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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2018

  • Title: Subregional variability in the response of New England vegetation to postglacial climate change
  • Primary Author: Wyatt Oswald (Emerson College)
  • Additional Authors: Elaine Doughty (Harvard Forest); David Foster (Harvard Forest); Brian Hall (Harvard Forest); Bryan Shuman (University of Wyoming)
  • Abstract:

    We analyzed a dataset composed of multiple paleoclimate and lake-sediment pollen records from New England to explore how postglacial changes in the composition and spatial patterns of vegetation were controlled by regional-scale climate change, a subregional environmental gradient, and landscape-scale variations in soil characteristics. The 120,000-km2 study area includes parts of Vermont and New Hampshire in the north, where sites are 150-200 km from the Atlantic Ocean, and spans the coastline from southeastern New York to Cape Cod and the adjacent islands, including Block Island, the Elizabeth Islands, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. We analyzed pollen records from 29 study sites, using multivariate cluster analysis to visualize changes in the composition and spatial patterns of vegetation during the last 14,000 yrs. The pollen data were compared with temperature and precipitation reconstructions. Boreal forest featuring Picea and Pinus banksiana was present across the region when conditions were cool and dry 14,000-12,000 calibrated 14C yrs before present (ybp). Pinus strobus became regionally dominant as temperatures increased between 12,000 and 10,000 ybp. The composition of forests in inland and coastal areas diverged in response to further warming after 10,000 ybp, when Quercus and Pinus rigida expanded across southern New England, while conditions remained cool enough in inland areas to maintain Pinus strobus. Increasing precipitation allowed Tsuga canadensis, Fagus grandifolia, and Betula to replace Pinus strobus in inland areas during 9000-8000 ybp, and also led to the expansion of Carya across the coastal part of the region beginning at 7000-6000 ybp. Abrupt cooling at 5500-5000 ybp caused sharp declines in Tsuga in inland areas and Quercus at some coastal sites, and the populations of those taxa remained low until they recovered around 3000 ybp in response to rising precipitation. Throughout most of the Holocene, sites underlain by sandy glacial deposits were occupied by Pinus rigida and Quercus. Postglacial changes in the composition and spatial pattern of New England forests were controlled by long-term trends and abrupt shifts in temperature and precipitation, as well as by the environmental gradient between coastal and inland parts of the region. Substrate and soil moisture shaped landscape-scale variations in forest composition.

  • Research Category: Historical and Retrospective Studies