The late quaternary palaeoenvironments of a subalpine wetland in Cathedral Peak, KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg.
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In contrast to the wealth of palaeoenvironmental research stemming from the eastern Afromontane archipelago, the southern Afromontane component, which comprises largely of the Drakensberg, remains understudied. The Drakensberg constitute an area of significant biodiversity, cultural and economic importance. Suitable sites for palaeoenvironmental research are rare in South Africa due to general arid climatic conditions over much of the country. The KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg offers a unique opportunity for palaeoenvironmental research through its increased rainfall and higher altitudes, which enable the development of wetlands that have the potential for polliniferous accumulation to occur. Catchment Six in Cathedral Peak is one such wetland that has provided an opportunity to research palaeoenvironmental conditions of the southern Afromontane archipelago component. A 371 cm sediment core was extracted from a subalpine wetland in Catchment Six and analysed using multiple proxies including; pollen, charcoal and geochemistry (carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes). A chronological framework for the core was established based on accelerated mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating of eight bulk sediment samples. A basal date of 15,100 ± 445 cal yr BP was determined at a depth of 298 cm. Poor pollen preservation of the basal portion of the core limited palaeoenvironmental inference for the late Pleistocene section of the record. The multiproxy record provides high chronological resolution for the early to late Holocene. Multi-proxy data indicate that the Holocene period in the Drakensberg was characterised by variable climatic conditions. Charcoal data indicate periods of increased regional fires in the last ca. 400 cal yr BP. Palaeoenvironmental inferences from the Catchment Six record are broadly in agreement with regional climatic indications based on existing literature.