This paper reviews recent fossil phytolith analysis from wet tropical West New Britain (Papua New Guinea). The Holocene vegetation has been influenced by spatially and temporally diverse patterns of both prehistoric human settlement and catastrophic volcanic events. We have hypothesized different landscape responses and recovery pathways to events during the last six millennia. Phytolith sequences on the coastal lowlands, the Willaumez Peninsula, and nearby island of Garua provide details of vegetational change and human interactions at different landscape scales since c. 5900 cal yr B.P. During this period four major volcanic eruptions (c. 5900, 3600, 1700 and 1400 cal yr B.P.) have disrupted the landscape. The evidence provides detailed descriptions of temporal and spatial patterning in the impacts and changes in the vegetation. In particular, vegetation responded differently from one event to another, reflecting both forest recovery from seed bank and shooting, and the influence of prehistoric people on recovering vegetation. Furthermore, after some events landscape recovery was moderately uniform, while after others there was considerable landscape partitioning. Although these differences largely relate to airfall tephra type, distribution and magnitude, the partitioning is more strongly influenced by human activity.
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Publisher's version of article available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2005.08.017