Four thousand years of vegetation and fire history in the spruce forests of northern Kyrgyzstan (Kungey Alatau, Central Asia)

Beer, Ruth ; Tinner, Willy

In: Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 2008, vol. 17, no. 6, p. 629-638

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    Analyses of pollen, macrofossils and microscopic charcoal in the sediment of a small sub-alpine lake (Karakol, Kyrgyzstan) provide new data to reconstruct the vegetation history of the Kungey Alatau spruce forest during the late-Holocene, i.e. the past 4,000years. The pollen data suggest that Picea schrenkiana F. and M. was the dominant tree in this region from the beginning of the record. The pollen record of pronounced die-backs of the forests, along with lithostratigraphical evidence, points to possible climatic cooling (and/or drying) around 3,800 cal year b.p. and between 3,350 and 2,520 cal year b.p., with a culmination at 2,800-2,600 cal b.p., although stable climatic conditions are reported for this region for the past 3,000-4,000years in previous studies. From 2,500 to 190 cal year b.p. high pollen values of P. schrenkiana suggest rather closed and dense forests under the environmental conditions of that time. A marked decline in spruce forests occurred with the onset of modern human activities in the region from 190 cal year b.p. These results show that the present forests are anthropogenically reduced and represent only about half of their potential natural extent. As P. schrenkiana is a species endemic to the western Tien Shan, it is most likely that its refugium was confined to this region. However, our palaeoecological record is too recent to address this hypothesis thoroughly