Abrupt climate change as an important agent of ecological change in the Northeast U.S. throughout the past 15,000 years
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We use a series of tests to evaluate two competing hypotheses about the association of climate and vegetation trends in the northeastern United States over the past 15 kyrs. First, that abrupt climate changes on the scale of centuries had little influence on long-term vegetation trends, and second, that abrupt climate changes interacted with slower climate trends to determine the regional sequence of vegetation phases. Our results support the second. Large dissimilarity between temporally-close fossil pollen samples indicates large vegetation changes within 500 years across >4° of latitude at ca. 13.25-12.75, 12.0-11.5, 10.5, 8.25, and 5.25 ka. The evidence of vegetation change coincides with independent isotopic and sedimentary indicators of rapid shifts in temperature and moisture balance. In several cases, abrupt changes reversed long-term vegetation trends, such as when spruce (Picea) and pine (Pinus) pollen percentages rapidly declined to the north and increased to the south at ca. 13.25-12.75 and 8.25 ka respectively. Abrupt events accelerated other long‐term trends, such as a regional increase in beech (Fagus) pollen percentages at 8.5-8.0 ka. The regional hemlock (Tsuga) decline at ca. 5.25 ka is unique among the abrupt events, and may have been induced by high climatic variability (i.e., repeated severe droughts from 5.7-2.0 ka); autoregressive ecological and evolutionary processes could have maintained low hemlock abundance until ca. 2.0 ka. Delayed increases in chestnut (Castanea) pollen abundance after 5.8 and 2.5 ka also illustrate the potential for multi-century climate variability to influence species’ recruitment as well as mortality. Future climate changes will probably also rapidly initiate persistent vegetation change, particularly by acting as broad, regional-scale disturbances.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2009. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (2009): 1693-1709, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.04.005.
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