannas occur also have a long history of human presence and habitat modification. Here we show for the first time, using multiple proxies for vegetation, climate and disturbances from high-resolution, well-dated lake sediments from Lonar Crater in peninsular India, that neither anthropogenic impact nor fire regime shifts, but monsoon weakening during the past ~ 6.0 kyr cal. BP, drove the expansion of savanna at the expense of forests in peninsular India. Our results provide unambiguous evidence for a climate-induced origin and spread of the modern savannas of peninsular India at around the mid-Holocene. We further propose that this savannization preceded and drove the introduction of agriculture and development of sedentism in this region, rather than vice-versa as has often been assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't