• Estuaries;
  • modern pollen rain;
  • New Zealand;
  • pollen dispersal;
  • pollen representation;
  • pollen–vegetation relationships;
  • salinity gradient


Aims  To quantify pollen–vegetation relationships from saline to freshwater in an estuarine gradient from surface samples of the modern pollen rain, to allow more accurate interpretations of the stratigraphic palynological record.

Location  Whangapoua Estuary, Great Barrier Island, northern New Zealand.

Methods  Six transects were laid out along a vegetation sequence running from estuarine mud to freshwater swamp. Along these transect lines, 108 plots were sampled for vegetation and surface sediments from wet sand, mud, plant litter or moss (sand and mud sites are inundated by most tides, other sites less frequently). All sediment samples were analysed for pollen. The relationships between plant species frequency and pollen representation were examined at a community scale using twinspan and ordination analyses, and for individual species using fidelity and dispersibility indices, regression and box-plot analyses.

Results  The quantitative relationships between source taxon vegetation frequency and its pollen representation varied between species due to differential pollen production and dispersal. twinspan of the surface pollen samples suggests five vegetation types: (A) mangrove (Avicennia marina); (C) Leptocarpus similis salt meadow; (D) Baumea sedges; (E) Leptospermum shrubland; and (F) Typha/Cordyline swamp forest. The (B) Juncus kraussii community is not represented palynologically owing to the destruction of its delicate pollen grains during acetolysis of samples. Detrended correspondence analysis places these communities on an estuarine-to-freshwater gradient. However, pollen assemblages at the seaward end of the salinity gradient are less clearly representative of the associated vegetation than those at the landward end, probably because the open vegetation at the former allows the influx of wind- and water-dispersed pollen from surrounding vegetation.

Main conclusions  The vegetation pattern (zonation) at Whangapoua is reflected in the pollen rain. When the long-distance and over-represented pollen types are excluded, five out of six of the broad vegetation communities can be identified by their pollen spectra. Species with high fidelity and low-to-moderate dispersibility indices can be used to identify the vegetation types in the sedimentary sequences. The more open vegetation types at the ‘marine end’ of the sequence tend to be ‘overwhelmed’ by regional pollen, but the nature of the sediments and the presence of discriminatory species (e.g. A. marina, Plagianthus divaricatus, Cordyline australis), even in small amounts, will allow correct identification of the local vegetation represented in sedimentary palynological sequences. A box-plot analysis indicates that the pollen and spore types A. marina (mangroves), Sarcocornia quinqueflora (salt meadow), P. divaricatus (sedges), Gleichenia (shrubland) and C. australis (swamp forest) are highly discriminatory in relation to vegetation type. These discriminatory palynomorphs help with the interpretation of stratigraphic pollen studies. However, salt marsh vegetation communities in the sediments must be interpreted with caution as the marine sediments are easily affected by erosion, bioturbation and tidal inundation effects.