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Ecological tree line history and palaeoclimate – review of megafossil evidence from the Swedish Scandes



The postglacial tree line and climate history in the Swedish Scandes have been inferred from megafossil tree remains. Investigated species are mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and grey alder (Alnus incana). Betula and Pinus first appeared on early deglaciated nunataks during the Lateglacial. Their tree lines peaked between 9600 and 9000 cal. a BP, almost 600 m higher than present-day elevations. This implies (adjusted for land uplift) that early Holocene summer temperatures may have been 2.3°C above modern ones. Elevational tree line retreat characterized the Holocene tree line evolution. For short periods, excursions from this trend have occurred. Between c. 12 000 and 10 000 cal. a BP, a pine-dominated subalpine belt prevailed. A first major episode of descent occurred c. 8200 cal. a BP, possibly forced by cooling and an associated shift to a deeper and more persistent snow pack. Thereafter, the subalpine birch forest belt gradually evolved at the expense of the prior pine-dominated tree line ecotone. A second episode of pine descent took place c. 4800 cal. a BP. Historical tree line positions are viewed in relation to early 21st century equivalents, and indicate that tree line elevations attained during the past century and in association with modern climate warming are highly unusual, but not unique, phenomena from the perspective of the past 4800 years. Prior to that, the pine tree line (and summer temperatures) was consistently higher than present, as it was also during the Roman and Medieval periods, c. 1900 and 1000 cal. a BP, respectively.