Aims The present paper concerns the analysis of macro-remains (plant imprints) from high altitude travertine deposits dating back to the early Holocene (9800 BP). Our results allow us to discuss treeline location and ecology, and to supplement previous data based on pollen from natural sediments and charcoal from natural soil.
Location The travertine under study is located in the Queyras massif, in the southern French Alps, along the Italian border. The site is situated on a south-facing slope.
Methods The travertine deposit has been dated by 230Th/234U. Taxonomic identification of plant imprints was achieved by comparison of the morphology of fossil specimens with extant material.
Results Imprints of Pinus uncinata (cones and needles), broad-leaved trees (Betula cf. pubescens, Populus tremula and Salix spp.), and unidentified trunks have been found. The plant assemblage records the existence at a high altitude (2200 m) of shade-intolerant vegetation at around 9800 BP. Our data indicate that the treeline limit was at least 100 m higher than previously thought. The morphological features of the travertine, the plant assemblage and trunk diameters indicate that during the travertinization process, vegetation around the site was probably dense with tall upright trees.
Main conclusions Our data show that Pinus uncinata and broad-leaved trees developed at 2200 m, while regional pollen analyses locate the treeline at lower altitudes. Different research methods appear to provide different results. Around 9800 BP tree regeneration and growth were made possible up to at least 2200 m a.s.l., probably as a result of warmer and wetter summers. Warmer conditions are inferred from the predicted increase in incoming solar radiation based on calculated orbital variations, and wetter conditions are inferred from the build-up of the travertine.