Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 217–228 | Cite as

Palynological richness and evenness: insights from the taxa accumulation curve

  • Thomas GieseckeEmail author
  • Brigitta Ammann
  • Arthur Brande
Original Article


Palynology provides the opportunity to make inferences on changes in diversity of terrestrial vegetation over long time scales. The often coarse taxonomic level achievable in pollen analysis, differences in pollen production and dispersal, and the lack of pollen source boundaries hamper the application of diversity indices to palynology. Palynological richness, the number of pollen types at a constant pollen count, is the most robust and widely used diversity indicator for pollen data. However, this index is also influenced by the abundance distribution of pollen types in sediments. In particular, where the index is calculated by rarefaction analysis, information on taxonomic richness at low abundance may be lost. Here we explore information that can be extracted from the accumulation of taxa over consecutive samples. The log-transformed taxa accumulation curve can be broken up into linear sections with different slope and intersect parameters, describing the accumulation of new taxa within the section. The breaking points may indicate changes in the species pool or in the abundance of high versus low pollen producers. Testing this concept on three pollen diagrams from different landscapes, we find that the break points in the taxa accumulation curves provide convenient zones for identifying changes in richness and evenness. The linear regressions over consecutive samples can be used to inter- and extrapolate to low or extremely high pollen counts, indicating evenness and richness in taxonomic composition within these zones. An evenness indicator, based on the rank-order-abundance is used to assist in the evaluation of the results and the interpretation of the fossil records. Two central European pollen diagrams show major changes in the taxa accumulation curves for the Lateglacial period and the time of human induced land-use changes, while they do not indicate strong changes in the species pool with the onset of the Holocene. In contrast, a central Swedish pollen diagram shows comparatively little change, but high richness during the early Holocene forest establishment. Evenness and palynological richness are related for most periods in the three diagrams, however, sections before forest establishment and after forest clearance show high evenness, which is not necessarily accompanied by high palynological richness, encouraging efforts to separate the two.


Palynological richness Evenness Taxa accumulation curve Pollen Past floristic diversity 



This paper is dedicated to Hilary Birks, in recognition of her contribution to palaeoecology, her friendship, and the inspiration she provided to future generations. We are grateful to K.D. Bennett and R. Bradshaw for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. T.G. acknowledges funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG grant GI 732/1-1).

Supplementary material

334_2014_435_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (180 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 179 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Giesecke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brigitta Ammann
    • 2
  • Arthur Brande
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Palynology and Climate Dynamics, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant SciencesGeorg-August-University GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of EcologyTechnical University BerlinBerlinGermany

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