Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 357–368 | Cite as

Testing the reliability of pollen-based diversity estimates

  • Matthew Charles Peros
  • Konrad Gajewski
Original Paper


Rarefaction analysis is a common tool for estimating pollen richness. Using modern and fossil pollen data from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, we examine the effects of pollen concentration (grains/cc) and evenness (the distribution of species abundances) on palynological richness. Our results show that pollen richness and concentration have a strong negative correlation at low pollen concentrations. There is a positive correlation between pollen evenness and richness, although the strength of this relationship is difficult to determine. Rarefaction analysis on samples of low concentration or high evenness is likely to lead to pollen richness being less underestimated than on samples of high concentration or low evenness. These findings corroborate theoretical research on these issues.


Pollen analysis Rarefaction Diversity Pollen concentration Evenness Paleoecology Arctic 



We are grateful to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for financial support. We thank Tom Olszewski, Pim van der Knaap, André Viau, and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments. Pollen counts for the Abernethy Forest core were obtained from the European Pollen Database; Hilary Birks kindly provided the associated concentration data. Any errors, misinterpretations, or omissions are ours alone.


  1. Bennett KD, Boreham S, Sharp MJ, Switsur VR (1992) Holocene history of environment, vegetation and human settlement on Catta Ness, Lunnasting, Shetland. J Ecol 80:241–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berglund BE, Gaillard MJ, Bjorkman L, Persson T (2007) Long-term changes in floristic diversity in southern Sweden: palynological richness, vegetation dynamics and land-use. Veg Hist Archaeobot.  doi:10.1007/s00334-007-0094-x
  3. Birks HH, Mathewes RW (1978) Studies in the vegetational history of Scotland. V. Late Devensian and Early Flandrian pollen and macrofossil stratigraphy at Abernethy Forest, Inverness-Shire. New Phytol 80:455–484CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birks HJB, Line JM (1992) The use of rarefaction analysis for estimating palynological richness from Quaternary pollen-analytical data. Holocene 2:1–10Google Scholar
  5. Cwynar LC (1982) A Late-Quaternary vegetation history from Hanging Lake, Northern Yukon. Ecol Monogr 52:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Edlund SA, Alt BT (1989) Regional congruence of vegetation and summer climate patterns in the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Northwest Territories, Canada. Arctic 42:3–23Google Scholar
  7. Faegri K, Iversen J (1989) Textbook of pollen analysis, 4th edn. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, p 328Google Scholar
  8. Fisher DA, Koerner RM, Reeh N (1995) Holocene climatic records from Agassiz Ice Cap, Ellesmere Island, NWT, Canada. Holocene 5:19–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fréchette B, Wolfe AP, Miller GH, Richard PJH, de Vernal A (2006) Vegetation and climate of the last interglacial on Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 236:91–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gajewski K (1995) Modern and Holocene pollen assemblages from some small arctic lakes on Somerset Island, NWT, Canada. Quaternary Res 44:228–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gajewski K (2002) Modern pollen assemblages in lake sediments from the Canadian Arctic. Arct Antarct Alp Res 34:26–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hammer Ø, Harper DAT, Ryan PD (2001) PAST: paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontologia Electronica 4:9Google Scholar
  13. Hurlbert SH (1971) The nonconcept of species diversity: a critique and alternative parameters. Ecology 52:577–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kaplan MR, Wolfe AP (2006) Spatial and temporal variability of Holocene temperature in the North Atlantic region. Quaternary Res 65:223–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Legendre P, Legendre L (1998) Numerical ecology. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p 853Google Scholar
  16. Moore PD (1973) The influence of prehistoric cultures upon the initiation and spread of blanket bog in upland Wales. Nature 241:350–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Odgaard BV (1999) Fossil pollen as a record of past biodiversity. J Biogeogr 26:7–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Odgaard BV (2001) Palaeoecological perspectives on pattern and process in plant diversity and distribution adjustments: a comment on recent development. Divers Distrib 7:197–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Olszewski TD (2004) A unified mathematical framework for the measurement of richness and evenness within and among multiple communities. Oikos 104:377–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Peros MC, Gajewski K (in press) Holocene climate and vegetation change on Victoria Island, western Canadian Arctic. Quaternary Sci RevGoogle Scholar
  21. Porsild AE, Cody WJ (1980) Vascular plants of the Continental Northwest Territories, Canada. National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, p 667Google Scholar
  22. Rannie WF (1986) Summer air temperature and number of vascular species in Arctic Canada. Arctic 39:133–137Google Scholar
  23. Räsänen S, Hicks S, Odgaard BV (2004) Pollen deposition in mosses and in a modified ‘Tauber trap’ from Hailuoto, Finland: what exactly do the mosses record? Rev Palaeobot Palynol 129:103–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ritchie JC (1982) The modern and late-Quaternary vegetation of the Doll Creek Area, north Yukon, Canada. New Phytol 90:563–603CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Seppä H (1998) Postglacial trends in palynological richness in the northern Fennoscandian tree-line area and their ecological interpretation. Holocene 8:43–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Smol JP (1981) Problems associated with the use of “species diversity” in paleolimnological studies. Quaternary Res 15:209–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ, Bard E, Beck JW, Burr GS, Hughen K, Kromer B, McCormac G, van der Plicht J, Spurk M (1998) INTCAL98 Radiocarbon Age Calibration, 24000-0 cal BP. Radiocarbon 40:1041–1083Google Scholar
  28. Weng C, Hooghiemstra H, Duivenvoorden JF (2006) Challenges in estimating past plant diversity from fossil pollen data: statistical assessment, problems, and possible solutions. Divers Distrib 12:310–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Weng C, Hooghiemstra H, Duivenvoorden JF (2007) Response of pollen diversity to the climate-driven altitudinal shift of vegetation in the Colombian Andes. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 362:253–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Whitmore J, Gajewski K, Sawada M, Willimas JW, Minckley T, Shuman B, Bartlein PJ, Webb T III, Viau AE, Shafer S, Andersen PM, Brubaker LB (2005) A North American modern pollen database for multi-scale paleoecological and paleoclimatic applications. Quaternary Sci Rev 24:1828–1848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Young SB (1971) Vascular flora of St. Lawrence Island, with special reference to floristic zonation in the Arctic regions. Contrib Gray Herb Harv Univ 201:1–115Google Scholar
  32. Zabenskie SD, Gajewski K (2007) Post-glacial climatic change on Boothia Peninsula, Nunavut, Canada. Quaternary Res 68:261–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, Department of GeographyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations