Aim To produce a robust, comprehensive global biome reconstruction for the Middle Pliocene (c. 3.6–2.6 Ma), which is based on an internally consistent palaeobotanical data set and a state-of-the-art coupled climate–vegetation model. The reconstruction gives a more rigorous picture of climate and environmental change during the Middle Pliocene and provides a new boundary condition for future general circulation model (GCM) studies.
Methods Compilation of Middle Pliocene vegetation data from 202 marine and terrestrial sites into the comprehensive GIS data base TEVIS (Tertiary Environmental Information System). Translation into an internally consistent classification scheme using 28 biomes. Comparison and synthesis of vegetation reconstruction from palaeodata with the outputs of the mechanistically based BIOME4 model forced by climatology derived from the HadAM3 GCM.
Results The model results compare favourably with available palaeodata and highlight the importance of employing vegetation–climate feedbacks and the anomaly method in biome models. Both the vegetation reconstruction from palaeobotanical data and the BIOME4 prediction indicate a general warmer and moister climate for the Middle Pliocene. Evergreen taiga as well as temperate forest and grassland shifted northward, resulting in much reduced tundra vegetation. Warm-temperate forests (with subtropical taxa) spread in mid and eastern Europe and tropical savannas and woodland expanded in Africa and Australia at the expense of deserts. Discrepancies which occurred between data reconstruction and model simulation can be related to: (1) poor spatial model resolution and data coverage; (2) uncertainties in delimiting biomes using climate parameters; or (3) uncertainties in model physics and/or geological boundary conditions.
Main conclusions The new global biome reconstruction combines vegetation reconstruction from palaeobotanical proxies with model simulations. It is an important contribution to the further understanding of climate and vegetation changes during the Middle Pliocene warm interval and will enhance our knowledge about how vegetation may change in the future.