Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 303–317 | Cite as

The age and post-glacial development of the modern European vegetation: a plant functional approach based on pollen data

  • Basil A. S. DavisEmail author
  • Pamela M. Collins
  • Jed O. Kaplan
Original Article


To assess quantitatively the age of the modern vegetated landscape of Europe and western Asia Minor, and to reconstruct Holocene dynamics in biomes and landscape openness, we convert pollen data into plant functional type (PFT) assemblages and interpolate the data in space and time with a 4D thin plate spline. We then assess overall vegetation change using the squared chord distance metric, changes in potential natural vegetation using the biomisation method, and changes in landscape openness by calculating the arboreal pollen PFT percentage. The age of the modern European vegetated landscape varies in space; while much of lowland Europe dates to ~2,000 cal years bp, some areas have remained unchanged since the beginning of the Holocene; on average, the European vegetated landscape is ~4,000 years old. Though the (PFT) assemblage became continuously more similar to present, biome assemblages changed in northern and southern Europe but stayed relatively constant in central Europe. Landscape openness as approximated by arboreal PFT % increased until the mid-Holocene and then returned to early-Holocene conditions by modern times. The temporally continuous dominance of forest biomes suggests climate remained favourable to forest cover across Europe throughout the Holocene. Nevertheless, arboreal PFT % decreased significantly between the mid-Holocene and the present, requiring a non-climatic explanation, which can be offered by disturbance from human activity. Thus, human activity may have been a main driver of European vegetation dynamics since the mid-Holocene, suggesting it should be included in future conceptions of “natural” European vegetation dynamics.


Arboreal pollen Biome Holocene Plant functional type Squared chord distance 



We are especially grateful to Achille Mauri, Mirjam Pfeiffer and Bertrand Meyer for fruitful discussions regarding research methodology. We would also like to acknowledge the European Pollen Database and the generosity of its contributors in making their pollen data available to the scientific community. This work was supported by grants to J.O.K. from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PP0022_119049) and the Italian Ministry of Research and Education (FIRB RBID08LNFJ). Data and materials are available on request from the authors.

Supplementary material

334_2014_476_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (156 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 155 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Basil A. S. Davis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pamela M. Collins
    • 2
  • Jed O. Kaplan
    • 1
  1. 1.ARVE Group, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Faculty of Geosciences & Environment,University of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.43 rue de l’Amiral Mouchez Escalier 1ParisFrance

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