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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 2 | Copyright

Special issue: Climate change and human impact in Central and South America...

Clim. Past, 12, 483-523, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-12-483-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 29 Feb 2016

Research article | 29 Feb 2016

Climate variability and human impact in South America during the last 2000 years: synthesis and perspectives from pollen records

S. G. A. Flantua1, H. Hooghiemstra1, M. Vuille2, H. Behling3, J. F. Carson4, W. D. Gosling1,5, I. Hoyos6, M. P. Ledru7, E. Montoya5, F. Mayle4, A. Maldonado8, V. Rull9, M. S. Tonello10, B. S. Whitney11, and C. González-Arango12 S. G. A. Flantua et al.
  • 1Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 2Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, USA
  • 3Georg August University of Göttingen, Albrecht von Haller Institute for Plant Sciences, Department of Palynology and Climate Dynamics, Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
  • 4Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AB, UK
  • 5Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK
  • 6Faculty of Engineering, GAIA, Institute of Physics Group Fundamentos y Enseñanza de la Física y los Sistemas Dinámicos, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia
  • 7Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier (ISEM) UM2 CNRS IRD EPHE, Place Eugène Bataillon, Cc 061, 34095 Montpellier CEDEX, France
  • 8Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Universidad de La Serena. Av Raúl Bitrán 1305, La Serena, Chile
  • 9Institute of Earth Sciences “Jaume Almera” (ICTJA-CSIC), C. Lluís Solé Sabarís s/n, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
  • 10Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras CONICET, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Mar del Plata, Argentina
  • 11Department of Geography, Ellison Place, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK
  • 12Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad los Andes, A.A. 4976 Bogotá, Colombia

Abstract. An improved understanding of present-day climate variability and change relies on high-quality data sets from the past 2 millennia. Global efforts to model regional climate modes are in the process of being validated against, and integrated with, records of past vegetation change. For South America, however, the full potential of vegetation records for evaluating and improving climate models has hitherto not been sufficiently acknowledged due to an absence of information on the spatial and temporal coverage of study sites. This paper therefore serves as a guide to high-quality pollen records that capture environmental variability during the last 2 millennia. We identify 60 vegetation (pollen) records from across South America which satisfy geochronological requirements set out for climate modelling, and we discuss their sensitivity to the spatial signature of climate modes throughout the continent. Diverse patterns of vegetation response to climate change are observed, with more similar patterns of change in the lowlands and varying intensity and direction of responses in the highlands. Pollen records display local-scale responses to climate modes; thus, it is necessary to understand how vegetation–climate interactions might diverge under variable settings. We provide a qualitative translation from pollen metrics to climate variables. Additionally, pollen is an excellent indicator of human impact through time. We discuss evidence for human land use in pollen records and provide an overview considered useful for archaeological hypothesis testing and important in distinguishing natural from anthropogenically driven vegetation change. We stress the need for the palynological community to be more familiar with climate variability patterns to correctly attribute the potential causes of observed vegetation dynamics. This manuscript forms part of the wider LOng-Term multi-proxy climate REconstructions and Dynamics in South America – 2k initiative that provides the ideal framework for the integration of the various palaeoclimatic subdisciplines and palaeo-science, thereby jump-starting and fostering multidisciplinary research into environmental change on centennial and millennial timescales.

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This paper serves as a guide to high-quality pollen records in South America that capture environmental variability during the last 2 millennia. We identify the pollen records suitable for climate modelling and discuss their sensitivity to the spatial signature of climate modes. Furthermore, evidence for human land use in pollen records is useful for archaeological hypothesis testing and important in distinguishing natural from anthropogenically driven vegetation change.
This paper serves as a guide to high-quality pollen records in South America that capture...
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