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Quaternary History of Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America and Europe

Margaret B. Davis
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Vol. 70, No. 3 (1983), pp. 550-563
DOI: 10.2307/2992086
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2992086
Page Count: 14
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Quaternary History of Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America and Europe
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Abstract

The temperate deciduous forest of North America is more diverse than the deciduous forest of western Europe. This difference has traditionally been explained by greater survival in North America of deciduous species during the Quaternary. More recent investigations have shown, however, that late-Tertiary forests of Europe had already become dominated by conifers, with deciduous angiosperms a minor component. During the Quaternary, coniferous species and genera were lost from the European flora, leaving a few species and genera of angiosperms as the dominant trees. Cold, dry, continental climate during the glaciations caused the extinction of conifers; deciduous trees apparently survived these climatic conditions in pockets of favorable habitat in the eastern Mediterranean region. In eastern North America, in contrast, temperate deciduous forests are quite similar to the forests that were present in the late Tertiary. During the Quaternary, relatively few extinctions occurred, although deciduous angiosperms were displaced from the Appalachian mountains, surviving in small populations in the lower Mississippi valley or on the southern coastal plain. Coniferous forests dominated by spruce grew in the Great Plains, and forests dominated by pine grew on the southern part of the Atlantic coastal plain. At the opening of the Holocene, and presumably at the beginning of all the previous interglacials, tree distributions changed dramatically as temperate species rapidly extended their ranges northward. Range boundaries have continued to change throughout the Holocene, as expansions and contractions of range have occurred as the result of climatic change. Quaternary climatic history caused dramatic changes in the forests of both areas, indicating that modern species distributions can no longer be considered relicts of Tertiary distributions. Throughout the Quaternary, species ranges have changed in response to changes in regional climate; many forest communities are of recent origin, having received their present complements of tree species within the last 5,000 years. Forest communities in Eastern North America and in Western Europe as well have been invaded repeatedly during the Holocene by forest species expanding from refuges far to the south.

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