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Keywords:

  • Biomization;
  • palaeovegetation patterns;
  • palaeoclimate reconstructions;
  • plant functional types;
  • drought-limited biomes;
  • mid-Holocene;
  • last glacial maximum;
  • temperate rain forests

Abstract

Aim  This paper documents reconstructions of the vegetation patterns in Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (SEAPAC region) in the mid-Holocene and at the last glacial maximum (LGM).

Methods  Vegetation patterns were reconstructed from pollen data using an objective biomization scheme based on plant functional types. The biomization scheme was first tested using 535 modern pollen samples from 377 sites, and then applied unchanged to fossil pollen samples dating to 6000 ± 500 or 18,000 ± 1000 14C yr bp.

Results  1. Tests using surface pollen sample sites showed that the biomization scheme is capable of reproducing the modern broad-scale patterns of vegetation distribution. The north–south gradient in temperature, reflected in transitions from cool evergreen needleleaf forest in the extreme south through temperate rain forest or wet sclerophyll forest (WSFW) and into tropical forests, is well reconstructed. The transitions from xerophytic through sclerophyll woodlands and open forests to closed-canopy forests, which reflect the gradient in plant available moisture from the continental interior towards the coast, are reconstructed with less geographical precision but nevertheless the broad-scale pattern emerges. 2. Differences between the modern and mid-Holocene vegetation patterns in mainland Australia are comparatively small and reflect changes in moisture availability rather than temperature. In south-eastern Australia some sites show a shift towards more moisture-stressed vegetation in the mid-Holocene with xerophytic woods/scrub and temperate sclerophyll woodland and shrubland at sites characterized today by WSFW or warm-temperate rain forest (WTRF). However, sites in the Snowy Mountains, on the Southern Tablelands and east of the Great Dividing Range have more moisture-demanding vegetation in the mid-Holocene than today. South-western Australia was slightly drier than today. The single site in north-western Australia also shows conditions drier than today in the mid-Holocene. Changes in the tropics are also comparatively small, but the presence of WTRF and tropical deciduous broadleaf forest and woodland in the mid-Holocene, in sites occupied today by cool-temperate rain forest, indicate warmer conditions. 3. Expansion of xerophytic vegetation in the south and tropical deciduous broadleaf forest and woodland in the north indicate drier conditions across mainland Australia at the LGM. None of these changes are informative about the degree of cooling. However the evidence from the tropics, showing lowering of the treeline and forest belts, indicates that conditions were between 1 and 9 °C (depending on elevation) colder. The encroachment of tropical deciduous broadleaf forest and woodland into lowland evergreen broadleaf forest implies greater aridity.

Main conclusions  This study provides the first continental-scale reconstruction of mid-Holocene and LGM vegetation patterns from Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (SEAPAC region) using an objective biomization scheme. These data will provide a benchmark for evaluation of palaeoclimate simulations within the framework of the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project.