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Vegetation over the last glacial maximum at Girraween Lagoon, monsoonal northern Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2020

Cassandra Rowe
College of Science and Engineering, ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD4870, Australia
Christopher M. Wurster
College of Science and Engineering, ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD4870, Australia
Costijn Zwart
College of Science and Engineering, ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD4870, Australia
Michael Brand
College of Science and Engineering, ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD4870, Australia
Lindsay B. Hutley
Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory0909, Australia
Vladimir Levchenko
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, Locked Bag 2001, Kirrawee DC NSW2232, Australia
Michael I. Bird
College of Science and Engineering, ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Biodiversity and Heritage and Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, QLD4870, Australia
E-mail address:


Northern Australia is a region where limited information exists on environments at the last glacial maximum (LGM). Girraween Lagoon is located on the central northern coast of Australia and is a site representative of regional tropical savanna woodlands. Girraween Lagoon remained a perennial waterbody throughout the LGM, and as a result retains a complete proxy record of last-glacial climate, vegetation and fire. This study combines independent palynological and geochemical analyses to demonstrate a dramatic reduction in both tree cover and woody richness, and an expansion of grassland, relative to current vegetation at the site. The process of tree decline was primarily controlled by the cool-dry glacial climate and CO2 effects, though more localised site characteristics restricted wetland-associated vegetation. Fire processes played less of a role in determining vegetation than during the Holocene and modern day, with reduced fire activity consistent with significantly lower biomass available to burn. Girraween Lagoon's unique and detailed palaeoecological record provides the opportunity to explore and assess modelling studies of vegetation distribution during the LGM, particularly where a number of different global vegetation and/or climate simulations are inconsistent for northern Australia, and at a range of resolutions.

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Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020

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