Holocene vegetation transitions and their climatic drivers in MPI-ESM1.2

Dallmeyer, Anne; Claussen, Martin; Lorenz, Stephan J.; Sigl, Michael; Toohey, Matthew; Herzschuh, Ulrike (2021). Holocene vegetation transitions and their climatic drivers in MPI-ESM1.2. Climate of the past, 17(6), pp. 2481-2513. Copernicus Publications 10.5194/cp-17-2481-2021

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We present a transient simulation of global vegetation and climate patterns of the mid- and late-Holocene using the MPI-ESM (Max Planck Institute for Meteorology Earth System Model) at T63 resolution. The simulated vegetation trend is discussed in the context of the simulated Holocene climate change. Our model captures the main trends found in reconstructions. Most prominent are the southward retreat of the northern treeline that is combined with the strong decrease of forest in the high northern latitudes during the Holocene and the vast increase of the Saharan desert, embedded in a general decrease in precipitation and vegetation in the northern hemispheric monsoon margin regions. The southern hemisphere experiences weaker changes in total vegetation cover during the last 8000 years. However, the monsoon-related increase in precipitation and the insolation-induced cooling of the winter climate lead to shifts in the vegetation composition, mainly between the woody plant functional types (PFTs).
The large-scale global patterns of vegetation almost linearly follow the subtle, approximately linear, orbital forcing. In some regions, however, non-linear, more rapid changes in vegetation are found in the simulation. The most striking region is the Sahel-Sahara domain with rapid vegetation transitions to a rather desertic state, despite a gradual insolation forcing. Rapid shifts in the simulated vegetation also occur in the high northern latitudes, in South Asia and in the monsoon margins of the southern hemisphere. These rapid changes are mainly triggered by changes in the winter temperatures, which go into, or move out of, the bioclimatic tolerance range of individual PFTs (Plant Functional Types). The dynamics of the transitions are determined by dynamics of the Net Primary Production (NPP) and the competition between PFTs. These changes mainly occur on timescales of centuries. More rapid changes in PFTs that occur within a few decades are mainly associated with the time scales of mortality and the bioclimatic thresholds implicit in the dynamic vegetation model, which have to be interpreted with caution.
Most of the simulated Holocene vegetation changes outside the high northern latitudes are associated with modifications in the intensity of the global summer monsoon dynamics that also affect the circulation in the extra tropics via teleconnections. Based on our simulations, we thus identify the global monsoons as the key player in Holocene climate and vegetation change.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)

UniBE Contributor:

Sigl, Michael


500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




Copernicus Publications


[18] European Research Council


[1314] Timing of Holocene volcanic eruptions and their radiative aerosol forcing




Michael Sigl

Date Deposited:

28 Dec 2021 10:27

Last Modified:

03 Apr 2024 02:06

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Holocene vegetation transitions, Climate, Forcing, Earth System Model, Transient simulation, Holocene, Monsoon, Volcanic forcing, Sahara, Sahel, Net primary production





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