Plant Ecology

, Volume 213, Issue 6, pp 1027–1035 | Cite as

Compositional vegetation changes and increased red spruce abundance during the Little Ice Age in a sugar maple forest of north-eastern North America

  • Daniel Houle
  • Pierre J. H. Richard
  • Sabary Omer Ndzangou
  • Marc Richer-Laflèche


In north-eastern North America, the recent red spruce decline has been linked to atmospheric pollution, notably acid rain, although climate was also advocated as a potential factor. A high resolution lake sediment pollen stratigraphy was obtained to elucidate long-term trends in tree-species abundance in a sugar maple—yellow birch forest. The reconstructed history (~250–1996 A.D.) showed a steady increase of red spruce after 1300 A.D., with a peak between 1600 and 1900 A.D. followed by a strong decline in the last century, while sugar maple and yellow birch experienced an opposite trend. Red spruce abundance reached its apogee during the cool Little Ice Age (LIA) and decreased abruptly when annual temperature in the region increased by 2 °C in the last 125 years. American Beech was much more abundant in the forest before the LIA, typifying a sugar maple—American beech forest as the dominant forest type during the Late Holocene. Our results suggest that climate warming has played an important role in the current red spruce decline, the latter having been initiated well before acidic depositions reached deleterious potential effects on red spruce. Climate warming probably acted as a long-term predisposing factor that was aggravated by atmospheric pollution, in the last decades.


Picea rubens Climate warming Paleolimnology Forest dynamics Little Ice Age Acer saccharum 



Technical assistant Nicole Morasse processed and analysed the pollen content of the samples under the supervision of the second author for the first author. Coring of the sediments for geochemical analyses was done by the last two authors. Funding has been provided by the Quebec Department of Natural Resources (Research contract no 0317 3105) and by grants to the second author from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). We also want to thank the handling editor and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Houle
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pierre J. H. Richard
    • 3
  • Sabary Omer Ndzangou
    • 4
  • Marc Richer-Laflèche
    • 4
  1. 1.Forestry DivisionQuebec Department of Natural Resources and WildlifeSainte-FoyCanada
  2. 2.OuranosMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Geography DepartmentUniversity of MontrealOutremontCanada
  4. 4.National Institute of Research, Water, Earth and EnvironmentQuébecCanada

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