Insights into the evolution of the young Lake Ohrid ecosystem and vegetation succession from a southern European refugium during the Early Pleistocene

Konstantinos Panagiotopoulos, Jens Holtvoeth, Katerina Kouli, Elena Marinova, Alexander Francke, Aleksandra Cvetkoska, Elena Jovanovska, Jack Lacey, Emma Lyons, Connie Buckel, Adele Bertini, Timme Donders, Janna Just, Niklas Leicher, Melanie Leng, Martin Melles, Rich D Pancost, Laura Sadori, Paul Tauber, Hendrik VogelBernd Wagner, Thomas Wilke

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Mediterranean mid-altitude sites are critical for the survival of plant species allowing for elevational vegetation shifts in response to high-amplitude climate variability. Pollen records from the southern Balkans have underlined the importance of the region in preserving plant diversity over at least the last half a million years. So far, there are no records of vegetation and climate dynamics from Balkan refugia with an Early Pleistocene age. Here we present a unique palynological archive from such a refugium, the Lake Ohrid basin, recording continuously floristic diversity and vegetation succession under obliquitypaced
climate oscillations. Palynological data are complemented by biomarker, diatom, carbonate isotope and sedimentological data to identify the mechanisms controlling shifts in the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems within the lake and its catchment. The study interval encompasses four complete glacial-interglacial cycles (1365e1165 ka; MIS 43e35). Within the first 100 kyr of lake ontogeny, lake size and depth increase before the lake system enters a new equilibrium state as observed in a distinct shift in biotic communities and sediment composition. Several relict tree genera such as Cedrus, Tsuga, Carya, and Pterocarya played an important role in ecological succession cycles, while total relict abundance accounts for up to half of the total arboreal vegetation. The most prominent biome during interglacials is cool mixed evergreen needleleaf and deciduous broadleaf forests, while cool evergreen needleleaf forests
dominate within glacials. A rather forested landscape with a remarkable plant diversity provide unique
insights into Early Pleistocene ecosystem resilience and vegetation dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106044
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date21 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Mediterranean region, Mid-altitude refugium, Relicts, Vegetation succession, Pollen-based biome reconstruction, Palynological richness, Microscopic charcoal, Lipid biomarkers, Diatoms, Stable isotopes


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