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Task 2.2.3. Pollen analysis of permafrost samples

Task lead: CR07 UniSouth Prof. Mary Edwards, School of Geography, University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK

Pollen analysis is an established technique for reconstructing past plant assemblages. Here it is used as a comparator for plant communities reconstructed using the new DNA approach developed by Ecochange.  We focused on modern studies in which pollen, vegetation, and DNA results could be compared, and on one particular section of permafrost sediments in Chukotka, at Main River, which has excellent preservation of DNA and pollen and covers the period ~40,000-15,000 years before present.  In accordance with expected patterns pollen samples taken from the Varanger and Svalbard sites record predominantly local vegetation. Modern pollen samples record a greater proportion of woody plants (shrubs and trees) than do DNA samples, and this is in agreement with observed differences between the representation of woody and herbaceous plants by pollen and DNA. The same pattern is seen in the fossil samples at Main River. Pollen and DNA provide complementary information; the DNA is particularly useful in improving the taxonomic resolution in reconstructions of ancient plant communities. The results suggest that DNA patterns are consistent with pollen patterns and thus can usefully be used to reconstruct the details of past plant communities.

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