Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Sensitivity of Bolivian seasonally-dry tropical forest to precipitation and temperature changes over glacial–interglacial timescales

  • Bronwen S. WhitneyEmail author
  • Francis E. Mayle
  • Michael J. Burn
  • René Guillén
  • Ezequiel Chavez
  • R. Toby Pennington
Original Article


We used fossil pollen to investigate the response of the eastern Chiquitano seasonally-dry tropical forest (SDTF), lowland Bolivia, to high-amplitude climate change associated with glacial–interglacial cycles. Changes in the structure, composition and diversity of the past vegetation are compared with palaeoclimate data previously reconstructed from the same record, and these results shed light on the biogeographic history of today’s highly disjunct blocks of SDTF across South America. We demonstrate that lower glacial temperatures limited tropical forest in the Chiquitanía region, and suggest that SDTF was absent or restricted at latitudes below 17°S, the proposed location of the majority of the hypothesized ‘Pleistocene dry forest arc’ (PDFA). At 19500 yrs b.p., warming supported the establishment of a floristically-distinct SDTF, which showed little change throughout the glacial–Holocene transition, despite a shift to significantly wetter conditions beginning ca. 12500–12200 yrs b.p. Anadenanthera colubrina, a key SDTF taxon, arrived at 10000 yrs b.p., which coincides with the onset of drought associated with an extended dry season. Lasting until 3000 yrs b.p., Holocene drought caused a floristic shift to more drought-tolerant taxa and a reduction in α-diversity (shown by declining palynological richness), but closed-canopy forest was maintained throughout. In contrast to the PDFA, the modern distribution of SDTF most likely represents the greatest spatial coverage of these forests in southern South America since glacial times. We find that temperature is a key climatic control upon the distribution of lowland South American SDTF over glacial-interglacial timescales, and seasonality of rainfall exerts a strong control on their floristic composition.


Seasonally-dry tropical forest Pleistocene dry forest arc Climate change Last glacial maximum Holocene Pollen 



Funding for the majority of this work was provided as a postgraduate studentship to B.S.W., by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canada, and the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh. F.E.M. is also grateful for a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (RF&G/4/RFG/2003/0121), which funded part of this study. The radiocarbon analyses were granted to F.E.M. by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK, and we thank Charlotte Bryant for her help and guidance on this topic. The identification of key pollen types was made possible through sampling herbarium specimens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, and the Museo de Historia Natural ‘Noel Kempff Mercado’, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Fieldwork grants were obtained from the National Geographic Society and the Royal Society (F.E.M.). Logistical fieldwork support was provided by the San Matias National Park authorities, and we thank Sr. Morales for help in the field, and Don Chango and family for their hospitality on the shores of Laguna La Gaiba. Thanks to Julie Mitchell and Anthony Newton (Edinburgh) for their help in the lab, and Huw Jones for assistance with coring and collection of samples. Thanks both to Mark Bush and an anonymous reviewer whose suggestions improved this manuscript.

Supplementary material

334_2013_395_MOESM1_ESM.doc (114 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 114 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bronwen S. Whitney
    • 1
    Email author
  • Francis E. Mayle
    • 1
  • Michael J. Burn
    • 2
  • René Guillén
    • 3
  • Ezequiel Chavez
    • 4
  • R. Toby Pennington
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Geosciences, The University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Department of Geography and GeologyThe University of the West Indies, Mona CampusKingston 7Jamaica
  3. 3.Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado ‘Kaa-iya del Gran Chaco’Santa CruzBolivia
  4. 4.Muséo de Historia Natural ‘Noel Kempff Mercado’ Av. Irala 565Santa CruzBolivia
  5. 5.Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghEdinburghUK

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