Quaternary pollen analysis: recent progress in palaeoecology and palaeoclimatology

H. Seppä, Keith Bennett

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97 Citations (Scopus)


During the last decade Quaternary pollen analysis has developed towards improved pollen-taxonomical precision, automated pollen identification and more rigorous definition of pollen assemblage zones. There have been significant efforts to model the spatial representation of pollen records in lake sediments which is important for more precise interpretation of the pollen records in terms of past vegetation patterns. We review the difficulties in matching modelled post-glacial plant migration patterns with pollen-based palaeorecords and discuss the potential of DNA analysis of pollen to investigate the ancestry and past migration pathways of the plants. In population ecology there has been an acceleration of the widely advocated conceptual advance of pollen-analytical research from vaguely defined ‘environmental reconstructions’ towards investigating more precisely defined ecological problems aligned with the current ecological theories. Examples of such research have included an increasing number of investigations about the ecological impacts of past disturbances, often integrating pollen records with other palaeoecological data. Such an approach has also been applied to incorporate a time perspective to the questions of ecosystem restoration, nature conservation and forest management. New lines of research are the use of pollen analysis to study long-term patterns of vegetation diversity, such as the role of glacial-age vegetation fragmentation as a cause of Amazonian rain forest diversity, and to investigate links between pollen richness and past plant diversity. Palaeoclimatological use of pollen records has become more quantitative and has included more precise and rigorous testing of pollen-climate calibration models with modern climate data. These tests show the approximate nature of the models and warn against a too straightforward climatic interpretation of the small-scale variation in reconstructions. Pollenbased climate reconstructions over the Late Glacial–early Holocene boundary have indicated that pollen-stratigraphical changes have been rapid with no evidence for response lags. This does not rule out the possibility of migrational disequilibrium, however, as the rapid changes may be mostly due to nonmigrational responses of existing vegetation. It is therefore difficult to assess whether the amplitude of reconstructed climate change reflects real climate change. Other outstanding problems remain the obscure relationship of pollen production and climate, the role of human impact and other nonclimatic factors, and nonanalogue situations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)548-579
Number of pages32
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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