Colombian biomes are reconstructed at 45 sites from the modern period extending to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The basis for our reconstruction is pollen data assigned to plant functional types and biomes at six 3000-yr intervals. A reconstruction of modern biomes is used to check the treatment of the modern pollen data set against a map of potential vegetation. This allows the biomes reconstructed at past periods to be assessed relative to the modern situation. This process also provides a check on the a priori assignment of pollen taxa to plant functional types and biomes. For the majority of the sites, the pollen data accurately reflect the potential vegetation, even though much of the original vegetation has been transformed by agricultural practices. At 18 000 14C yr BP, a generally cool and dry environment is reflected in biome, assignments of cold mixed forests, cool evergreen forests and cool grassland–shrub; the latter extending to lower altitudes than presently recorded. This signal is strongly recorded at 15 000 and 12 000 14C yr BP, the vegetation at these times also reflecting a relatively cool and dry environment. At 9000 14C yr BP there is a shift to biomes thought to result from slightly cooler environmental conditions. This trend is reversed by 6000 14C yr BP; most sites, within a range of different environmental settings, recording a shift to more xeric biome types. There is an expansion of steppe and cool mixed-forest biomes, replacing tropical dry forest and cool grassland–shrub biomes, respectively. These changes in biome assignments from the modern situation can be interpreted as a biotic response to mid-Holocene climatic aridity. At 3000 14C yr BP the shift is mainly to biomes characteristic of slightly more mesic environmental conditions.
There are a number of sites that do not change biome assignment relative to the modern reconstruction, although the affinities that these sites have to a specific biome do change. These ‘anomalies’ are interpreted on a site-by-site basis. Spatially constant, but differential response of the vegetation to climatic shifts are related to changes in moisture sources and the importance of edaphic controls on the vegetation. The Late Quaternary reconstruction of large-scale vegetation dynamics in Colombia allows an understanding of the environmental controls on these to be developed. In particular, shifts in the character of the main climatic systems that influence Colombian vegetation are described. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.