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Vegetation Changes and Timberline Fluctuations in the Central Alps as Indicators of Holocene Climatic Oscillations

Lucia Wick and Willy Tinner
Arctic and Alpine Research
Vol. 29, No. 4 (Nov., 1997), pp. 445-458
DOI: 10.2307/1551992
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1551992
Page Count: 14
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Vegetation Changes and Timberline Fluctuations in the Central Alps as Indicators of Holocene Climatic Oscillations
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Abstract

Pollen and plant-macrofossil data are presented for two lakes near the timberline in the Italian (Lago Basso, 2250 m) and Swiss Central Alps (Gouillé Rion, 2343 m). The reforestation at both sites started at 9700-9500 BP with Pinus cembra, Larix decidua, and Betula. The timberline reached its highest elevation between 8700 and 5000 BP and retreated after 5000 BP, due to a mid-Holocene climatic change and increasing human impact since about 3500 BP (Bronze Age). The expansion of Picea abies at Lago Basso between ca. 7500 and 6200 BP was probably favored by cold phases accompanied by increased oceanicity, whereas in the area of Gouillé Rion, where spruce expanded rather late (between 4500 and 3500 BP), human influence equally might have been important. The mass expansion of Alnus viridis between ca. 5000 and 3500 BP probably can be related to both climatic change and human activity at timberline. During the early and middle Holocene a series of timberline fluctuations is recorded as declines in pollen and macrofossil concentrations of the major tree species, and as increases in nonarboreal pollen in the pollen percentage diagram of Gouillé Rion. Most of the periods of low timberline can be correlated by radiocarbon dating with climatic changes in the Alps as indicated by glacier advances in combination with palynological records, solifluction, and dendroclimatical data. Lago Basso and Gouillé Rion are the only sites in the Alps showing complete palaeobotanical records of cold phases between 10,000 and 2000 BP with very good time control. The altitudinal range of the Holocene treeline fluctuations caused by climate most likely was not more than 100 to 150 m. A possible correlation of a cold period at ca. 7500-6500 BP (Misox oscillation) in the Alps is made with paleoecological data from North America and Scandinavia and a climatic signal in the GRIP ice core from central Greenland 8200 yr ago (ca. 7400 yr uncal. BP).

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