Oxygen isotope records show a major climatic reversal at 8.2 ka in Greenland and Europe. Annually laminated sediments from two lakes in Switzerland and Germany were sampled contiguously to assess the response of European vegetation to climate change ca. 8.2 ka with time resolution and precision comparable to those of the Greenland ice cores. The pollen assemblages show pronounced and immediate responses (0–20 yr) of terrestrial vegetation to the climatic change at 8.2 ka. A sudden collapse of Corylus avellana (hazel) was accompanied by the rapid expansion of Pinus (pine), Betula (birch), and Tilia (linden), and by the invasion of Fagus silvatica (beech) and Abies alba (fir). Vegetational changes suggest that climatic cooling reduced drought stress, allowing more drought-sensitive and taller growing species to out-compete Corylus avellana by forming denser forest canopies. Climate cooling at 8.2 ka and the immediate reorganization of terrestrial ecosystems has gone unrecognized by previous pollen studies. On the basis of our data we conclude that the early Holocene high abundance of C. avellana in Europe was climatically caused, and we question the conventional opinion that postglacial expansions of F. silvatica and A. alba were controlled by low migration rates rather than by climate. The close connection between climatic change and vegetational response at a subcontinental scale implies that forecasted global warming may trigger rapid collapses, expansions, and invasions of tree species.

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