Palynological perspectives on vegetation survey: a critical step for model-based reconstruction of Quaternary land cover

M. J. Bunting, Michelle Farrell, A. Broström, K. L. Hjelle, F. Mazier, R. Middleton, A. B. Nielsen, E. Rushton, H. Shaw, C. L. Twiddle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


1. Quantitative reconstruction of past vegetation distribution and abundance from sedimentary pollen records provides an important baseline for understanding long term ecosystem dynamics and for the calibration of earth system process models such as regional-scale climate models, widely used to predict future environmental change. Most current approaches assume that the amount of pollen produced by each vegetation type, usually expressed as a relative pollen productivity term, is constant in space and time.

2. Estimates of relative pollen productivity can be extracted from extended R-value analysis (Parsons and Prentice, 1981) using comparisons between pollen assemblages deposited into sedimentary contexts, such as moss polsters, and measurements of the present day vegetation cover around the sampled location. Vegetation survey method has been shown to have a profound effect on estimates of model parameters (Bunting and Hjelle, 2010), therefore a standard method is an essential pre-requisite for testing some of the key assumptions of pollen-based reconstruction of past vegetation; such as the assumption that relative pollen productivity is effectively constant in space and time within a region or biome.

3. This paper systematically reviews the assumptions and methodology underlying current models of pollen dispersal and deposition, and thereby identifies the key characteristics of an effective vegetation survey method for estimating relative pollen productivity in a range of landscape contexts.

4. It then presents the methodology used in a current research project, developed during a practitioner workshop. The method selected is pragmatic, designed to be replicable by different research groups, usable in a wide range of habitats, and requiring minimum effort to collect adequate data for model calibration rather than representing some ideal or required approach. Using this common methodology will allow project members to collect multiple measurements of relative pollen productivity for major plant taxa from several northern European locations in order to test the assumption of uniformity of these values within the climatic range of the main taxa recorded in pollen records from the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-55
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date2 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2013


  • Community mapping
  • Distance-weighted plant abundance
  • Pollen dispersal and deposition models
  • Pollen surface sample
  • Prentice–Sugita model of pollen dispersal and deposition
  • Remote sensing data
  • Sutton model
  • Vegetation data processing


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