Drought, vegetation change, and human history on Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua, Easter Island)

Daniel Mann, James Edwards, Julie Chase, Warren Beck, Richard Reanier, Michele Mass, Bruce Finney, John Loret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Stratigraphic records from lake sediment cores and slope deposits on Rapa Nui document prehistoric human impacts and natural environmental changes. A hiatus in sedimentation in Rano Raraku suggests that this lake basin dried out sometime after 4090-4410 cal yr BP and refilled only decades to centuries before AD 1180-1290. Widespread ecosystem changes caused by forest clearance by Polynesian farmers began shortly after the end of this drought. Terrestrial sections show a chronology of burning and soil erosion similar to the lake cores. Although changing sediment types and shifts in the pollen rain suggest that droughts occurred earlier in the Holocene, as yet there is no evidence for droughts occurring after AD 1180-1290. The timing of the agricultural colonization of Rapa Nui now seems well established at ca. AD 1200 and it was accompanied by rapid deforestation that was probably exacerbated by the island's small size, its droughty climate, and the rarity of primeval fires. Detailed records of a large interval of Rapa Nui's ecological history remain elusive due to the drought hiatus in the Rano Raraku sediment record. We find no evidence for a "rat outbreak impact" on Rapa Nui's vegetation preceding anthropogenic forest clearance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-28
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Drought
  • Easter Island
  • Fire history
  • Island ecology
  • Island microcosm
  • Pollen analysis
  • Polynesian archaeology
  • Rapa Nui
  • Rat impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Drought, vegetation change, and human history on Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua, Easter Island)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this