Organic carbon isotope and molecular fossil records of vegetation evolution in central Loess Plateau since 450 kyr

Bin Zhou*, Guzalnur Wali, Francien Peterse, Michael I. Bird

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Significant uncertainties remain regarding the temporal evolution of natural vegetation during the Quaternary, and drivers of past vegetation change, on the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP). This study presents analyses of total organic carbon isotopic composition (TOC) and n-alkane ratios (C31/C27) from the Lingtai loess-palaeosol sequence on the central CLP over the last 450 kyr. The results demonstrate that the vegetation in this region comprised a mix of C3 and C4 plants of herb and woody growth-form. C3 plants dominated for most of the last 450 kyr, but this did not lead to extensive forest. C3 woody plants were more abundant in MIS9 (S3 period) and MIS5 (S1 period) during warm and humid climate conditions. Herbs increased in the region since 130 kyr, possibly as a result of increased aridity. On the orbital timescales, there was a reduction of C3 herbal plants in MIS11 (S4) than in MIS12 (L5), and in Holocene than in the last glacial period. Our isotope and n-alkane proxy records are in agreement with Artemisia pollen changes in the region, which is/was the dominant species in this area and varying due to different heat and water conditions between glacial and interglacial periods. Though the climate in MIS1 (S0) was similar to that in MIS11 (S4), a significant increase in woody plants during the Holocene suggests the impact of human activities and ecological effects of changes in fire activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1206-1215
Number of pages10
JournalScience China Earth Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • C/C variations
  • Carbon isotopic composition
  • Glacial /interglacial cycles
  • Late Quaternary vegetation change
  • Leaf wax lipids


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