A 37,500-year pollen record from Lake Malaŵi and implications for the biogeography of afromontane forests



Abstract. Two 10-metre cores were analysed and a 37,500 year pollen stratigraphy was established for Lake Malaŵi. A lowstand from 37,500 to 35,900 BP indicates extremely dry conditions. From 35,900 to 34,000 BP montane forests were widespread indicating cold, moist climate. Between 34,000 and 26,400 BP warm and dry conditions prevailed and forest area decreased. During the Last Glacial Maximum montane forest was widespread in the catchment, although woodlands apparently persisted at low altitudes: the expansion of the montane forest indicates that the aridity that affected equatorial Africa during this time period did not affect the Lake Malaŵi Catchment. The cold and relatively moist conditions during the Late Pleistocene probably allowed biotic interchange between the highlands of East and West Africa via the highlands along the Zaire—Zambezi watershed and among now-isolated islands of Afromontane vegetation in the Lake Malaŵi catchment. The Holocene is characterized by climate and vegetation quite similar to today, with indications of slightly wetter conditions between 6150 and 3000 bp and slightly drier conditions between 8000 and 6150 bp. The low percentages of montane forest pollen throughout the Holocene support the hypothesis that the montane grasslands of Malaŵi are not recently anthropogenic.