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Revisiting tree-migration rates: Abies alba (Mill.), a case study


At northern temperate latitudes trees have adjusted their ranges substantially in response to changing climates during the Holocene. Results from dispersal model simulations suggest that postglacial migration rates may have been over-estimated from fossil pollen data. As a contribution to this debate, we infer the migration rates of Abies alba (Mill.), silver fir, as a case-study species, by using a spatially explicit approach based on fossil pollen but taking into account its modern genetic diversity pattern. Maximum estimates of migration rates from fossil pollen data alone are higher than 700 m yr−1 during the Holocene. Considering the potential refugia as suggested from all the fossil data but restricting the area over which silver fir expanded from each glacial refugium using data on the current haplotype distribution, the estimated maximum migration rates of silver fir are less than 250 m yr−1. Genetic information may allow for (1) the exclusion of those refugial areas where the species may have survived during the last glacial period but from which it did not spread or spread only very locally and (2) the delineation of the areas over which the species spread from each glacial refugium. The estimated rates in the present study are generally consistent with rates suggested from modelling approaches. This study shows that integrating fossil pollen records can improve simulations of dispersal processes and, thus, allow for better predictions of future changes in tree species’ ranges.

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This work was supported by and is a contribution to the ECOCHANGE European project. PT is supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia Grant SFRH/BD/42480/2007. The European Pollen Database contributors ( are gratefully acknowledged for making their data-sets publicly available to the scientific community. The following free software was used in this publication: the R language with several libraries, the Generic Mapping Tools, QGIS, MySQL and phpmyadmin. HJBB acknowledges invaluable help from Cathy Jenks. The manuscript has been substantially improved by W. Tinner, by Th. Giesecke, and by two anonymous reviewers. This is an ISEM contribution number 2013-029.

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Correspondence to Rachid Cheddadi.

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Communicated by W. Tinner.

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Cheddadi, R., Birks, H.J.B., Tarroso, P. et al. Revisiting tree-migration rates: Abies alba (Mill.), a case study. Veget Hist Archaeobot 23, 113–122 (2014).

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  • Migration rate
  • Biogeography
  • Abies alba
  • Pollen
  • DNA
  • Holocene