Vegetation, climate and fire-dynamics in East Africa inferred from the Maundi crater pollen record from Mt Kilimanjaro during the last glacial-interglacial cycle
The pollen, charcoal and sedimentological record from the Maundi crater, located at 2780 m elevation on the south-eastern slope of Mt Kilimanjaro, is one of the longest terrestrial records in equatorial East Africa, giving an interesting insight into the vegetation and climate dynamics back to the early last Glacial period. Our sediment record has a reliable chronology until 42 ka BP. An extrapolation of the age-depth model, as well as matching with other palaeo-records from tropical East Africa, suggest a total age of about 90 ka BP at the bottom of the record. During the last Glacial the distribution as well as the composition of the vegetation belts classified as colline savanna, submontane woodland, montane forest, ericaceous belt, and alpine vegetation changed. The early last Glacial is characterized by high amounts of Poaceae and Asteraceae pollen suggesting a climatically dry but stable phase. Based on the absence of pollen grains in samples deposited around 70 ka BP, we assume the occurrence of distinct drought periods. During the pre-LGM (Last Glacial Maximum) a higher taxa diversity of the ericaceous and montane zone is recorded and suggests a spread of forest and shrub vegetation, thus indicating a more humid period. The taxa diversity increases steadily during the recorded time span. The decent of vegetation zones indicate dry and cold conditions during the LGM and seem to have been detrimental for many taxa, especially those of the forest vegetation; however, the early last Glacial seems to have been markedly drier than the LGM. The reappearance of most of the taxa (most importantly Alchemilla, Araliaceae, Dodonea, Hagenia, Ilex, Myrsine, Moraceae, Piperaceae) during the deglacial and Holocene period suggest a shift into humid conditions. An increase in ferns and the decrease in grasses during the Holocene also indicate increasing humidity. Fire played an important role in controlling the development and elevation of the ericaceous zone and the tree line. During the Holocene no increased anthropogenic impact around the Maundi crater can be observed, since neither higher fire activity nor a spread of hemerophilic plants is recorded. This pollen archive reveals shifts in the upper vegetation zones (ericaceous zone and montane forest zone) of at least 1100 m but underlines the role of Mt Kilimanjaro as a glacial refuge for montane forest species similar to that of the Eastern Arc Mountains.