Palaeoecological records provide a rich source of information to explore how plant distribution ranges respond to climate changes, but their use is complicated by the fact that, especially when based on pollen data, they are often spatially too inaccurate to reliably determine past range limits. To solve this problem, we focus on hazel (Corylus avellana), a tree species with large and heavy fruits (nuts), which provide firm evidence of the local occurrence of species in the past. We combine the fossil nut records of hazel from Fennoscandia, map its maximum distribution range during the Holocene thermal maximum (HTM) and compare the fossil record with the Holocene hazel range shift as simulated by the LPJ-GUESS dynamic vegetation model. The results show that the current northern range limit of hazel in central and eastern Fennoscandia is constrained by too short growing seasons and too long and cold winters and demonstrate that the species responded to the HTM warming of about 2.5°C (relative to the present) by shifting its range limit up to 63–64°N, reached a rough equilibrium with the HTM climatic conditions and retreated from there to about 60°N during the last 4000 years in response to the late-Holocene cooling. Thus, the projected future warming of about 2.5°C would reverse the long-term southward retraction of species’ northern range limit in Europe and is likely to lead to hazel being a common, regeneratively reproductive species up to 63–64°N. In addition to the accuracy of the projected warming, the likelihood of this scenario will depend on inter-specific competition with other tree taxa and the potential of hazel to migrate and its population to grow in balance with the warming. In general, the range dynamics from the HTM to the present suggest a tight climatic control over hazel’s range limit in Fennoscandia.
Seppä, H., Schurgers, G., Miller, P. A., Bjune, A. E., Giesecke, T., Kühl, N., ... Salonen, J. S. (2015). Trees tracking a warmer climate: the Holocene range shift of hazel (Corylus avellana) in northern Europe. The Holocene, (25), 53-63. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683614556377