Quantifying the effects of land use and climate on Holocene vegetation in Europe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Early agriculture can be detected in palaeovegetation records, but quantification of the relative importance of climate and land use in influencing regional vegetation composition since the onset of agriculture is a topic that is rarely addressed. We present a novel approach that combines pollen-based REVEALS estimates of plant cover with climate, anthropogenic land-cover and dynamic vegetation modelling results. This is used to quantify the relative impacts of land use and climate on Holocene vegetation at a sub-continental scale, i.e. northern and western Europe north of the Alps. We use redundancy analysis and variation partitioning to quantify the percentage of variation in vegetation composition explained by the climate and land-use variables, and Monte Carlo permutation tests to assess the statistical significance of each variable. We further use a similarity index to combine pollen-based REVEALS estimates with climate-driven dynamic vegetation modelling results. The overall results indicate that climate is the major driver of vegetation when the Holocene is considered as a whole and at the sub-continental scale, although land use is important regionally. Four critical phases of land-use effects on vegetation are identified. The first phase (from 7000 to 6500 BP) corresponds to the early impacts on vegetation of farming and Neolithic forest clearance and to the dominance of climate as a driver of vegetation change. During the second phase (from 4500 to 4000 BP), land use becomes a major control of vegetation. Climate is still the principal driver, although its influence decreases gradually. The third phase (from 2000 to 1500 BP) is characterised by the continued role of climate on vegetation as a consequence of late-Holocene climate shifts and specific climate events that influence vegetation as well as land use. The last phase (from 500 to 350 BP) shows an acceleration of vegetation changes, in particular during the last century, caused by new farming practices and forestry in response to population growth and industrialization. This is a unique signature of anthropogenic impact within the Holocene but European vegetation remains climatically sensitive and thus may continue to respond to ongoing climate change.


  • Laurent Marquer
  • Marie-José Gaillard
  • Shinya Sugita
  • Anna-Kari Trondman
  • Florence Mazier
  • Ralph M. Fyfe
  • Jed O. Kaplan
  • Teija Alenius
  • H. John B. Birks
  • Anne E. Bjune
  • Jörg Christiansen
  • John Dodson
  • Kevin J. Edwards
  • Thomas Giesecke
  • Ulrike Herzschuh
  • Mihkel Kangur
  • Tiiu Koff
  • Małgorzata Latałowa
  • Jutta Lechterbeck
  • Jörgen Olofsson
  • Heikki Seppä
External organisations
  • Linnaeus University
  • Tallinn University of Technology
  • Plymouth University
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of Turku
  • University of Bergen
  • University College London
  • University of Göttingen
  • University of Wollongong
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Potsdam
  • University of Stavanger
  • Tallinn University
  • University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Uni Research AS
  • Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • University of Gdansk
  • University of Toulouse
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geology
  • Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


  • Climate, Europe, Holocene, Human impact, Land use, LPJ-GUESS, Pollen, REVEALS, Vegetation composition
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-37
Number of pages18
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sep 1
Publication categoryResearch

Related projects

M. -J. Gaillard, M. Jane Bunting, Nicky Whitehouse, Jed Kaplan, Kees Klein Goldewijk & Anne Birgitte Nielsen


Project: NetworkInternational collaboration, Interdisciplinary research

View all (1)