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Treeline Fluctuations Recorded for 12,500 Years by Soil Profiles, Pollen, and Plant Macrofossils in the Central Swiss Alps

Willy Tinner, Brigitta Ammann and Peter Germann
Arctic and Alpine Research
Vol. 28, No. 2 (May, 1996), pp. 131-147
DOI: 10.2307/1551753
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1551753
Page Count: 17
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Treeline Fluctuations Recorded for 12,500 Years by Soil Profiles, Pollen, and Plant Macrofossils in the Central Swiss Alps
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Abstract

Past treelines can rarely be recorded by pollen percentages alone, but pollen concentration, pollen influx, and plant macrofossils (including stomata of conifers) are more reliable indicators. In addition, ancient forest soils above today's treeline may trace the maximum upper expansion of the forest since the last glaciation. Charcoal in such soil profiles may be radiocarbon dated. Our example from the Central Swiss Alps at the Alpe d'Essertse consists of a plant-macrofossil diagram and pollen diagrams of the pond Gouillé Rion at 2343 m a.s.l. and a sequence of soil profiles from 1780 m to 2600 m a.s.l. The area around the pond was forested with Larix decidua and Pinus cembra between 9500 and 3600 BP. After 4700 BP the forest became more open and Juniperus nana and Alnus viridis expanded (together with Picea abies in the subalpine forest). Between 1700 and 900 BP the Juniperus nana and Alnus viridis scrubs declined while meadows and pastures took over, so that the pond Gouillé Rion was definitively above timberline. The highest Holocene treeline was at 2400 to 2450 m a.s.l. (i.e. 50 to 100 m higher than the uppermost single specimen of Pinus cembra today) between 9000 and 4700 BP, but it is not yet dated in more detail. The highest charcoal of Pinus cembra at 2380 m a.s.l. has a radiocarbon date of 6010 ± 70 BP. Around 6900 BP a strong climatic deterioration caused an opening of timberline forest. First indicators of anthropogenic influence occurred at 4700 BP, when the forest limit started to move down. The lowering of timberline after 4700 BP was probably due to combined effects of human and climatic impact.

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