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Boreal tree taxa in the central Scandes during the Late-Glacial: implications for Late-Quaternary forest history

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Abstract:

Aim

This paper seeks to elucidate the first post-glacial arrival of tree species to high elevations in the Scandes. This enables testing of general theories concerning glacial refugia, immigration routes and palaeoclimate. Location

The study site, 1360 m a.s.l., was close to the summit of Mt Åreskutan in the alpine region of the southern Swedish Scandes, 400–500 m above modern tree-limits. Methods

Tree megafossils (trunks, roots, cones) were retrieved (and radiocarbon-dated) from the ground surface in the forefields of receding `perennial' snow-patches. This approach allows elevational range-margin reconstructions to be made with an accuracy not possible with any other method. Results and conclusions

Megafossils were recovered substantially higher and earlier than previously recorded or inferred for tree growth in this part of Europe. The species were Betula pubescens Ehrh. ssp. tortuosa (Ledeb.) Nyman, Picea abies (L.) Karst. and Pinus sylvestris (L.). The oldest dates obtained are c. 14,000, 11,000 and 11,700  BP for these species, respectively. For the first time, explicit evidence of tree growth in the Late-Glacial (including the Younger Dryas stadial) is demonstrated for central/northern Scandinavia. The swift appearance of boreal tree species at high northern latitudes and altitudes on the western fringe of Scandinavia and near the most extended margin of the Weichselian ice sheet hypothetically suggests that the first immigration of the trees considered here was from the west. Glacial refugia for these species (other plants and animals as well) on the exposed continental shelf areas west and southwest of Norway is hypothesized. By extension, the results fit into a more general pattern, suggesting the presence of boreal and temperate trees quite close to the full glacial (Weichselian) ice margins in central Europe. Thus, the Quaternary forest and landscape history of Europe seems more complex than previously believed.

Keywords: Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa; Holocene; Late-Glacial; Picea abies; Pinus sylvestris; Scandinavia; deglaciation; glacial refugia; immigration; megafossils

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2699.2002.00743.x

Affiliations: Physical Geography, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Publication date: September 1, 2002

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