Links between southern and northern hemisphere climates during the Late Quaternary are poorly known, partly due to the scarcity of continuous climatic records in the southern tropics. Pollen and diatom evidence from Lake Tritrivakely (19°47′S) provides information on vegetational and hydrological changes in the central highlands of Madagascar over the past 40,000 yr. Most of the record reflects natural environmental variability since humans arrived on the island ca. 2000 yr B.P. During glacial times, the migration of mountain plants toward lower altitudes is consistent with a temperature decrease and with reduced atmospheric CO2 levels. In the lake, a positive mean annual hydrologic balance, from 38,000 to 36,000 and from 17,500 to 9800 cal yr B.P., coincided with periods of decreasing summer insolation and preceded by several millennia lake rises in the northern tropics. A negative hydrologic budget during periods of maximum seasonal contrast in solar radiation is partly attributed to high summer evaporation rate. The last glacial maximum was cool and dry. The deglacial warming occurred in two steps. The first step, accompanied by an increase in wetness, occurred abruptly at ca. 17,000 cal yr B.P., about two millennia earlier than in the northern hemisphere. It is abundantly documented in southern terrestrial data. The second step, at 15,000 cal yr B.P., was in phase with the first major temperature change in the northern hemisphere.