Ecology and climates of early Middle Pleistocene interglacials in Britain
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This thesis refines and develops understanding of the ecological and climatic characteristics of early Middle Pleistocene (MIS 19-13, c. 780-430 ka) interglacial environments in Britain. This period is characterised by globally muted (i.e. low amplitude) glacial-interglacial cycles, which increased in amplitude c. 430 ka with the Mid-Brunhes Transition (MBT). However, the influence of these global climatic characteristics on climates and ecology at regional and local scales is yet to be fully understood. Local ecological processes, particularly disturbance processes, have also received limited attention in pre-Holocene interglacial settings, despite their likely importance for vegetation and habitat structure. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 present in-depth multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental studies from three early Middle Pleistocene sites: West Runton, Pakefield and Brooksby. A combination of Coleoptera, pollen, coprophilous fungal spores, microcharcoal and sedimentology is used to reconstruct local ecological attributes for each site. Multivariate analyses of these datasets indicate the importance of disturbance processes (herbivore activity, wildfire, hydrogeomorphic processes) in driving and maintaining local vegetation structure and habitat heterogeneity. This is explored further (in Chapter 8), emphasising the apparent importance of site-specific factors, rather than those shared between sites, in determining the relative influence of each disturbance factor. In Chapter 7, new approaches to the coleopteran Mutual Climatic Range (MCR) method are applied to a suite of coleopteran records from interglacial sites spanning the Middle and Late Pleistocene (c.712-126 ka, MIS 17-5e). Summer temperatures, winter temperatures and temperature seasonality are reconstructed, to test whether there is evidence for MBT expression in Northwest European thermoclimates. No evidence for this is found, and it is suggested (in Chapter 8) that MBT expression in this region may instead be reflected in hydroclimatic variables (e.g. enhanced annual precipitation). Finally, it is suggested that disturbance processes and potentially wetter climates were beneficial to contemporary Lower Palaeolithic populations in Northwest Europe.
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