The Holocene Cedrus pollen record from Sierra Nevada (S Spain), a proxy for climate change in N Africa
Comprehending the effects of climate variability and disturbance on forested ecosystems is paramount to successfully managing forest environments under future climate scenarios (e.g., global warming, aridification increase). Changes in fossil pollen abundance in sedimentary archives record past vegetation dynamics at regional scales, mainly related to climate changes and, in the last few millennia, to human impact. Pollen records can thus provide long databases with information on how the environment reacted to climate change before the historical record. In this study, we synthesized fossil pollen data from seven sites from the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain to investigate the response of forests in the western Mediterranean area to millennial-scale climate changes and to human impact during the Holocene. In particular, here we focused on Cedrus pollen abundances, which most-likely originated from Northern Africa and were carried to Sierra Nevada by wind. Cedrus pollen has received little attention in the Iberian Peninsula palynological records, for it occurs in low concentrations and has an African source, and thus this article explores the potential to reconstruct its past history and climate. Although Cedrus abundances are generally lower than 1% in the studied pollen samples, a comparison with North African (Moroccan) Cedrus pollen records shows similar trends at long- and short-term time-scales. Therefore, this record could be used as a proxy for changes in this forest species in North Africa. As observed in the Sierra Nevada synthetic record, the increasing trend of Cedrus pollen during the Middle and Late Holocene closely correlates with decreasing summer insolation. This would have produced overall cooler annual temperatures in Northern Africa (Middle Atlas and Rif Mountains) as well as lower summer evaporation, benefiting the growth of this cool-adapted montane tree species while increasing available moisture during the summer, which is critical for this water-demanding species. Millennial-scale variability also characterizes the Sierra Nevada Cedrus synthetic pollen record. Cedrus abundance oscillations co-vary with well-known millennial-scale climatic variability that controlled cedar abundance and altitudinal distribution in montane areas of N Africa.