Holocene treeline and timberline changes in the South Carpathians (Romania): Climatic and anthropogenic drivers on the southern slopes of the Retezat Mountains

Ildikó Vincze, Ildikó Orbán, Hilary H. Birks, Ilona Pál, Walter Finsinger, Katalin Hubay, Elena Marinova, Gusztáv Jakab, Mihály Braun, Tamás Biró, Mónika Tóth, Claudia Dănău, Iosif V. Ferencz, Enikő K. Magyari

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Two high-altitude lake-sediment sequences (Lake Lia, 1910 m a.s.l. and Lake Bucura, 2040 m a.s.l.) from the Retezat Mountains (South Carpathians, Romania) were analysed using multi-proxy methods to study responses of treeline, timberline and alpine/subalpine vegetation to climate change and human impact during the past 16,000 years. Woody species (Pinus mugo, Pinus cembra, Picea abies and Juniperus communis) reached Lake Lia between 12,000 and 11,800 cal. yr BP, whereas P. mugo colonised the shores of Lake Bucura at 9600 cal. yr BP. Lake Lia was in the timberline ecotone between 8000 and 3200 cal. yr BP, in semi-open P. cembra and Picea abies woodland, probably mixed with P. mugo on the steeper slopes. Lake Bucura was surrounded by the upper part of the krummholz zone during the mid-Holocene. The increase in P. cembra after c. 6000 cal. yr BP around Lake Lia suggests that the composition of the timberline forest changed. The disappearance of P. cembra and Picea abies around Lake Lia at ~3000 cal. yr BP reflects descent of the timberline. A large mean July temperature decline between 3300 and 2800 cal. yr BP may have driven or at least contributed to the descent of the Picea abies–P. cembra forests. An increase in human indicator pollen types in Lake Bucura around 4200 cal. yr BP may reflect human impact in the naturally open alpine zone in the Late Bronze Age. In contrast, human impact likely appeared considerably later, around 2650 cal. yr BP (Early Iron Age) around Lake Lia in the upper subalpine zone. Human impact likely intensified after 2200 cal. yr BP at both sites that resulted in the lowering of the krummholz zone. We conclude that climate change and human impact both played an important role in the lowering of the treeline and timberline in the late-Holocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1613-1630
Number of pages18
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2017



  • Holocene climate
  • Retezat Mountains
  • human impact
  • plant macrofossils
  • timberline
  • treeline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology

Cite this

Vincze, I., Orbán, I., Birks, H. H., Pál, I., Finsinger, W., Hubay, K., Marinova, E., Jakab, G., Braun, M., Biró, T., Tóth, M., Dănău, C., Ferencz, I. V., & Magyari, E. K. (2017). Holocene treeline and timberline changes in the South Carpathians (Romania): Climatic and anthropogenic drivers on the southern slopes of the Retezat Mountains. Holocene, 27(11), 1613-1630. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683617702227