A multi-proxy, high-resolution record of peatland development and its drivers during the last millennium from the subalpine Swiss Alps

W.O. van der Knaap, M. Lamentowicz, J.F.N. van Leeuwen, S. Hangartner, M. Leuenberger, Dmitri Mauquoy, T. Goslar, E.A.D. Mitchell, L. Lamentowicz, C. Kamenik

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We present a record of peatland development during the last 1000 years from Mauntschas mire in the eastern Swiss Alps (Upper Engadine valley; 1818 m a.s.l.) inferred from testate amoebae (pH and depth to the water table (DWT) reconstructions), stable oxygen isotopes in Sphagnum (d18O; proxy for water
vapour pressure) and carbon isotopes in Sphagnum (d13C; proxy for mire surface wetness), peat accumulation rates, charcoal (indicating local burning), pollen and spores (proxies for human impact), and plant macrofossils (reflecting local vegetation and trophic state). Past human impact on the local mire
conditions was strong but fluctuating during AD 1000e1570 (50 yr; deptheage model based on 29 14C AMS dates) with local irrigation of nutrient-enriched water and grazing. Human impact was minor AD 1570e1830 (30 yr) with partial recovery of the local mire vegetation, and it was absent AD 1830
(30 yr)epresent when hummock formation took place. Correlations among DWT, pH, d13C, and d18O, carried out both with the raw data and with linear trends removed, suggest that the factors driving peatland development changed over time, since only testate amoeba-based pH and DWT co-varied during all the three aforementioned periods. d18O correlates with d13C only in the period AD
1830epresent and with DWT only during AD 1570e1830, d13C correlates with DWT only during AD 1000e1570. Part of this apparent instability among the four time series might be attributed to shifts in the local mire conditions which potentially formed very different (non-analogue) habitats. Lack of analogues, caused, for example, by pre-industrial human impact, might have introduced artefacts in the reconstructions, since those habitats are not well represented in some proxy transfer functions. Human impact was probably the main factor for peatland development, distorting most of the climate signals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3467-3480
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number23-24
Early online date26 Aug 2011
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • Last millennium
  • Multi-proxy
  • Hig resolution
  • Palaeoecology
  • Peatland
  • Alps
  • Climate
  • Human impact


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