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Can pollution bias peatland paleoclimate reconstruction?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 May 2012

Richard J. Payne*
School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Chester Street, Manchester M1 5GD, UK Laboratoire de Chrono-environnement UMR UFC/CNRS 6249 USC INRA Université de Franche-Comté, Pôle Universitaire du Pays de Montbéliard, 4 place Tharradin, BP 71427 25 211 Montbéliard cedex, France
Edward A.D. Mitchell
Laboratory of Soil Biology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Hung Nguyen-Viet
Department of Environmental Health, Hanoi School of Public Health, 138 Giang Vo, Hanoi, Vietnam Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, P.O. Box, 4002 Basel, Switzerland University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG), Sandec, Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries, Dübendorf, Switzerland
Daniel Gilbert
Laboratoire de Chrono-environnement UMR UFC/CNRS 6249 USC INRA Université de Franche-Comté, Pôle Universitaire du Pays de Montbéliard, 4 place Tharradin, BP 71427 25 211 Montbéliard cedex, France
Corresponding author at: School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Chester Street, Manchester M1 5GD, UK. Email


Peatland testate amoebae are widely used to reconstruct paleohydrological/climatic changes, but many species are also known to respond to pollutants. Peatlands around the world have been exposed to anthropogenic and intermittent natural pollution through the late Holocene. This raises the question: can pollution lead to changes in the testate amoeba paleoecological record that could be erroneously interpreted as a climatic change? To address this issue we applied testate amoeba transfer functions to the results of experiments adding pollutants (N, P, S, Pb, O3) to peatlands and similar ecosystems. We found a significant effect in only one case, an experiment in which N and P were added, suggesting that pollution-induced biases are limited. However, we caution researchers to be aware of this possibility when interpreting paleoecological records. Studies characterising the paleoecological response to pollution allow pollution impacts to be tracked and distinguished from climate change.

Short Paper
University of Washington

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