A continuous record of vegetation, fire-regime and climatic changes in northwestern Patagonia spanning the last 25,000 years

Patricio I. Moreno, Javiera Videla, Blas Valero-Garcés, Brent V. Alloway, Linda E. Heusser

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43 Scopus citations


We present a high-resolution precisely dated terrestrial paleovegetation/paleoclimate record from Lago Pichilaguna, northwestern Patagonia (40°–44°S), which spans continuously from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the present. We find abundant and continuous presence of arboreal pollen (chiefly Nothofagus) during the LGM, accompanied by other trees, shrubs, and alpine herbs. These results suggest Subantarctic parkland and/or scattered woodlands under a cold and hyperhumid climate during the LGM (∼25,000–17,800 cal. yr BP) with expansion of Nothofagus under relatively warm interstadial conditions between 25,000 and 19,200 cal. yr BP. This was followed by cooling and a precipitation increase between 19,200 and 17,800 cal. yr BP, which was contemporaneous with the youngest LGM advance of Andean glaciers in the region and maximum influence of the Southern Westerly Wind (SWW). The Last Glacial Termination (T1) started at 17,800 cal. yr BP and featured the spread of thermophilous trees and ferns characteristic of North Patagonian rainforests, along with lake level lowering. These results suggest a warm pulse and southward shift of the SWW, concurrent with a rapid collapse of Andean glacier lobes. Subsequent changes led to the establishment of closed-canopy rainforests under peak interstadial warmth between ∼16,000 and 15,000 cal. yr BP. We detect a shift to cold/wet conditions during the Antarctic Cold Reversal (14,800–12,700 cal. yr BP) and a precipitation decline during Younger Dryas time, followed by maximum temperature, relatively lower lake level and minimum SWW influence between 11,300 and 7700 cal. yr BP. Precipitation then rose punctuated by centennial-scale variations since 6200 cal. yr BP. Chilean-European deforestation and spread of invasive exotic species started at ∼350 cal. yr BP aided by fire. We conclude that temperate rainforests have persisted with little interruption since T1, with major changes in floristic composition driven by climate change and fires. Rainforest composition and heterogeneity declined in response to Chilean/European disturbance during the 1600s and intensified since the 1800s. These events constitute the fastest/largest-magnitude vegetation changes of the last ∼25,000 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-36
Number of pages22
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Oct 15 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Fire disturbance
  • Holocene
  • Last glacial maximum
  • Last glacial termination
  • Northwestern patagonia
  • Southern westerly winds
  • Vegetation history

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