Ice records provide new insights into climatic vulnerability of Central Asian forest and steppe communities

Brügger, Sandra O.; Gobet, Erika; Sigl, Michael; Osmont, Dimitri; Papina, Tatyana; Rudaya, Natalia; Schwikowski, Margit; Tinner, Willy (2018). Ice records provide new insights into climatic vulnerability of Central Asian forest and steppe communities. Global and planetary change, 169, pp. 188-201. Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2018.07.010

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Forest and steppe communities in the Altai region of Central Asia are threatened by changing climate and anthropogenic pressure. Specifically, increasing drought and grazing pressure may cause collapses of moisture-demanding plant communities, particularly forests. Knowledge about past vegetation and fire responses to climate and land use changes may help anticipating future ecosystem risks, given that it has the potential to disclose mechanisms and processes that govern ecosystem vulnerability. We present a unique paleoecological record from the high-alpine Tsambagarav glacier in the Mongolian Altai that provides novel large-scale information on vegetation, fire and pollution with an exceptional temporal resolution and precision. Our palynological record identifies several late-Holocene boreal forest expansions, contractions and subsequent recoveries. Maximum forest expansions occurred at 3000–2800 BC, 2400–2100 BC, and 1900–1800 BC. After 1800 BC mixed boreal forest communities irrecoverably declined. Fires reached a maximum at 1600 BC, 200 years after the final forest collapse. Our multiproxy data suggest that burning peaked in response to dead biomass accumulation resulting from forest diebacks. Vegetation and fire regimes partly decoupled from climate after 1700 AD, when atmospheric industrial pollution began, and land use intensified. We conclude that moisture availability was more important than temperature for past vegetation dynamics, in particular for forest loss and steppe expansion. The past Mongolian Altai evidence implies that in the future forests of the Russian Altai may collapse in response to reduced moisture availability.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Departement of Chemistry and Biochemistry
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Palaeoecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Brügger, Sandra Olivia; Gobet, Erika; Schwikowski, Margit and Tinner, Willy


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 540 Chemistry




Elsevier Science




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

10 Aug 2018 08:39

Last Modified:

22 Jul 2020 02:30

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

boreal forest diebacks; climatic tipping points; diversity; ice core; moisture change; pollen; microscopic charcoal; SCP




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