Quaternary refugia of the sweet chestnut ( Castanea sativa Mill.): an extended palynological approach

Krebs, Patrik ; Conedera, Marco ; Pradella, Marco ; Torriani, Damiano ; Felber, Markus ; Tinner, Willy

In: Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 2004, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 145-160

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    Knowledge about the glacial refugia of the thermophilous European Castanea sativa Mill. (sweet chestnut) is still inadequate. Its original range of distribution has been masked by strong human impact. Moreover, under natural conditions the species was probably admixed with other taxa (such as Quercus, Fraxinus, Fagus, Tilia) and thus possibly represented by low percentages in pollen records. In this paper we try to overcome the difficulties related to the scarcity and irregularity of chestnut pollen records by considering 1471 sites and extending the palynological approach to develop a Castanea refugium probability index (IRP), aimed at detecting possible chestnut refugia where chestnuts survived during the last glaciation. The results are in close agreement with the current literature on the refugia of other thermophilous European trees. The few divergences are most probably due to the large amount of new data integrated in this study, rather than to fundamental disagreements about data and data interpretation. The main chestnut refugia are located in the Transcaucasian region, north-western Anatolia, the hinterland of the Tyrrhenian coast from Liguria to Lazio along the Apennine range, the region around Lago di Monticchio (Monte Vulture) in southern Italy, and the Cantabrian coast on the Iberian peninsula. Despite the high likelihood of Castanea refugia in the Balkan Peninsula and north-eastern Italy (Colli Euganei, Monti Berici, Emilia-Romagna) as suggested by the IRP, additional palaeobotanical investigations are needed to assess whether these regions effectively sheltered chestnut during the last glaciation. Other regions, such as the Isère Département in France, the region across north-west Portugal and Galicia, and the hilly region along the Mediterranean coast of Syria and Lebanon were classified as areas of medium refugium probability. Our results reveal an unexpected spatial richness of potential Castanea refugia. It is likely that other European trees had similar distribution ranges during the last glaciation. It is thus conceivable that shelter zones with favourable microclimates were probably more numerous and more widely dispersed across Europe than so far assumed. In the future, more attention should be paid to pollen traces of sporadic taxa thought to have disappeared from a given area during the last glacial and post-glacial period