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Late Quaternary vegetation and climatic history of eastern Nepal

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The late Quaternary vegetation and climatic history at high altitude in eastern Nepal was studied through stratigraphy, radiocarbon dating and pollen analysis. The Thulo Pokhari lake (27°41′ N, 87°43′ E, ca. 3980 m a.s.l.) is just above the subalpine Abies spectabilis–Betula utilis forest zone and surrounded by Rhododendron scrub. The climate in the studied area is very humid under the influence of the monsoon. Silty sediments suggesting lake conditions prevailed at the lower part of the sediment samples, whereas the upper part consisted mainly of herbaceous peat indicating a mire condition. The pollen record extends back to ca. 11000 yrbp. Although the absence of major changes between the pollen assemblages of the Pleistocene and those in the Holocene was attributed to the situation of the sampling plot above the forest limit, the results suggest the following history. (1) The abundance of Pinus pollen around 11000 yrbprepresents expansion of the area unoccupied by late successional trees and/or a drier condition. Significant occurrence of Picea pollen is noteworthy, since this genus is absent in eastern Nepal at present in spite of its wide distribution throughout the neighbouring areas of the Himalayas. (2) The increase in abundance of Quercus pollen and the decline in Pinus pollen in the latest Pleistocene represent climatic amelioration favourable to late successional mesophytes. (3) The climate was most moist and mild in the SP-III, although the absolute age of the pollen zone is not distinct. The percentages of broadleaved trees such as Alnus, Betula, Carpinus and Corylus were increased at the expense of Quercus and coniferous pollen types. Sedimentation was interrupted by lake level decline and/or glacial advance during the period from ca. 11000–1600 yrbp. (4) The increase in abundance of coniferous pollen types such as Pinus, Abies and Tsuga indicates that the climate became drier and cooler, and the present subalpine forest zone composed of A. spectabilis, T. dumosa and Betula utilis was established around 1600 yrbp. The formation of bog or alpine meadow vegetation during the period was shown by the 14C dates of the peat and the increase in Rosaceae and herbaceous pollen. (5) The increase in abundance of Ericaceae and Alnus pollen in the SP-V indicates that the present alpine Rhododendron scrub zone has been established since ca. 940 yrbpas a result of human influence on the original vegetation. This interpretation is supported by the decline in the proportion of arboreal pollen. Since the age of the initiation of human influence varies with the altitude and region, further study will be necessary to determine the accurate age.

Keywords: Himalayas; Nepal; Palaeoecology; climatic change; late Quaternary; pollen analysis; vegetational history

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba, Aoba-cho 955–2, Chuo-ku, Chiba 260, Japan, 2: University of Marketing and Distribution Science, Gakuen-nishi-machi 3–1, Nishi-ku, Kobe 651–21, Japan

Publication date: 1997-01-01

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