Department of Paleoecology

Head: Mgr. Markéta Fránková, Ph.D.

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The Department of Paleoecology focuses on the dynamics of Central European vegetation and its natural environment during the last 15 000 years (the Late Glacial and Holocene). Even though the department originated in 2021, paleoecology has more than a half-century tradition at the Institute of Botany. Currently, the department is detached at two workplaces in Brno and Průhonice.

Research topics

  • Long-term development of vegetation and landscape
  • Historical aspects of vegetation diversity
  • Long-term development of wetland ecosystems
  • Fire history of central European environment
  • Pollen monitoring
  • Algal bioindicators

Selected recent results

1/ Pollen-inferred millennial changes in landscape patterns at a major biogeographical interface within Europe

Fossil pollen spectra from 112 mainly mountainous sites in Central Europe, ranging from the Late Glacial to the present showed long-term changes in the main gradients of vegetation composition. The main source of variability was the proportion of deciduous temperate trees, while the second one was an altitudinal gradient that coincided with air temperature. The fine-grained pattern in the present mountain landscape was formed as late as during early modern colonization. These results highlight the relevance of integrating past landscape trajectories into modern biogeographical models.

Extracting organic sediments at Parížske Mire, southern Slovakia, a lowland site comprising a complete Holocene vegetation history. Photo by M. Hájek
Extracting organic sediments at Parížske Mire, southern Slovakia, a lowland site comprising a complete Holocene vegetation history. Photo by M. Hájek

  • Jamrichová E., Petr L., Jiménez-Alfaro B., Jankovská V., Dudová L., Pokorný P., Kołaczek P., Zernitskaya V., Čierniková M., Břízová E., Syrovátka V., Hájková P. & Hájek M. (2017): Pollen-inferred millennial changes in landscape patterns at a major biogeographical interface within Europe. Journal of Biogeography 44: 2386-2397.

 

2/ Divergent fire history trajectories in Central European temperate forests revealed a pronounced influence of broadleaved trees on fire dynamics

In this study, we reconstructed a long-term fire history of two regions located in the Central European temperate zone that differ in the timing of the Middle Holocene expansion of broadleaf-dominated forest communities. We tested a hypothesis that biotic changes influenced past fire activity independently to climate change. Multiple-site charcoal accumulation records were used to estimate regional-scale trends in biomass burning and to compare them with major trajectories of vegetation development. Extensive 14C-dated soil charcoal records collected within both regions served as a marker of a stand-scale fire occurrence. Our results suggest that increased fire activity during the Early Holocene period was driven by both a drier- and warmer-than-present climate and easily flammable fuels produced by conifer-dominated vegetation. We identified an inhibiting effect of the concomitant Fagus sylvatica expansion on levels of biomass burning.

The presence of charcoal layers (dark bands) indicating local occurrence of fire in the past. Photo by H. Svitavská Svobodová

The presence of charcoal layers (dark bands) indicating local occurrence of fire in the past. Photo by H. Svitavská Svobodová

  • Bobek P., Svobodová Svitavská H., Pokorný P., Šamonil P., Kuneš P., Kozáková R., Abraham V., Klinerová T., Švarcová M. G., Jamrichová E., Krauseová E. & Wild J. (2019): Divergent fire history trajectories in Central European temperate forests revealed a pronounced influence of broadleaved trees on fire dynamics. – Quaternary Science Reviews 222: 105865.

 

3/ Spruce representation in zonal woodlands may be overestimated when using pollen spectra from peatlands

The proportion of taxa in a pollen spectrum may not correspond to their proportion in vegetation. Quantitative reconstruction models therefore consider pollen productivities or fall speeds. We argue that azonal presence of spruce, an otherwise zonal tree species, in wetlands may confound the pollen-inferred reconstructions of vegetation cover as well. Based on a large database of vegetation plots from the Western Carpathians, we demonstrate that spruce is the tree species which most frequently colonized peatlands, more so than alder, whose effect on local pollen spectra has been frequently admitted. Using 73 sequences we further demonstrated significantly greater pollen percentages of spruce (ca 20-25%) when the sediments contain spruce macrofossils. Finally, we compared the proportions of spruce and beech in modern surface pollen spectra with their real proportions in the surrounding landscape where beech acts as zonal tree. We found that even a small patch of spruce alters the proportion of spruce to beech. All these results suggest, contrary to the premises of current models of pollen-based quantitative reconstructions in Central Europe, that fossil spruce pollen counts from wetlands may strongly be overestimated where it occurred in close vicinity of a wetland. 

Golové mláky – an open calcareous fen (left figure) where moss polsters were collected for recent pollen spectra. Pollen representation of spruce (right figure) and beech corresponded with their representation in surrounding vegetation. Photos by P. Hájková and M. Čierniková.

Golové mláky – an open calcareous fen (left figure) where moss polsters were collected for recent pollen spectra. Pollen representation of spruce (right figure) and beech corresponded with their representation in surrounding vegetation. Photos by P. Hájková and M. Čierniková.

  • Hájková P., Jamrichová E., Wiezik M., Peterka T., Petr L., Singh P., Máliš F., Fajmonová Z. & Hájek M. (2019): Spruce representation in zonal woodlands may be overestimated when using pollen spectra from peatlands. – Review of Paleobotany and Palynology 271: 104104.
  • Hájková P. (2020): Víme, kolik bylo smrku v našich lesích před intenzifikací hospodaření? Botanika 1: 2-4.

 

4/ Can relict-rich communities be of an anthropogenic origin? Palaeoecological insight into conservation strategy for endangered Carpathian travertine fens

The Western-Carpathian travertine fens supplied by groundwater with deep-circulation represent a unique ecosystem confined to the small area in the intermountain basins. Using multi-proxy palaeoecological approach we tested the hypothesis that these fens hosting relict species nowadays are ancient and of continual whole-Holocene occurrence. Our results based on plant macrofossil, mollusc shells and pollen grain analyses of two profiles from the locality Močiar (Nature reserve) near Stankovany village have shown important anthropogenic influence on the composition of modern communities. The sediment itself has already started to accumulate in the Late Glacial/Holocene transition, but the locality has fast overgrown by semi-open waterlogged forest with spruce and alder. Nevertheless succession towards forest habitats was partially blocked by strong travertine precipitation, forest snail species immigrated slowly and some light-demanding fen species could locally survive. The current communities were established once the woody plants, and especially reed, were reduced by medieval land use. The community itself is therefore not relict, but it harbours probable descendants of relict populations that survived in neighbouring small refugia throughout the Holocene. Our results strongly support the need for active conservation actions as mowing and extensive grazing.

Sampling at the nature reserve Močiar near Stankovany – a well preserved travertine fen with relict species of plants and molluscs. Photo by P. Hájková.

Sampling at the nature reserve Močiar near Stankovany – a well preserved travertine fen with relict species of plants and molluscs. Photo by P. Hájková.    

  • Hájková, P., Jamrichová, E., Šolcová, A., Frodlová, J., Petr, L., Dítě, D., Hájek M. & Horsák M. (2020): Can relict-rich communities be of an anthropogenic origin? Palaeoecological insight into conservation strategy for endangered Carpathian travertine fens. Quaternary Science Reviews, 234, 106241.
  • Horsák M., Hájková P. (2020): Kulturní, a přesto cenné. Nečekaný původ reliktních karpatských mokřadů. Vesmír 99: 2-5.

 

5/ Holocene vegetation history of the Jeseníky Mts: Deepening elevational contrast in pollen assemblages since late prehistory

We traced main trends of Holocene vegetation and landscape development of Jeseníky Mts, the easternmost Hercynian Mountains with fragmented alpine zone. We analysed sixteen fossil pollen records by numerical methods (DCA and DCCA). Increasing contrast between summits and middle elevation alluvia seems to be a major feature of vegetation development over the last 6,000 years. While alluvial areas in middle altitudes were covered by AlnusPicea forests, and later locally transformed into wet grasslands (with meadow herbs Caltha, Potentilla, Cirsium/Carduus), grazing and forest burning at summits gradually increased abundance of acidophytic dwarf shrubs, (Vaccinium, Calluna) and grazing indicators (Plantago lanceolata, Rumex acetosa). This elevational differentiation became pronounced after 2,250 cal BP, suggesting intentional human impact at summits since Late Iron Age. Picea pollen was surprisingly more associated with mid-elevation than high-elevation sites, unlike Fagus. It implies that spruce probably thrived mostly at the waterlogged basins in middle altitudes.

Middle elevation site Lipová mire (480 m asl), situated close to the Jeseník town. Photo by L. DudováHigh elevation site Vozka peatbog (1320 m asl), situated close to the Keprník summit in the Jeseníky Mts (in the background).  Photo by L. Dudová

High elevation site Vozka peatbog (1320 m asl), situated close to the Keprník summit in the Jeseníky Mts (in the background). Middle elevation site Lipová mire (480 m asl), situated close to the Jeseník town. Photo by L. Dudová

  • Dudová L., Hájek M., Petr L. & Jankovská V. (2018): Holocene vegetation history of the Jeseníky Mts: Deepening elevational contrast in pollen assemblages since late prehistory. Journal of Vegetation Science 29: 371– 381.

 

6/ Abrupt vegetation and environmental change since the MIS 2: A unique paleorecord from Slovakia (Central Europe)

Research on past abrupt climate change and linked biotic response is essential for understanding the future development of biota under changing climatic conditions, which, in turn, is necessary for adequate progress in ecosystem management and nature conservation. Our study presents the first comprehensive reconstruction of local and regional environment at the Western Carpathian/Pannonian Basin border, including a first chironomid-based paleoclimate reconstruction and δ18O and δ13C records from travertine. We illustrate that the most prominent abrupt change in the local environment occurred directly at the Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2/ 1 transition at 14,560 cal BP as a consequence of increased precipitation and an increase in reconstructed mean July temperature by ~2.2 °C. Our data suggest the presence of a steppe-tundra ecosystem with evidence for low amounts of temperate broadleaf trees during the MIS 2, indicating close proximity to their northern glacial refugium. Abrupt changes in local environment during the early Holocene were closely linked to travertine precipitation rate around thermal springs and thus indirectly to climate until the arrival of the Late Neolithics around 6400 cal BP.

In May 2015, a 620 cm long profile (333-950 cm from the surface) was obtained from Santovka – Pramene Budzgov using a percussion drilling set. Megaspores of Selaginella selaginoides (upper left figure) and endocarps of Potamogeton pussilus agg. (upper right figure) were found in the glacial samples. Photo by A. Šolcová.

In May 2015, a 620 cm long profile (333-950 cm from the surface) was obtained from Santovka – Pramene Budzgov using a percussion drilling set. Megaspores of Selaginella selaginoides (upper left figure) and endocarps of Potamogeton pussilus agg. (upper right figure) were found in the glacial samples. Photo by A. Šolcová.  

  • Šolcová, A., Jamrichová, E., Horsák, M., Pařil, P., Petr, L., Heiri, O. Květoň J., Křížek M., Hartvich F., Hájek M. & Hájková, P. (2020). Abrupt vegetation and environmental change since the MIS 2: A unique paleorecord from Slovakia (Central Europe). Quaternary Science Reviews, 230, 106170.

 

7/ Holocene plant diversity dynamics show a distinct biogeographical pattern in temperate Europe

Biodiversity is currently undergoing major changes. To better understand the impact of these changes, we need to know how biodiversity was changing in the past. In this study, we used data on pollen diversity from sediments of peat bogs and fens across Central Europe. Based on their analysis we obtained models of plant diversity changes for since the end of the last ice age up to the present. We identified two main dynamics: 1) continuous increase in diversity since the end of the last Ice Age, which occurred in the lowlands and Carpathian Mountains, and 2) stagnation or slight decline in species diversity, followed by a steep increase, which we observed mainly in the Hercynian Mountains. Besides differences in environmental condition, contrasting histories of human settlement coincided with the two dynamics. Our results support the view that humans have been a major driver of past plant diversity changes. At the same time, differences in natural conditions between relatively small regions played an important role as well.

Holocene species diversity in time; red curve: lowlands and the Carpathians, blue curve: mountain ranges except the Carpathians.

Holocene species diversity in time; red curve: lowlands and the Carpathians, blue curve: mountain ranges except the Carpathians. 

  • Roleček, J., Abraham, V., Vild, O., Svitavská Svobodová H., Jamrichová, E., Plesková, Z., Pokorný, P. & Kuneš, P. Holocene plant diversity dynamics show a distinct biogeographical pattern in temperate Europe. Journal of Biogeography, in press.