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Abrupt Alnus population decline at the end of the first millennium CE in Europe – The event ecology, possible causes and implications

Latałowa, Małgorzata, Święta-Musznicka, Joanna, Słowiński, Michał, Pędziszewska, Anna, Noryśkiewicz, Agnieszka M, Zimny, Marcelina, Obremska, Milena, Ott, Florian, Stivrins, Normunds, Pasanen, Leena, Ilvonen, Liisa, Holmström, Lasse, Seppä, Heikki
TheHolocene 2019 v.29 no.8 pp. 1335-1349
Alnus glutinosa, Holocene epoch, Phytophthora, climate change, drought, ecological imbalance, environmental factors, floods, humans, pathogens, pollen, population dynamics, trees, Poland
The study, based on the examination of 70 published and unpublished pollen profiles from Poland and supplementary data from the surrounding regions, shows that an abrupt, episodic Alnus population decline at the end of the first millennium CE was a much more widespread event than has been previously reported, spanning large areas of the temperate and boreal zones in Europe. The data from Poland suggest that the decline was roughly synchronous and most likely occurred between the 9th and 10th centuries, with strong indications for the 10th century. The pollen data indicate that human impacts were not a major factor in the event. Instead, we hypothesize that one or a series of abrupt climatic shifts that caused floods and droughts at the end of the first millennium CE could have initiated this ecological disturbance, leading to a higher vulnerability of the alder trees to a pathogen outbreak. Following current observations of the decline of alder stands in Europe due to a Phytophthora outbreak, we suggest that a similar process may have occurred in the past. This study provides insight into long-term alder (mainly Alnus glutinosa) dynamics in a condition of climate change and illustrates its great resilience, enabling the natural, successful regeneration of alder stands after critical diebacks if environmental conditions improve. Our finding that the Alnus pollen decline reflects a roughly synchronous event indicates that the decline could be used as an over-regional chronostratigraphic marker for 800–1000 CE in pollen diagrams from a large part of the European Lowland.