The Holocene Period for the province of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, is characterised by periodic catastrophic volcanism. The region is mantled in dense wet tropical rainforest, and has been occupied by people since the Pleistocene. Analyses of peat from two nearby sites within a lowland rainforest environment provide us with a macro-level landscape account of the periodic destruction and recovery of the coastal forests during seven periods of volcanic activity in the latter part (2900 yr ago to present) of the Holocene. Radiocarbon dating shows the very close correlation of the peat and tephra layers at both sites, yet the pollen analysis reveals different vegetation communities. These initial results allow us to begin identifying the processes of recovery, and to recognise different ecological pressures placed on vegetation at these neighbouring sites. Evidence of hydrological changes are observed beginning with a marine incursion recorded at Garu Site 3 1360 14C yr B.P. The distinct differences in the vegetation re-establishment and community regeneration rates suggest the greater level of disturbance at Garu Site 1 could be related to the depth of the ashfall, although the proximity of a known human settlement may also be a contributing factor. Of note, palynologically, we found that the fern spore flora is particularly rich and believe it will be useful for ecological interpretation.
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Publisher's version of article available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2005.08.012