Substantial light woodland and open vegetation characterized the temperate forest biome before Homo sapiens

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Elena A. Pearce
  • Florence Mazier
  • Signe Normand
  • Ralph Fyfe
  • Valérie Andrieu
  • Corrie Bakels
  • Zofia Balwierz
  • Krzysztof Bińka
  • Steve Boreham
  • Olga K. Borisova
  • Anna Brostrom
  • Jacques Louis de Beaulieu
  • Cunhai Gao
  • Penélope González-Sampériz
  • Wojciech Granoszewski
  • Anna Hrynowiecka
  • Piotr Kołaczek
  • Petr Kuneš
  • Donatella Magri
  • Małgorzata Malkiewicz
  • Tim Mighall
  • Alice M. Milner
  • Per Möller
  • Małgorzata Nita
  • Bożena Noryśkiewicz
  • Irena Agnieszka Pidek
  • Maurice Reille
  • Ann Marie Robertsson
  • J. Sakari Salonen
  • Patrick Schläfli
  • Jeroen Schokker
  • Paolo Scussolini
  • Vaida Šeirienė
  • Jaqueline Strahl
  • Hanna Winter
  • Jens Christian Svenning

The extent of vegetation openness in past European landscapes is widely debated. In particular, the temperate forest biome has traditionally been defined as dense, closed-canopy forest; however, some argue that large herbivores maintained greater openness or even wood-pasture conditions. Here, we address this question for the Last Interglacial period (129,000-116,000 years ago), before Homo sapiens-linked megafauna declines and anthropogenic landscape transformation. We applied the vegetation reconstruction method REVEALS to 96 Last Interglacial pollen records. We found that light woodland and open vegetation represented, on average, more than 50% cover during this period. The degree of openness was highly variable and only partially linked to climatic factors, indicating the importance of natural disturbance regimes. Our results show that the temperate forest biome was historically heterogeneous rather than uniformly dense, which is consistent with the dependency of much of contemporary European biodiversity on open vegetation and light woodland.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereadi9135
JournalScience Advances
Issue number45
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 10.11.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Karger for assisting with the bias correction and downscaling of the Last Interglacial climate data based on the CHELSA V2 dataset. We also thank P. Gibbard for help and support during data collection. We are thankful to A. Blach Overgaard for help in harmonizing the pollen taxa. We thank C. Tzedakis for thorough and helpful feedback regarding this manuscript. We thank A. Pearcy Buitenwerf for helpful comments on the manuscript. Last, we thank C. Davison for the valuable discussions and assistance throughout this project. This work was supported by the project TERRANOVA, the European Landscape Learning Initiative, which received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 813904. The output reflects only the views of the authors, and the European Union cannot be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein. J.-C.S. also considers this work to contribute to his VILLUM Investigator project “Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World” funded by VILLUM FONDEN (grant 16549), the Center for Ecological Dynamics in a Novel Biosphere (ECONOVO) funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (grant DNRF173), and his Independent Research Fund Denmark: Natural Sciences project MegaComplexity (grant 0135-00225B). This work was also supported by SustainScapes - Center for Sustainable Landscapes under Global Change (NOVO grant NNF20OC0059595).

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