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A new methodology for reconstructing climate and vegetation from modern pollen assemblages: an example from British Columbia


*Simon Goring, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. E-mail:


Aim  We used modern pollen assemblages to develop a method for climate reconstruction that reduces the spatial autocorrelation of residuals and accounts for the strong topographic and climatic variation that occurs in British Columbia, Canada.

Location  British Columbia, Canada, including sites both on the mainland and on adjacent islands (Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island).

Methods  New pollen assemblages from surface-sediment samples collected in British Columbia were combined with other published and unpublished samples (= 284). Multivariate rank-distances between sample sites and a randomized set of sites within the province were calculated for climate parameters to determine whether gaps in the current network of present-day pollen sample sites exist. Lacustrine surface-sediment pollen assemblages (= 145) were ordinated using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS), and a generalized additive model (GAM) was used to reconstruct modern mean warmest month temperature (MWMT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP) from the NMDS ordination. The results were compared with standard climate reconstruction techniques, including the modern analogue technique, partial least squares, weighted averaging, weighted averaging–partial least squares and factor analysis.

Results  Reconstructions of MWMT and MAP using NMDS and GAM were comparable to those of existing models. When reconstructing MWMT, the NMDS/GAM method had a lower root-mean-squared error of prediction (RMSEP), lower spatial autocorrelation and higher correlation with observed temperature values than the other methods tested. When reconstructing MAP, the partial least squares method performed better than the NMDS/GAM method for RMSEP and correlation with observed values; however, the NMDS/GAM method had a lower spatial autocorrelation of residuals.

Main conclusions  NMDS reveals strong relationships among modern pollen assemblages, vegetation and climate parameters. Climate models using NMDS and GAM are comparable to other palaeoecological reconstruction models, but provide lower spatial autocorrelation of residuals for both parameters tested. An inverse distance-weighted surface of multivariate rank-climate distances generated from the network of pollen sample sites indicates that greater sampling intensity in north-western and central-interior British Columbia is required in order to obtain an accurate representation of climatic and vegetation diversity in the province.