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Keywords:

  • Abrupt climate change;
  • competition;
  • disturbance;
  • fossil pollen;
  • global warming;
  • Holocene;
  • NAPD;
  • palaeoecology;
  • Populus;
  • Younger Dryas

ABSTRACT

Aim  Using a new approach to analyse fossil pollen data, we investigate temporal and spatial patterns in Populus (poplar, cottonwood, aspen) from the Late Glacial to the present at regional to continental scales.

Location  North America.

Methods  We extracted data on the timing and magnitude of the maximum value of Populus pollen from each pollen diagram in the North American Pollen Database (NAPD). The information was plotted in histograms of 150-year bins to identify times when Populus was abundant on the landscape. We also mapped the maximum values to identify spatial patterns and their causes.

Results  Our analyses show that there have been several periods since the Late Glacial when Populus was abundant on the landscape: (1) from 12.35 to 12.65 kyr bp, in eastern North America, largely in response to the opening of the forest following the onset of the Younger Dryas; (2) from 10.85 to 11.75 kyr bp, following the termination of the Younger Dryas; and (3) during the last 150 years, as land was cleared for agricultural use, especially in the midwestern United States.

Main conclusion  Since the Late Glacial, changes in the abundance of Populus were caused more by the effects of abrupt climate change on its major competitors, rather than the direct effects of climate on Populus itself.