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The ‘oriental’ component of the Balkan flora: evidence of presence on the Thracian Plain during the Weichselian late-glacial

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Abstract Aim 

To obtain palaeobotanical evidence enabling evaluation of the viability of the hypothesis that the ‘oriental’ element of the Balkan flora reached south-east Europe from Turkey prior to the Holocene, probably via the Thracian Plain during a late Quaternary glacial stage but no later than the late Weichselian. Location 

Ezero wetland, northern Thracian Plain, Bulgaria. Methods 

We undertook analyses of pollen and microspores, plant macrofossils, wood fragments and molluscs recovered from sediments deposited in the Ezero wetland during the late Weichselian and Weichselian late-glacial. Sediment chronology was determined using radiocarbon age estimates. Results 

Six metres of sediments were recovered from the basin, of which the lower 3 m, extending from c. 15,450 cal yr bpto the early Allerød, was analysed. A major hiatus occurred after c. 13,900 cal yr bp, the overlying sediments being of late Holocene age. Palaeobotanical evidence indicates predominantly open vegetation during the Weichselian late-glacial, although macrofossil remains of woody taxa demonstrate the local presence of patches of wooded steppe and gallery forest. Changes in the composition of the steppe vegetation, and in the nature of the sediments deposited in the basin, indicate changes in climatic conditions, especially in the hydrological regime and in the moisture available to vegetation. After an initially relatively moister phase, the final centuries of the late Weichselian were drier, as was a short interval that may correlate with the Older Dryas. Moister conditions characterize intervals corresponding to the Bølling and Allerød sub-units of the Weichselian late-glacial interstadial. Although the pollen evidence is thus consistent with that from previous studies of this period in south-east Europe and south-west Asia, indicating predominantly open steppe vegetation, the macrofossil evidence indicates the persistent local presence of woody taxa. The woody taxa recorded include Celtis tournefortii-type and Juniperus cf. J. excelsa, two taxa today characteristic of the wooded steppes of Anatolia and members of the ‘oriental’ element of the southern Balkan flora, as well as Rosaceae Subfams. Maloideae and Prunoideae, Alnus and Fraxinus. Main conclusions 

The late Weichselian vegetation of the northern Thracian Plain included patches of wooded steppe that supported members of the ‘oriental’ element of the modern Balkan flora. The presence of such taxa renders viable the hypothesis that they could have reached south-east Europe from Turkey via the Thracian Plain during glacial times. Such hypotheses in historical biogeography can be evaluated critically using the evidence obtained from plant macrofossil analyses in combination with that from pollen analysis.
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Keywords: Celtis tournefortii-type; Irano-Pontic; Juniperus excelsa; Thracian Plain; Weichselian late-glacial; late Weichselian; plant macrofossils; pollen analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Archaeology, Durham University, Durham, UK 2: Laboratory of Palynology, Department of Botany, Faculty of Biology, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria 3: Munkácsy Mihály Museum, Department of Natural Sciences, Békéscsaba, Hungary 4: School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, Durham, UK

Publication date: 2008-05-01

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