Uppermost Limit, Extent, and Fluctuations of the Timberline and Treeline Ecocline in the Swiss Central Alps during the past 11,500 Years

Tinner, Willy; Theurillat, Jean-Paul (2003). Uppermost Limit, Extent, and Fluctuations of the Timberline and Treeline Ecocline in the Swiss Central Alps during the past 11,500 Years. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 35(2), pp. 158-169. Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Pollen and macrofossils were analyzed at two sites above today's treeline (or tree limit) in the Swiss Central Alps (Gouillé Loéré, 2503 m a.s.l., and Lengi Egga, 2557 m a.s.l.) to test two contrasting hypotheses about the natural formation of timberline (the upper limit of closed forest) in the Alps. Our results revealed that Pinus cembra--Larix decidua forests near timberline were rather closed between 9000 and 2500 B.C. (9600-4000 <sup>14</sup>C yr BP), when timberline fluctuations occurred within a belt 100-150 m above today's tree limit. The treeline ecocline above timberline was characterized by the mixed occurrence of tree, shrub, dwarf-shrub, and herbaceous species, but it did not encompass more than 100-150 altitudinal meters. The uppermost limit reached by timberline and treeline during the Holocene was ca. 2420 and 2530 m, respectively, i.e., about 120 to 180 m higher than today. Between 3500 and 2500 B.C. (4700-4000 <sup>14</sup>C yr BP) timberline progressively sank by about 300 m, while treeline was lowered only ca. 100 m. This change led to an enlargement of the treeline-ecocline belt (by ca. 300 m) after 2500 B.C. (4000 <sup>14</sup>C yr BP). Above the treeline ecocline, natural meadows dominated by dwarf shrubs (e.g., Salix herbacea) and herbaceous species (e.g., Helianthemum, Taraxacum, Potentialla, Leontodon t., Cerastium alpinum t., Cirsium spinosissimum, Silene exscapa t., and Saxifraga stellaris) have been present since at least 11,000 cal yr ago. In these meadows tree and tall shrub species (>0.5 m) never played a major role. These results support the conventional hypothesis of a narrow ecocline with rather sharp upper timberline and treeline boundaries and imply that today's treeless alpine communities in the Alps are close to a natural stage. Pollen (percentages and influx), stomata, and charcoal data may be useful for determining whether or not a site was treeless. Nevertheless, a reliable and detailed record of past local vegetation near and above timberline is best achieved through the inclusion of macrofossil analysis.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)

Division/Institute:

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:

Tinner, Willy

Subjects:

500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)

ISSN:

1523-0430

Publisher:

Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado at Boulder

Language:

English

Submitter:

Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

13 Jul 2016 11:07

Last Modified:

13 Jul 2016 11:07

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.83991

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/83991

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