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Quantitative information on vegetation and climate history from the late glacial–Holocene on the Tibetan Plateau is extremely rare. Here, we present palynological results of a 4.30-m-long sediment record collected from Koucha Lake in the Bayan Har Mountains, northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Vegetation change has been traced by biomisation, ordination of pollen data, and calculation of pollen ratios. The application of a pollen–climate calibration set from the eastern Tibetan Plateau to Koucha Lake pollen spectra yielded quantitative climate information. The area was covered by alpine desert/steppe, characteristic of a cold and dry climate (with 50% less precipitation than today) between 16,700 and 14,600 cal yr BP. Steppe vegetation, warm (∼ 1°C higher than today) and wet conditions prevailed between 14,600 and 6600 cal yr BP. These findings contradict evidence from other monsoon-influenced areas of Asia, where the early Holocene is thought to have been moist. Low effective moisture on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau was likely due to high temperature and evaporation, even though precipitation levels may have been similar to present-day values. The vegetation changed to tundra around 6600 cal yr BP, indicating that wet and cool climate conditions occurred on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau during the second half of the Holocene.
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