Glacial refugia of temperate trees in Europe: insights from species distribution modelling

Authors

  • Jens-Christian Svenning,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Aarhus, Department of Biological Sciences, Ny Munkegade, building 1540, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark; and
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  • Signe Normand,

    1. University of Aarhus, Department of Biological Sciences, Ny Munkegade, building 1540, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark; and
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  • Masa Kageyama

    1. Laboratoire des sciences du climat et de l’environnement/IPSL, UMR CEA–CNRS–UVSQ 1572, CE Saclay, l’Orme des Merisiers, Bâtiment 701, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette cedex, France
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*Correspondence author. E-mail: svenning@biology.au.dk

Summary

  • 1The Pleistocene is an important period for assessing the impact of climate change on biodiversity. During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; 21 000 years ago), large glaciers and permafrost reached far south in Europe. Trees are traditionally thought to have survived only in scattered Mediterranean refugia (southern refugia hypothesis), but a recent proposal suggests that trees may have been much more widely and northerly distributed (northern refugia hypothesis).
  • 2In this study, the southern vs. northern refugia hypotheses were investigated by estimating the potential LGM distributions of 7 boreal and 15 nemoral widespread European tree species using species distribution modelling. The models were calibrated using data for modern species distributions and climate and projected onto two LGM climate simulations for Europe. Five modelling variants were implemented.
  • 3Models with moderate to good predictive ability for current species range limits and species richness patterns were developed.
  • 4Broadly consistent results were obtained irrespective of the climate simulation and modelling variant used. Our results indicate that LGM climatic conditions suitable for boreal species existed across Central and Eastern Europe and into the Russian Plain. In contrast, suitable climatic conditions for nemoral tree species were largely restricted to the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. Large proportions of these northern and southern regions would have been suitable for a number of boreal or boreal plus nemoral tree species, respectively.
  • 5These findings are consistent with recent palaeoecological and phylogeographic data regarding LGM distributions of trees and other boreal and nemoral taxa.
  • 6Synthesis. It is clear that the view of the LGM landscape in Europe as largely treeless, especially north of the Alps, needs to be revised. Trees were probably much more widespread during the LGM than hitherto thought, although patchily distributed at low densities due to low atmospheric CO2 concentrations and high wind-speeds. The findings presented here help explain the occurrence of mammal assemblages with mixtures of forest, tundra and steppe species at many localities in southern Central and Eastern Europe during the LGM, as well as the phylogeographic evidence for the extra-Mediterranean persistence of many boreal species.

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