On this page: An introduction to pollen surface samples
The EPD now includes modern pollen surface samples in their own database, the EMPD
The development of publicly-accessible databases of fossil pollen data in the last 20 years such as the European Pollen Database (EPD) (http://www.europeanpollendatabase.net/), have provided scientists with an unrivalled source of information to study past changes in terrestrial vegetation, land-cover and climate at large spatial scales over the Quaternary period. Interpreting this fossil pollen record however requires a clear understanding of the relationship between pollen as the proxy, and the environmental parameter (vegetation, land-cover, climate) that the pollen proxy represents. Understanding this relationship has largely been achieved through the use of modern pollen surface samples.
There is a pressing need from the European scientific community for a standardised, fully documented and quality-controlled dataset of modern pollen samples which can be openly accessed, and to which scientists can also contribute and help maintain. After a major community based effort starting in 2011 we have now established a modern surface sample database within the EPD that contains almost 5000 samples. The European Modern Pollen Database (EMPD) is now available and free to download.
The first stage of the database resulted in a publication co-authored by all participants Davis et al. 2013. Please note the additional Erratum which provides some important corrections, particularly to the official author list.
We are now attempting a second stage of expansion to further increase the size of the EMPD
Following the EPD Open Meeting at CEREGE, France in June 2016, it has been decided to build on the success of the EMPD by initiating a second stage of expansion. We are therefore again encouraging European palynologists to submit their modern surface samples to the database. More details are on the EMPD stage 2 page.
Surface samples have been widely used to study past vegetation, land-cover and climate
1) Reconstructions of past climate. Pollen surface samples are used to calibrate and/or evaluate almost all pollen-based climate reconstruction techniques including: taxa-based modern analogues (Cheddadi et al 1998), pft-based modern analogues (Davis et al 2003), response surfaces (Huntley 1993), PLS regression (Seppa et al 2004, Finsinger et al 2007, Bjune et al 2010), neural networks (Peyron et al 1998), Bayesian approaches (Haslett et al 2006), as well as inverse modelling methods using vegetation models such as BIOME4 (Wu et al 2007), and LPJGUESS (Garreta et al 2009). Surface samples have also been used to evaluate pollen-climate reconstructions of altitudinal temperature gradients (Ortu et al 2010), reconstructions from marine sediments (Nebout et al 2009) and the climatic tolerances of specific taxa (Ninyerola et al 2007).
2) Integration with vegetation models. A growing realisation of the link between the climate system and the terrestrial biosphere has seen the development of vegetation models and their integration with the pollen record of past vegetation change. This has been based on the concept of compatible units based on Biomes and Plant Functional Types (or Traits) developed within projects such as BIOME6000 (Prentice et al 2000), that have been evaluated using surface pollen samples over the European region (Prentice et al 1996, Roberts etc) and the Former Soviet Union (Tarasov et al 1998, Mokhova et al 2009). Surface samples have also been used to develop and refine these techniques in a number of other European studies, including the relationship between plant traits and climate (Barboni et al 2004), and the probabilistic assignment of plant attributes and biomes (Gachet et al 2003, Gritti et al 2004). A different but related application of surface samples has also been to evaluate the ability of niche-models to reconstruct past changes in the distribution of individual plant taxa in response to climate change (Pearman et al 2008).
4) Quantitative estimates of past (anthropogenic) land-cover. Vegetation models provide quantitative reconstructions of land cover, but reconstructions of land cover from pollen data is subject to bias associated with differences in pollen productivity between taxa and differences in size of source area between different pollen sites. Pollen surface samples have been essential in developing techniques to allow us to correct for this bias in projects such as POLANDCAL (Gaillard et al 2008), and the ongoing LANDCLIM project (Soepboer et al 2007, Gaillard et al 2010, Hellman et al 2008). They have also been used together with satellite-derived estimates of woodland vegetation cover to quantify past changes in woodland cover from fossil pollen data (Tarasov et al 2007).
5) Delimitation of forest boundaries. Altitudinal and latitudinal changes in forest boundaries have often been interpreted in the fossil pollen record as a proxy for climate change. The free dispersal of pollen either side of this boundary make defining this limit from the pollen record difficult. Pollen surface samples, often together with macrofossils, have been used to investigate this problem in areas such as the forest-steppe boundary (Tarasov et al 1998, Djamali et al 2009), forest-tundra boundary (Gervais & MacDonald 2001), steppe-forest-tundra boundaries (Pelánková et al 2008, Pelánková & Chytry 2009) and the mountain timberline (Conner et al 2004).
6) Investigation of taphonomic problems. Pollen surface samples have also been used to investigate the process of pollen deposition in different sedimentary environments in Europe, including marine sediments (Cundill et al 2006, Naughton et al 2007, Beaudouin et al 2007), coprolites (Carrion 2002), cave sediments (Carrion et al 2006) and comparisons of tauber trap sampling versus moss polsters (Pardoe et al 2010). 7) Interpretation of the fossil pollen record. Investigating past vegetation, land-use and ecosystem change using fossil pollen data can be greatly aided by using modern pollen surface samples to understand how they are represented in the pollen record. This approach has been widely applied in Europe, for example, in Alpine environments (Court-Picon et al 2006), boreal forest (Pisaric et al 2001), Central European mountains (Tonkov et al 2001), Middle East Desert (El-Moslimany 1990), Olive sylviculture (Vermoere et al 2003), Fen Carr (Waller et al 2005, Binney et al 2005), Mediterranean woodlands (Lopez-Saez et al 2010) and wetlands (Amami et al ), Hedera woodlands (Bottema 2001), temperate open-woodlands (Bunting 2002) and wetlands (Zhao et al 2006), as well as areas of anthropogenic land-use (Behre 1981, Hjelle 1998, Gaillard 2007, Court-Picon et al 2006, Cugny et al 2010).
Here are some examples of the main surface sample datasets for Europe that have been used in the past:
Huntley & Prentice 1988
The pioneering pollen-climate reconstruction of Huntley & Birks (1988) used core top samples from Huntley & Birks (1983) Atlas of Past and Present Pollen Maps for Europe 0-13000 Years. These were mainly digitised from published diagrams.
The same digitised Huntley & Prentice (1988) dataset was also used in later studies.
Prentice et al 1996
The BIOME6000 project used a combination of the Huntley & Birks (1988) digitised data, plus raw count surface samples from Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey mainly collected by F. Saadi, J. Belmonte, V. Ruis-Vasquez & Sytze Bottema (from Guiot et al 1993) and Brian Huntley (from Huntley 1994).
Cheddadi et al 1997
This study used a combination of Huntley & Birks (1983) digitised data, plus other core top samples from the newly established EPD.
Cheddadi et al 1998
The climate reconstruction for the site of Tigalmamine in Morocco used raw count surface sample data from Morocco, Spain and Italy as also used in Prentice et al 1996.
Barboni et al 2004
This study used only raw count data, compiled from a variety of sources, including EPD core tops, surface samples as shown in Prentice et al 1996, plus additional surface samples from individual contributors. Note that this location map is not shown in the publication.
Feurdean et al 2008
The large dataset used in this study is a combination of Prentice et al (1996) (digitised data) with additional data from Peyron et al (1998), Klotz (1999) and Klotz et al (2003).
Bordon et al 2009
Perhaps the largest dataset of raw pollen counts has been compiled by Odile Peyron and colleagues, which includes a core of raw count data used in earlier studies, plus additional data from throughout Eurasia.
Problems include digitised data, lack of documentation, poor geo-referencing, sample selection and spatial coverage..
Existing datasets of European surface pollen data have been compiled by individuals and research groups for specific research purposes and contain a number of significant problems, not least the fact that they are often poorly documented and therefore difficult to audit. The large datasets of Guiot (eg Prentice et al 1996, Feurdean et al 2008) and Huntley (eg Prentice et al 1996, Allen et al 2002, 2009) both contain large amounts of percentage data digitised by hand from published pollen diagrams that are based on non-standardised pollen sums, often including only select taxa, and subject to digitisation errors. Much of this includes old core-top data collected by Huntley & Birks (1983), which includes sites with poor dating control. Even where this older percentage data has been removed, errors have been identified including duplicate samples, errant geo-referencing (often in conversion from analogue or UTM to decimal) and poor sample selection (for instance core top samples selected on the basis of sample number, not age). Even in the best available datasets meta-data is incomplete so that many important details are missing, such as information about the site/sample, sampling method, and geophysical data. There are also many areas of Europe that are simply not represented in these datasets.
Allen, J.R.M., Huntley, B., 2009. Last Interglacial palaeovegetation, palaeoenvironments and chronology: a new record from Lago Grande di Monticchio, southern Italy. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 1521-1538.
Allen, J.R.M., Watts, W.A., McGee, E., Huntley, B., 2002. Holocene environmental variability - the record from Lago Grande di Monticchio, Italy. Quaternary International 88, 69-80.
Amami, B., Muller, S.D., Rhazi, L., Grillas, P., Rhazi, M., Bouahim, S., 2010. Modern pollen-vegetation relationships within a small Mediterranean temporary pool (western Morocco). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 162, 213-225.
Barboni, D., Harrison, S.P., Bartlein, P.J., Jalut, G., New, M., Prentice, I.C., Sanchez-Goni, M.F., Spessa, A., Davis, B., Stevenson, A.C., 2004. Relationships between plant traits and climate in the Mediterranean region: A pollen data analysis. Journal of Vegetation Science 15, 635-646.
Bartlein, P.J., Harrison, S.P., Brewer, S., Connor, S., S., D.B.A., Gajewski, K., Guiot, J., Harrison-Prentice, T.I., Henderson, A., Peyron, O., Prentice, I.C., Scholze, M., Seppä, H., Shuman, B., Sugita, S., Thompson, R.S., Viau, A.E., Williams, J., Wu, H., Pollen-based continental climate reconstructions at 6 and 21 ka: a global synthesis. Climate Dynamics, (In Submission).
Beaudouin, C., Suc, J.P., Escarguel, G., Arnaud, M., Charmasson, S., 2007. The significance of pollen signal in present-day marine terrigenous sediments: The example of the Gulf of Lions (western Mediterranean Sea). Geobios 40, 159-172.
Binney, H.A., Waller, M.P., Bunting, M.J., Armitage, R.A., 2005. The interpretation of fen carr pollen diagrams: The representation of the dry land vegetation. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 134, 197-218.
Bjune, A., HJB, B., Peglar, S., Odland, A., 2010. Developing a modern pollen–climate calibration data set for Norway. Boreas 39, 674-688.
Bordon, A., Peyron, O., Lezine, A.M., Brewer, S., Fouache, E., 2009. Pollen-inferred Late-Glacial and Holocene climate in southern Balkans (Lake Maliq). Quaternary International 200, 19-30.
Bottema, S., 2001. A note on the pollen representation of ivy (Hedera helix L.). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 117, 159-166. Bunting, M.J., 2002. Detecting woodland remnants in cultural landscapes: modern pollen deposition around small woodlands in northwest Scotland. Holocene 12, 291-301.
Carrion, J.S., 2002. A taphonomic study of modern pollen assemblages from dung and surface sediments in arid environments of Spain. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 120, 217-232.
Carrion, J.S., Scott, L., Marais, E., 2006. Environmental implications of pollen spectra in bat droppings from southeastern Spain and potential for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 140, 175-186.
Cheddadi, R., Lamb, H.F., Guiot, J., van der Kaars, S., 1998. Holocene climatic change in Morocco: a quantitative reconstruction from pollen data. Climate Dynamics 14, 883-890.
Connor, S.E., Thomas, I., Kvavadze, E.V., Arabuli, G.J., Avakov, G.S., Sagona, A., 2004. A survey of modem pollen and vegetation along an altitudinal transect in southern Georgia, Caucasus region. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 129, 229-250.
Court-Picon, M., Buttler, A., de Beaulieu, J.L., 2006. Modern pollen/vegetation/landuse relationships in mountain environments: an example from the Champsaur valley (French Alps). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 15, 151-168.
Cugny, C., Mazier, F., Galop, D., 2010. Modern and fossil non-pollen palynomorphs from the Basque mountains (western Pyrenees, France): the use of coprophilous fungi to reconstruct pastoral activity. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 19, 391-408.
Cundill, P.R., Austin, W.E.N., Davies, S.E., 2006. Modern pollen from the catchment and surficial sediments of a Scottish sea loch (fjord). Grana 45, 230-238.
Davis, B., Brewer, S., Stevenson, A., Guiot, J., 2003. The temperature of Europe during the Holocene reconstructed from pollen data. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, 1701-1716.
Djamali, M., de Beaulieu, J.L., Campagne, P., Andrieu-Ponel, V., Ponel, P., Leroy, S.A.G., Akhani, H., 2009. Modern pollen rain-vegetation relationships along a forest-steppe transect in the Golestan National Park, NE Iran. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 153, 272-281.
Elmoslimany, A.P., 1990. Ecological Significance of Common Nonarboreal Pollen -Examples from Drylands of the Middle-East. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 64, 343-350.
Feurdean, A., Klotz, S., Mosbrugger, V., Wohlfarth, B., 2008. Pollen-based quantitative reconstructions of Holocene climate variability in NW Romania. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 260, 494-504.
Finsinger, W., Heiri, O., Valsecchi, V., Tinner, W., Lotter, A.F., 2007. Modern pollen assemblages as climate indicators in southern Europe. Global Ecology and Biogeography 16, 567-582.
Gachet, S., Brewer, S., Cheddadi, R., Davis, B., Gritti, E., Guiot, J., 2003. A probabilistic approach of pollen indicators for plant functional types, an application to the European vegetation at 0k and 6k. Global Ecology and Biogeography 12, 103-112.
Gaillard, M.-J. 2007 Detecting Human impact in the pollen record, in: Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, edited by: Elias, S. A., Elsevier, University of London, 2570–2595.
Gaillard, M.-J., Sugita, S., Bunting, M.J., Middleton, R., Broström, A., Caseldine, C., Giesecke, T., Hellman, S.E.V., Hicks, S., Hjelle, K., Langdon, C., Nielsen, A.-B., Poska, A., Stedingk, H., Veski, S., 2008. The use of modelling and simulation approach in reconstructing past landscapes from fossil pollen data: a review and results from the POLLANDCAL network. Veget Hist Archaeobot 17, 419-443.
Gaillard, M.J., Sugita, S., Mazier, F., Trondman, A.K., Brostrom, A., Hickler, T., Kaplan, J.O., Kjellstrom, E., Kokfelt, U., Kunes, P., Lemmen, C., Miller, P., Olofsson, J., Poska, A., Rundgren, M., Smith, B., Strandberg, G., Fyfe, R., Nielsen, A.B., Alenius, T., Balakauskas, L., Barnekow, L., Birks, H.J.B., Bjune, A., Bjorkman, L., Giesecke, T., Hjelle, K., Kalnina, L., Kangur, M., van der Knaap, W.O., Koff, T., Lageras, P., Latalowa, M., Leydet, M., Lechterbeck, J., Lindbladh, M., Odgaard, B., Peglar, S., Segerstrom, U., von Stedingk, H., Seppa, H., 2010. Holocene land-cover reconstructions for studies on land cover-climate feedbacks. Climate of the Past 6, 483-499.
Garreta, V., Miller, P.A., Guiot, J., Hely, C., Brewer, S., Sykes, M.T., Litt, T., 2010. A method for climate and vegetation reconstruction through the inversion of a dynamic vegetation model. Climate Dynamics 35, 371-389.
Gervais, B.R., MacDonald, G.M., 2001. Modern pollen and stomate deposition in lake surface sediments from across the treeline on the Kola Peninsula, Russia. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 114, 223-237.
Gritti, E.S., Gachet, S., Sykes, M.T., Guiot, J., 2004. An extended probabilistic approach of plant vital attributes: an application to European pollen records at 0 and 6 ka. Global Ecology and Biogeography 13, 519-533.
Haslett, J., Whiley, M., Bhattacharya, S., Salter-Townshend, M., Wilson, S.P., Allen, J.R.M., Huntley, B., Mitchell, F.J.G., 2006. Bayesian palaeoclimate reconstruction. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series a-Statistics in Society 169, 395-430.
Hellman, S.E.V., Gaillard, M.-J., Broström, A., Sugita, S., 2008. Effects of the sampling design and selection of parameter values on pollen-based quantitative reconstructions of regional vegetation: a case study in southern Sweden using the REVEALS model. Veget Hist Archaeobot 17, 445-459.
Hjelle, K.L., 1998. Herb pollen representation in surface moss samples from mown meadows and pastures in western Norway. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 7, 79-96.
Huntley, B., 1993. The Use of Climate Response Surfaces to Reconstruct Paleoclimate from Quaternary Pollen and Plant Macrofossil Data. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 341, 215-223.
Huntley, B., Birks, H.J.B., 1983. An atlas of past and present pollen maps for Europe: 0-13000 years ago. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Huntley, B. and Prentice, C. 1988. July temperatures in Europe from pollen data 6000 years before present. Science 241: 687-690.
Lopez-Saez, J.A., Alba-Sanchez, F., Lopez-Merino, L., Perez-Diaz, S., 2010. Modern pollen analysis: a reliable tool for discriminating Quercus rotundifolia communities in Central Spain. Phytocoenologia 40, 57-72.
Mokhova, L., Tarasov, P., Bazarova, V., Klimin, M., 2009. Quantitative biome reconstruction using modern and late Quaternary pollen data from the southern part of the Russian Far East. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 2913-2926.
Naughton, F., Sanchez Goni, M.F.S., Desprat, S., Turon, J.L., Duprat, J., Malaize, B., Joli, C., Cortijo, E., Drago, T., Freitas, M.C., 2007. Present-day and past (last 25 000 years) marine pollen signal off western Iberia. Marine Micropaleontology 62, 91-114.
Nebout, N.C., Peyron, O., Dormoy, I., Desprat, S., Beaudouin, C., Kotthoff, U., Marret, F., 2009. Rapid climatic variability in the west Mediterranean during the last 25 000 years from high resolution pollen data. Climate of the Past 5, 503-521.
Ninyerola, M., Saez, L., Perez-Obiol, R., 2007. Relating postglacial relict plants and Holocene vegetation dynamics in the Balearic Islands through field surveys, pollen analysis and GIS modeling. Plant Biosystems 141, 292-304.
Ortu, E., Klotz, S., Brugiapaglia, E., Caramiello, R., Siniscalco, C., 2010. Elevation induced variations of pollen assemblages in the North-western Alps: An analysis of their value as temperature indicators. Comptes Rendus Biologies 333, 825-835.
Pardoe, H.S., Giesecke, T., van der Knaap, W.O., Svitavska-Svobodova, H., Kvavadze, E.V., Panajiotidis, S., Gerasimidis, A., Pidek, I.A., Zimny, M., Swieta-Musznicka, J., Latalowa, M., Noryskiewicz, A.M., Bozilova, E., Tonkov, S., Filipova-Marinova, M.V., van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Kalnina, L., 2010. Comparing pollen spectra from modified Tauber traps and moss samples: examples from a selection of woodlands across Europe. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 19, 271-283.
Pearman, P.B., Randin, C.F., Broennimann, O., Vittoz, P., Knaap, W.O.V.D., Engler, R., Lay, G.L., Zimmermann, N.E., Guisan, A., 2008. Prediction of plant species distributions across six millennia. Ecol Letters 11, 357-369.
Pelankova, B., Chytry, M., 2009. Surface pollen-vegetation relationships in the foreststeppe, taiga and tundra landscapes of the Russian Altai Mountains. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 157, 253-265.
Pelankova, B., Kunes, P., Chytry, M., Jankovska, V., Ermakov, N., Svobodova-Svitavska, H., 2008. The relationships of modern pollen spectra to vegetation and climate along a steppe-forest-tundra transition in southern Siberia, explored by decision trees. Holocene 18, 1259-1271.
Peyron, O., Guiot, J., Cheddadi, R., Tarasov, P., Reille, M., de Beaulieu, J.L., Bottema, S., Andrieu, V., 1998. Climatic reconstruction in Europe for 18,000 yr B.P. from pollen data. Quaternary Research 49, 183-196.
Pisaric, M.F.J., MacDonald, G.M., Cwynar, L.C., Velichko, A.A., 2001. Modern pollen and conifer stomates from north-central Siberian lake sediments: Their use in interpreting late quaternary fossil pollen assemblages. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research 33, 19-27.
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Prentice, I.C., Guiot, J., Huntley, B., Jolly, D., Cheddadi, R., 1996. Reconstructing biomes from palaeoecological data: A general method and its application to European pollen data at 0 and 6 ka. Climate Dynamics 12, 185-194.
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Seppa, H., MacDonald, G.M., Birks, H.J.B., Gervais, B.R., Snyder, J.A., 2008. Late-Quaternary summer temperature changes in the northern-European tree-line region. Quaternary Research 69, 404-412.
Soepboer, W., Sugita, S., Lotter, A.F., Van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Van Der Knaap, W.O., 2007. Pollen productivity estimates for quantitative reconstruction of vegetation cover on the Swiss Plateau. The Holocene 17, 65-77.
Tarasov, P., Williams, J.W., Andreev, A., Nakagawa, T., Bezrukova, E., Herzschuh, U., Igarashi, Y., Muller, S., Werner, K., Zheng, Z., 2007. Satellite- and pollenbased quantitative woody cover reconstructions for northern Asia: Verification and application to late-Quaternary pollen data. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 264, 284-298.
Tarasov, P.E., Webb, T., Andreev, A.A., Afanas'eva, N.B., Berezina, N.A., Bezusko, L.G., Blyakharchuk, T.A., Bolikhovskaya, N.S., Cheddadi, R., Chernavskaya, M.M., Chernova, G.M., Dorofeyuk, N.I., Dirksen, V.G., Elina, G.A., Filimonova, L.V., Glebov, F.Z., Guiot, J., Gunova, V.S., Harrison, S.P., Jolly, D., Khomutova, V.I., Kvavadze, E.V., Osipova, I.M., Panova, N.K., Prentice, I.C., Saarse, L., Sevastyanov, D.V., Volkova, V.S., Zernitskaya, V.P., 1998. Present-day and mid-Holocene biomes reconstructed from pollen and plant macrofossil data from the former Soviet Union and Mongolia. Journal of Biogeography 25, 1029-1053.
Tonkov, S., Hicks, S., Bozilova, E., Atanassova, J., 2001. Pollen monitoring in the central Rila Mountains, Southwestern Bulgaria: comparisons between pollen traps and surface samples for the period 1993-1999. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 117, 167-182.
Vermoere, M., Vanhecke, L., Waelkens, M., Smets, E., 2003. Modern and ancient olive stands near Sagalassos (south-west Turkey) and reconstruction of the ancient agricultural landscape in two valleys. Global Ecology and Biogeography 12, 217-236.
Waller, M.P., Binney, H.A., Bunting, M.J., Armitage, R.A., 2005. The interpretation of fen carr pollen diagrams: pollen-vegetation relationships within the fen carr. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 133, 179-202.
Whitmore, J., Gajewski, K., Sawada, M., Williams, J.W., Shuman, B., Bartlein, P.J., Minckley, T., Viau, A.E., Webb, T., Shafer, S., Anderson, P., Brubaker, L., 2005. Modern pollen data from North American and Greenland for multi-scale paleoenvironmental applications. Quaternary Science Reviews 24, 1828-1848.
Wu, H.B., Guiot, J.L., Brewer, S., Guo, Z.T., 2007. Climatic changes in Eurasia and Africa at the last glacial maximum and mid-Holocene: reconstruction from pollen data using inverse vegetation modelling. Climate Dynamics 29, 211-229.
Zhao, Y., Sayer, C.D., Birks, H.H., Hughes, M., Peglar, S.M., 2006. Spatial representation of aquatic vegetation by macrofossils and pollen in a small and shallow lake. Journal of Paleolimnology 35, 335-350.