Simulated glacial and interglacial vegetation across Africa: implications for species phylogenies and trans-African migration of plants and animals


Sharon A. Cowling, Department of Geography, University of Toronto, 100 St George Street, 5th Floor Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3G3 Canada, e-mail:


The paleoenvironmental context of plant and animal species evolution (including glacial migrations and population separations) is based on a very patchy and incomplete paleo-phytogeographic record. It was our objective, therefore, to provide an additional source for paleovegetation comparison by presenting simulations from a state-of-the-art fully coupled earth system model (HadCM3LC). We simulated potential paleovegetation distributions following pre-Industrial and last glacial maximum (LGM) climate forcing for the continent of Africa. Our LGM simulations indicate that tropical broadleaf forest was not severely displaced by expanding grasslands within central Africa, although the outer extent of closed forest decreases, particularly in the north. Our simulations indicate that the structure of glacial forests may have been much different from today, in that LGM simulations indicate that forests were likely characterized by lower leaf area indexes, lower tree heights and lower vegetation carbon content. On the other hand, warmer interglacial climate (like our pre-Industrial climate scenario) results in simulated expansion of tropical forest from coast to coast across central Africa that we postulate could have acted as a barrier to plant and animal species migrations. We suggest that our modeling experiments have implications for the interpretation of phylogenetic data, including that of our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens.