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A reconstruction of the history of a Holocene sand dune on Great Barrier Island, northern New Zealand, using pollen and phytolith analyses

by admin last modified 2008-03-25 01:49 PM

Horrocks M, Deng Y, Ogden J, Sutton DG. 2000. Journal of Biogeography 27, 1269-1277.


Aim To reconstruct the history of a Holocene sand dune using pollen and phytolith analyses, and to identify the strengths, weaknesses and compatibility of these two methods in the interpretation of Quaternary coastal environments.

Location Great Barrier Island, northern New Zealand.

Methods Pollen and phytolith analyses were carried out on a sequence through a Holocene sand dune containing a palaeosol. Results Phytoliths were present throughout the sequence. Grass phytoliths increased at the expense of tree phytoliths following fire disturbance. Pollen (and spores) was preserved only in the palaeosol part of the profile. Pteridium fern spores increased at the expense of tall tree pollen following the fire disturbance.

Main conclusions Lack of phytolith production by many species and problems of taxonomic specificity in many others restricts the usefulness of phytolith analysis to defining only broad vegetation types. In New Zealand, gymnosperms are invisible in the phytolith record and ferns are extremely under-represented. In contrast, pollen analysis usually provides a great deal of information regarding the composition of a particular vegetation type. The loss of microscopic charcoal fragments during the phytolith extraction process is a disadvantage in the reconstruction of environments where fires have occurred. The greater durability of phytoliths compared with pollen means that phytoliths may be found in sediments where pollen has not been preserved. The phytolith record may also provide evidence of wetter environments that are not apparent in the pollen record. Unlike grass pollen which is widely dispersed and therefore blurs the spatial record, the presence of grass phytoliths in sediments indicates a local source. The simultaneous application of both methods potentially provides a strong tool in ecological interpretation and the reconstruction of Quaternary coastal environments.


Pollen, phytoliths, charcoal, Kaharoa Tephra, palaeosols, sand dunes, Holocene, New Zealand.

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