Reconstructing Historical Vegetation Cover in Otago, New Zealand, Using Multi-proxy Analysis of Peat Cores.
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This research has examined the historical vegetation of two Eastern Otago sites below the regional treeline, with the aim of addressing questions about the distribution and spread of native tussock grasslands prior to human arrival in New Zealand c. 800 yr BP. Pollen and phytolith (plant opaline silicate) proxies have been extracted from peat cores at Swampy Summit and Clarks Junction to provide a record of vegetation spanning the Holocene. Using multiple proxies and two sample sites has allowed for comparisons of the record of vegetation from within sites and between sites. A record of the modern pollen rain was also gathered from localised moss polsters at Swampy Summit in order to reconcile modern pollen assemblages and transport patterns with historical findings. It became clear from the research that the record of vegetation inferred from phytoliths was not analogous to the pollen-based records, which supported the hypothesis that vegetation reconstructions based solely on pollen may be unreliable. Good pollen preservation in the sediments allowed for the identification of over 50 taxa, although only Chionochloid forms were identifiable to a family level in the phytolith records. Poaceae pollen was abundant throughout the Clarks Junction record, suggesting grassland had persisted at this site during the Holocene, while Poaceae pollen at Swampy Summit was minimal and sporadic. Phytoliths at Swampy Summit show grasses have persisted at the site thoughout the Holocene, at times in much greater proportions than the pollen record would suggest, while Chionochloid phytoliths only become common near the top of the record, possibly reflecting increasing dominance of this taxa after human disturbance. In contrast to Swampy Summit, the Clarks Junction phytolith record reflects a more stable presence of grasses throughout the Holocene, with Chionochloid forms present throughout. Phytoliths appear to be a more reliable proxy for local vegetation, with both sites indicating a Holocene presence of grasses below the regional treeline prior to human arrival in New Zealand. In comparison, the pollen record appears to indicate a more regional pattern of vegetation, with the grassland pollen record complicated by pollen dispersal and deposition factors.