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Compositional turnover and variation in Eemian pollen sequences in Europe


The Eemian interglacial represents a natural experiment on how past vegetation with negligible human impact responded to amplified temperature changes compared to the Holocene. Here, we assemble 47 carefully selected Eemian pollen sequences from Europe to explore geographical patterns of (1) total compositional turnover and total variation for each sequence and (2) stratigraphical turnover between samples within each sequence using detrended canonical correspondence analysis, multivariate regression trees, and principal curves. Our synthesis shows that turnover and variation are highest in central Europe (47–55°N), low in southern Europe (south of 45°N), and lowest in the north (above 60°N). These results provide a basis for developing hypotheses about causes of vegetation change during the Eemian and their possible drivers.

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Fig. 1

(modified from Birks and Birks 2004). a The three phases of Eemian vegetation history, namely protocratic, mesocratic, and oligocratic plus telocratic, in response to changing temperature (outer arc). b Hypothetical model of compositional change (turnover) within an Eemian pollen sequence with expected patterns of turnover in each geographical region and an indication of total palynological turnover and total palynological variation expected in north (above 60°N), central (45–60°N), and south (below 45°N) Europe. The turnover axis can be, for example, an ordination axis

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We thank Konrad Wolowski for granting us access to the Polish Pleistocene Pollen Database. We are also very grateful to the European Pollen Database ( and the invaluable work of the EPD data contributors and the EPD community for making EPD data publicly available. HJBB is indebted to Hilary Birks for many valuable discussions. HJBB, SGAF, and CRJ are supported by the ERC Advanced Grant 741413 Humans on Planet Earth (HOPE). VAF is supported by IGNEX-eco (6166) funded by VISTA—a basic research program in collaboration between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and Equinor; BB and BR are supported by NFR project IGNEX (249894). This paper is a contribution to the IGNEX and IGNEX-eco projects.

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Correspondence to Vivian A. Felde.

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Communicated by F. Bittmann.

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Felde, V.A., Flantua, S.G.A., Jenks, C.R. et al. Compositional turnover and variation in Eemian pollen sequences in Europe. Veget Hist Archaeobot 29, 101–109 (2020).

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