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Svante Björck

Svante Björck

Professor emeritus

Svante Björck

Is palynology a credible climate proxy in the Subantarctic?


  • Nathalie Van der Putten
  • Cyriel Verbruggen
  • Svante Björck
  • Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu
  • Chris J. Barrow
  • Yves Frenot

Summary, in English

Pollen and spore analysis is the most successfully used palaeobotanical discipline for reconstructing Holocene vegetation and climate history throughout

the world. Subantarctic islands are very specific areas. They are located in the circum-Antarctic Southern Ocean in latitudes that are under strong

influence of the southern westerly winds, and are characterised by a treeless, phanerogam-poor flora. Palynological research on many of these islands has

resulted in diverging conclusions about how to infer climate history from pollen data. In this study we compare pollen data with macrofossil data on the

one hand, and the palaeoenvironmental history based on a multiproxy record on the other hand, of two peat sequences from two different subantarctic

islands, South Georgia and Île de la Possession (Îles Crozet). We conclude that palynology must be used with caution as a proxy for climate change

on these islands, especially when no other proxy data are available. The upland–lowland principle, as it has been applied in pollen studies in the South

Indian Ocean islands, results in erroneous conclusions about climate change on Île de la Possession. More palaeoclimatic multiproxy and pollen studies,

in combination with pollen–vegetation relationship studies, can, however, contribute to a more reliable model of how to interpret pollen data in the

Subantarctic. We want to stress that our conclusions are only based on Holocene records. Consequently, the question remains if palynology can be used

as a palaeoclimatic proxy when climatic changes were more pronounced such as during the last glacial–interglacial transition.


  • Quaternary Sciences
  • MERGE: ModElling the Regional and Global Earth system
  • BECC: Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate

Publishing year







The Holocene





Document type

Journal article


SAGE Publications


  • Geology


  • Holocene
  • Îles Crozet
  • palynology
  • plant macrofossil analysis
  • South Georgia
  • Subantarctic




  • ISSN: 0959-6836