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Patterns of post-glacial spread and the extent of glacial refugia of European beech (Fagus sylvatica)

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Abstract Aim 

Establishing possible relationships between the magnitudes of the glacial distribution of the European beech, Fagus sylvatica L., and its post-glacial spread. Location 

Europe. Methods 

A database of over 400 pollen records has been used to locate Fagus populations at the end of the last glacial and during the post-glacial in Europe and to assess the areal extent of their past distribution. Results 

The rate of late-glacial and post-glacial increase in the number of pollen sites where Fagus was locally present conforms well to a logistic model of population growth. This suggests that the area occupied by beech populations expanded exponentially from the glacial refugia for a duration of over 10,000 years, until about 3500 yrbp. In the past three millennia beech populations increased at a slower rate, tending towards an equilibrium value. Main conclusions 

The conformity of the increase in beech distribution to the classical logistic model of population growth indicates that: (1) a multiplicative biological process was the main factor shaping the pattern of the post-glacial expansion of F. sylvatica in Europe, (2) climate conditions, human activity and competition may have influenced its rate of spread, and (3) beech populations did not expand with a moving closed front, but with a diffuse spread from scattered nuclei. The distribution of Fagus in Europe at the end of the last glacial appears to have been of two orders of magnitude less extensive than at present. Pleistocene refugia were likely to have been a mosaic of sparse stands of small populations scattered in multiple regions. Fagus populations appear to have increased very slowly and to a moderate extent in southern Europe, where they are now declining slightly. The central European populations increased quickly and extensively, reaching northern Europe, and are now approaching their carrying capacity.
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Keywords: Europe; Fagus sylvatica; late-glacial; logistic model; pollen data; population expansion; post-glacial

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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