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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  10 Aug 2020

10 Aug 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

The transformation of the forest steppe in the lower Danube Plain of south-eastern Europe: 6000 years of vegetation and land use dynamic

Angelica Feurdean1,2,3,, Roxana Grindean3,, Gabriela Florescu3,4,5, Ioan Tanţău3, Eva Niedermeyer2, Andrei-Cosmin Diaconu3, Simon M. Hutchinson6, Anne Brigitte Nielsen7, Tiberiu Sava8, Andrei Panait2, Mihaly Braun9, and Thomas Hickler1,2 Angelica Feurdean et al.
  • 1Department of Physical Geography, Goethe University, Altenhöferallee 1, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 2Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage, 25, 60325, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 3Department of Geology, Babeş-Bolyai University, Kogălniceanu1, 400084, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • 4Department of Geography, Stefan cel Mare University, 13 Universităţii Street, 720229, Suceava, Romania
  • 5Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University, CZ-128 01 Prague, Czech Republic
  • 6School of Science, Engineering and Environment, University of Salford, Salford, M5 4WT, UK
  • 7Department of Geology, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, 22362 Lund, Sweden
  • 8Horia Hulubei National Institute for Physics and Nuclear Engineering (IFIN-HH), Reactorului 30, 077125, Măgurele, Romania
  • 9Institute for Nuclear Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, H-4026 Debrecen, Bem tér 18/C, Debrecen, Hungary
  • These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Forest steppes are dynamic ecosystems, highly susceptible to changes in climate and land use. Here we examine the Holocene history of the European forest steppe ecotone in the Lower Danube Plain to better understand its sensitivity to climate fluctuations and human impact, and the timing of its transition into a cultural forest steppe. We used multi-proxy analyses (pollen, n-alkane, coprophilous fungi, charcoal, and geochemistry) of a 6000-year sequence from Lake Oltina (SE Romania), combined with a REVEALS model of quantitative vegetation cover. We found the greatest tree cover, composed of xerothermic (Carpinus orientalis and Quercus) and temperate (Carpinus betulus, Tilia, Ulmus and Fraxinus) tree taxa between 6000 and 2500 cal yr BP. Maximum tree cover (~ 50 %) occurred between 4200 and 2500 cal yr BP at a time of wetter climatic conditions. Compared to other European forest steppe areas, the dominance of Carpinus orientalis represents the most distinct feature of the woodland's composition during that time. Forest loss was under way by 2500 yr BP (Iron Age) with REVEALS estimates indicating a fall to ~ 20 % tree cover from the mid-Holocene forest maximum linked to clearance for agriculture, while climate conditions remained wet. Biomass burning increased markedly at 2500 cal yr BP suggesting that fire was regularly used as a management tool until 1000 cal yr BP when woody vegetation became scarce. A sparse tree cover, with only weak signs of forest recovery, then became a permanent characteristic of the Lower Danube Plain, highlighting recurring anthropogenic pressure. The timing of anthropogenic ecosystem transformation here (2500 cal yr BP) was in between that in central eastern (between 3700 and 3000 cal yr BP) and eastern (after 2000 cal yr BP) Europe. Our study is the first quantitative land cover estimate at the forest steppe ecotone in south eastern Europe spanning 6000 years and provides critical empirical evidence that the present-day forest steppe/woodlands reflects the potential natural vegetation in this region under current climate conditions. This study also highlights the potential of n-alkane indices for vegetation reconstruction, particularly in dry regions where pollen is poorly preserved.

Angelica Feurdean et al.

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Angelica Feurdean et al.

Angelica Feurdean et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Here we used multi-proxy analyses from Lake Oltina (Romania), and examine for the first time, the past 6000 years history of the forest steppe in the Lower Danube Plain, one of the oldest areas of human occupation in SE Europe. We found the greatest tree cover between 6000 and 2500 cal yr BP. Forest loss was under way by 2500 yr BP falling to ~ 20 % tree cover linked to clearance for agriculture. The weak signs of forest recovery over the past 2500 years highlights recurring anthropogenic pressure.
Here we used multi-proxy analyses from Lake Oltina (Romania), and examine for the first time,...