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Vegetative Response to Rapid Climate Change in Southern Europe
Allen, J.R.M., Brandt, U., Brauer, A., Hubberten, H.-W., Huntley, B., Keller, J., Kraml, M., Mackensen, A., Mingram, J., Negendank, J.F.W., Nowaczyk, N.R., Oberhansli, H., Watts, W.A., Wulf, S. and Zolitschka, B.  1999.  Rapid environmental changes in southern Europe during the last glacial period.  Nature 400: 740-743.

What was done
The authors analyzed sediment cores from a lake in southern Italy and from the Mediterranean Sea, presenting a high-resolution climate and vegetation data set for this region over the last 102,000 years.

What was learned
Rapid changes in vegetation were found to correlate with rapid changes in climate, such that complete shifts in natural ecosystems would sometimes occur over periods of less than 200 years.  Over the warmest portion of the record, the Holocene, the total organic carbon content of the vegetation reached its highest level, more than doubling values experienced over the rest of the record.  Other proxy indicators revealed that during the more productive woody plant period of the Holocene, the increased vegetative cover also led to less soil erosion.

What it means
The results of this study demonstrate that the biosphere can -- and does! -- respond to rapid changes in climate.  Indeed, the group of 15 authors state that "the biosphere was a full participant in these rapid fluctuations, contrary to widely held views that vegetation is unable to change with such rapidity."  Furthermore, warmer was always better in terms of vegetative productivity.  Thus, future warming in this region may return this area to more favorable conditions.

Reviewed 15 September 1999