Glacial Survival of Boreal Trees in Northern Scandinavia

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Science  02 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6072, pp. 1083-1086
DOI: 10.1126/science.1216043

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Tree Refugia

Ideas of how and when boreal plants spread to the formerly glaciated parts of the world following the retreat of the glaciers 9000 years ago are long debated. Models of the postglacial spread of boreal plants argue for dispersal from southern refugia; however, Parducci et al. (p. 1083) have shown that both spruce and pine were present in small ice-free regions of Scandinavia much earlier than thought. DNA haplotyping confirmed that a remnant mitochondrial type of spruce, once unique to Scandinavia, now lives alongside the more common spruce originating from Eastern Europe. Evidence from lake cores collected from central and northern Norway indicated the survival of conifers as early as 22,000 years before the present, when apart from ice-free pockets, most of Scandinavia was covered by ice.


It is commonly believed that trees were absent in Scandinavia during the last glaciation and first recolonized the Scandinavian Peninsula with the retreat of its ice sheet some 9000 years ago. Here, we show the presence of a rare mitochondrial DNA haplotype of spruce that appears unique to Scandinavia and with its highest frequency to the west—an area believed to sustain ice-free refugia during most of the last ice age. We further show the survival of DNA from this haplotype in lake sediments and pollen of Trøndelag in central Norway dating back ~10,300 years and chloroplast DNA of pine and spruce in lake sediments adjacent to the ice-free Andøya refugium in northwestern Norway as early as ~22,000 and 17,700 years ago, respectively. Our findings imply that conifer trees survived in ice-free refugia of Scandinavia during the last glaciation, challenging current views on survival and spread of trees as a response to climate changes.

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