Aim To locate glacial refugia of thermophilous plant species in Spain.
Location Two south-eastern Spanish Neanderthal man sites in Murcia; namely, the inland Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar and the coastal Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo.
Methods We use pollen found in cave sediments as a source of palaeobotanical and palaeoecological information. The findings are discussed with regard both to animal remains from both sites, and also to other refugia in south-eastern Spain and elsewhere in the Iberian Peninsula.
Results Both sequences show persistence of abundant mesothermophilous trees during the last glacial stage, suggesting both localities were reservoirs of phytodiversity and woodland species. At both sites, deciduous and evergreen oaks are the most abundant components, followed by a wide variety of deciduous trees and sclerophyllous shrubs, including Ibero-North African xerothermic scrub near the coast.
Conclusions Incomplete information underlies a common misapprehension that Iberian glacial refugia were confined to southernmost parts of the peninsula. A rather different picture of Quaternary refugia emerges from consideration of pollen sequences from caves (and other inputs such as macroscopic charcoal, spatial genetic structure of present-day populations, faunal remains, and present-day distribution of thermophilous species). This picture offers a view of numerous viable areas for woodland species in southern Spain, in addition to others in the mountain ranges, both in continental central Spain and those of northern Spain: these stretch from the Mediterranean coast of Catalonia to the westernmost extent of the Bay of Biscay.