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A comparative study of ancient sedimentary DNA, pollen and macrofossils from permafrost sediments of northern Siberia reveals long-term vegetational stability

Authors

  • TINA JØRGENSEN,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • JAMES HAILE,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
    2. Murdoch University Ancient DNA Research Laboratory, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, 6150 Perth, WA, Australia
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  • PER MÖLLER,

    1. Department of Earth- and Ecosystem Sciences, Division of Geology/Quaternary Sciences, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, SE-22362 Lund, Sweden
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  • ANDREI ANDREEV,

    1. University of Cologne, Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Zuelpicher Str. 49a, D-50674 Cologne, Germany
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  • SANNE BOESSENKOOL,

    1. National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, NO-0318 Oslo, Norway
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  • MORTEN RASMUSSEN,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • FRANK KIENAST,

    1. Senckenberg, Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Research Station for Quaternary Palaeontology, Am Jakobskirchhof 4, 99423 Weimar, Germany
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  • ERIC COISSAC,

    1. Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, CNRS UMR 5553, Universite de Grenoble, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
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  • PIERRE TABERLET,

    1. Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, CNRS UMR 5553, Universite de Grenoble, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
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  • CHRISTIAN BROCHMANN,

    1. National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, NO-0318 Oslo, Norway
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  • NANCY H. BIGELOW,

    1. Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, PO Box 755940, Fairbanks, AK 99775-5940, USA
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  • KENNETH ANDERSEN,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • LUDOVIC ORLANDO,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • M. THOMAS P. GILBERT,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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  • ESKE WILLERSLEV

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark
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Eske Willerslev, Fax: +45 35322325; E-mail: ewillerslev@snm.ku.dk

Abstract

Although ancient DNA from sediments (sedaDNA) has been used to investigate past ecosystems, the approach has never been directly compared with the traditional methods of pollen and macrofossil analysis. We conducted a comparative survey of 18 ancient permafrost samples spanning the Late Pleistocene (46–12.5 thousand years ago), from the Taymyr Peninsula in northern Siberia. The results show that pollen, macrofossils and sedaDNA are complementary rather than overlapping and, in combination, reveal more detailed information on plant palaeocommunities than can be achieved by each individual approach. SedaDNA and macrofossils share greater overlap in plant identifications than with pollen, suggesting that sedaDNA is local in origin. These two proxies also permit identification to lower taxonomic levels than pollen, enabling investigation into temporal changes in species composition and the determination of indicator species to describe environmental changes. Combining data from all three proxies reveals an area continually dominated by a mosaic vegetation of tundra-steppe, pioneer and wet-indicator plants. Such vegetational stability is unexpected, given the severe climate changes taking place in the Northern Hemisphere during this time, with changes in average annual temperatures of >22 °C. This may explain the abundance of ice-age mammals such as horse and bison in Taymyr Peninsula during the Pleistocene and why it acted as a refugium for the last mainland woolly mammoth. Our finding reveals the benefits of combining sedaDNA, pollen and macrofossil for palaeovegetational reconstruction and adds to the increasing evidence suggesting large areas of the Northern Hemisphere remained ecologically stable during the Late Pleistocene.

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