Representation of tundra vegetation by pollen in lake sediments of northern Alaska

W. Wyatt Oswald, Patricia M. Anderson, Linda B. Brubakel, Feng Sheng Hu, Daniel R. Engstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Aim: To understand better the representation of arctic tundra vegetation by pollen data, we analysed pollen assemblages and pollen accumulation rates (PARs) in the surface sediments of lakes. Location: Modern sediment samples were collected from seventy-eight lakes located in the Arctic Foothills and Arctic Coastal Plain regions of northern Alaska. Methods: For seventy of the lakes, we analysed pollen and spores in the upper 2 cm of the sediment and calculated the relative abundance of each taxon (pollen percentages). For eleven of the lakes, we used 210Pb analysis to determine sediment accumulation rates, and analysed pollen in the upper 10-15 cm of the sediment to estimate modern PARs. Using a detailed land-cover map of northern Alaska, we assigned each study site to one of five tundra types: moist dwarf-shrub tussock-graminoid tundra (DST), moist graminoid prostrate-shrub tundra (PST) (coastal and inland types), low-shrub tundra (LST) and wet graminoid tundra (WGT). Results: Mapped pollen percentages and multivariate comparison of the pollen data using discriminant analysis show that pollen assemblages vary along the main north-south vegetational and climatic gradients. On the Arctic Coastal Plain where climate is cold and dry, graminoid-dominated PST and WGT sites were characterized by high percentages of Cyperaceae and Poaceae pollen. In the Arctic Foothills where climate is warmer and wetter, shrub-dominated DST, PST and LST were characterized by high percentages of Alnus and Betula pollen. Small-scale variations in tundra vegetation related to edaphic variability are also represented by the pollen data. Discriminant analysis demonstrated that DST sites could be distinguished from foothills PST sites based on their higher percentages of Ericales and Rubus chamaemorus pollen, and coastal PST sites could be distinguished from WGT sites based on their higher percentages of Artemisia. PARs appear to reflect variations in overall vegetation cover, although the small number of samples limits our understanding of these patterns. For coastal sites, PARs were higher for PST than WGT, whereas in the Arctic Foothills, PARs were highest in LST, intermediate in DST, and lowest in PST. Main conclusion: Modern pollen data from northern Alaska reflect patterns of tundra vegetation related to both regional-scale climatic gradients and landscape-scale edaphic heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-535
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska
  • Arctic Coastal Plain
  • Arctic Foothills
  • Modern pollen
  • North Slope
  • Paleoecology
  • Palynology
  • Pollen accumulation rates
  • Tundra


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