SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences, Volume 62, Issue 8: 1316-1328(2019) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-018-9364-9

Changes of vegetation in southern China

More info
  • ReceivedMay 16, 2018
  • AcceptedApr 28, 2019
  • PublishedMay 31, 2019


In order to reveal the changes of vegetation in southern China since the Last Glacial Maximum, we have established high-resolution time scales and palynological sequences of borehole profiles by drilling cores in some weak areas of the research to restore vegetation changes over the past 20,000 years on the basis of previous work. This paper gives the vegetation zoning maps of 18, 9 and 6 ka BP respectively in southern China, and describes the distribution characteristics of plants in different zones/subzones. The results show that the vegetation zonations around 18 ka BP were significantly different from that at present. It appeared in turn with Cold-temperate coniferous forest and alpine meadow steppe zone, and Temperate mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forest zone/warm temperate deciduous broad-leaved forest zone from northwest to southeast in the west, and Temperate mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forest zone, Warm temperate deciduous broad-leaved forest zone, and Northern subtropical mixed evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved forest zone from north to south in the central and east. The vegetation distribution around 9 ka BP changed distinctively. Except that the northwest part was located in Mountain temperate mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forest zone, the vegetation in other areas occurred in turn with North subtropical mixed evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved forest subzone, Mid-subtropical typical evergreen broad-leaved forest subzone, and South subtropical monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forest subzone/Tropical seasonal rainforest and rainforest zone from north to south. There was little change in the appearance of vegetation zonations between 6 and 9 ka BP, but the northern edge of each vegetation belt moved a little northward, reflecting that the overall climate became warmer around 6 ka BP. The vegetation changes in southern China over the past 20,000 years were largely driven by environmental changes. Climate change was the main factor affecting the vegetation distribution. The impact of human activities became more and more remarkable in the later period. In the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the delta region, sea level changes also influenced the vegetation distribution.

Funded by

the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences(Grant,Nos.,XDA05120100,&,XDB26000000)

and the National Natural Science Foundation of China(Grant,Nos.,41771219,41371207,&,41472010)


This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant Nos. XDA05120100 & XDB26000000), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41771219, 41371207 & 41472010).


[1] Andersen K K, Azuma N, Barnola J M, Bigler M, Biscaye P, Caillon N, Chappellaz J, Clausen H B, Dahl-Jensen D, Fischer H, Flückiger J, Fritzsche D, Fujii Y, Goto-Azuma K, Grønvold K, Gundestrup N S, Hansson M, Huber C, Hvidberg C S, Johnsen S J, Jonsell U, Jouzel J, Kipfstuhl S, Landais A, Leuenberger M, Lorrain R, Masson-Delmotte V, Miller H, Motoyama H, Narita H, Popp T, Rasmussen S O, Raynaud D, Rothlisberger R, Ruth U, Samyn D, Schwander J, Shoji H, Siggard-Andersen M L, Steffensen J P, Stocker T, Sveinbjörnsdóttir A E, Svensson A, Takata M, Tison J L, Thorsteinsson T, Watanabe O, Wilhelms F, White J W C, White J W C. High-resolution record of Northern Hemisphere climate extending into the last interglacial period. Nature, 2004, 431: 147-151 CrossRef PubMed ADS Google Scholar

[2] Chen P Y, Zhou Q Y, Lin S J, Qiao Y L, Sun Y M. 1992. The changes of vegetation and climate of Jiulongchi Section of Fanjingshan Mountain in Guizhou since 10,000 years ago (in Chinese). Geol Guizhou, 9: 167–175. Google Scholar

[3] Chen W, Wang W M, Dai X R. Holocene vegetation history with implications of human impact in the Lake Chaohu area, Anhui Province, East China. Veget Hist Archaeobot, 2009, 18: 137-146 CrossRef Google Scholar

[4] Chen X M, Chen F J, Zhou A F, Huang X Z, Tang L Y, Wu D, Zhang X J, Yu J Q. Vegetation history, climatic changes and Indian summer monsoon evolution during the Last Glaciation (36,400–13,400 cal yr BP) documented by sediments from Xingyun Lake, Yunnan, China. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol, 2014, 410: 179-189 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[5] Cook C G, Jones R T, Langdon P G, Leng M J, Zhang E. New insights on Late Quaternary Asian palaeomonsoon variability and the timing of the Last Glacial Maximum in southwestern China. Quat Sci Rev, 2011, 30: 808-820 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[6] Gao F Q. 1988. Analyses of the formation environment of peat and rotted wood in Nanping of Lichuan (in Chinese). Geogr Res, 7: 59–66. Google Scholar

[7] Hou X Y. 1988. China’s Physical Geography, Plant Geography (Volume 2) (China’s Vegetation Geography) (in Chinese). Beijing: Science Press. 318. Google Scholar

[8] Jarvis D I. Pollen evidence of changing Holocene Monsoon climate in Sichuan Province, China. Quat Res, 1993, 39: 325-337 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[9] Jarvis D I, Clay-Poole S T. A comparison of modern pollen rain and vegetation in southwestern Sichuan Province, China. Rev Palaeobot Palynol, 1992, 75: 239-258 CrossRef Google Scholar

[10] Ji M. 2013. Vegetation succession and paleoclimate change since 52 Ka recorded in Lake Xingyun, Central Yunnan (in Chinese). Dissertation for Doctoral Degree. Beijing: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. 128. Google Scholar

[11] Jiang X Z, Wang S M, Yang X D. 1998. Paleoclimatic and environmental changes over the last 30,000 years in Heqing Basin, Yunnan Province (in Chinese). J Lake Sci, 10: 10–16. Google Scholar

[12] Li C H, Li Y X. Study of modern pollen and stomata from surficial lacustrine sediments from the eastern edge of Tibetan Plateau, China. Rev Palaeobot Palynol, 2015, 221: 184-191 CrossRef Google Scholar

[13] Li H C, Liew P M, Seki O, Kuo T S, Kawamura K, Wang L C, Lee T Q. Paleoclimate variability in central Taiwan during the past 30 kyrs reflected by pollen, δ13CTOC, and n-alkane-δD records in a peat sequence from Toushe Basin. J Asian Earth Sci, 2013, 69: 166-176 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[14] Li J, Zheng Z, Cheddadi R, Yang S X, Huang K Y. 2013. Pollen-based environmental reconstruction around Dajiuhu Lake, Shennongjia Mountains since 40 ka BP (in Chinese). Acta Geogr Sin, 68: 69–81. Google Scholar

[15] Li X, Liu J L. 1988. Holocene vegetational and environmental changes at Mt. Luoji, Sichuan (in Chinese). Acta Geogr Sin, 43: 44–51. Google Scholar

[16] Liew P M, Huang S Y, Kuo C M. Pollen stratigraphy, vegetation and environment of the last glacial and Holocene—A record from Toushe Basin, central Taiwan. Quat Int, 2006, 147: 16-33 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[17] Lin S M, Qiao Y L, Walker D. Late Pleistocene and Holocene vegetation history at Xi Hu, Er Yuan, Yunnan Province, Southwest China. J Biogeogr, 1986, 13: 419-440 CrossRef Google Scholar

[18] Liu J L, Ye P Y. 1977. Studies of the Quaternary sporo-pollen assemblage from Shanghai and Zhejiang with reference to its stratigraphic and palaeoclimatic significance (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 16: 1–10. Google Scholar

[19] Long R H, Li B F, Brenner M, Song X L. 1991. A study of Late Pleistocene to Holocene vegetation in Jilu Lake area of central Yunnan (in Chinese). Yunnan Geol, 10: 105–118. Google Scholar

[20] Lu H Y, Liu J Q, Chu G Q, Gu Z Y, Negendank J, Schettler G, Mingram J. 2003. A study of pollen and environment in the Huguangyan Maar Lake since the last glaciation (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 42: 284–291. Google Scholar

[21] Meng Y T. 2015. Late-Pleistocene palynological assemblages of Huguangyan area in the southern China and its environmental significance (in Chinese). Dissertation for Master’s Degree. Beijing: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. 116. Google Scholar

[22] Meng Y T, Wang W M, Hu J F, Zhang J X, Lai Y J. Vegetation and climate changes over the last 30,000 years on the Leizhou Peninsula, southern China, inferred from the pollen record of Huguangyan Maar Lake. Boreas, 2007, 46: 525-540 CrossRef Google Scholar

[23] Meng Y T, Wang W M, Li B H, Ding J L. 2014. Mid-Holocene palynological record of Jinxi area in the Yangtze River delta region and its environmental significance (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 53: 201–209. Google Scholar

[24] Shen C M, Wang K F, Chen B H. 1989. Late Quaternary palynological assemblages in the Zhujiang (Pearl) River delta (in Chinese). Tropic Oceanol, 8: 61–71. Google Scholar

[25] Shen J, Xiao X Y. 2018. Evolution of the South Asian monsoon during the last 20 ka recorded in lacustrine sediments from Southwestern China (in Chinese). Quat Sci, 38: 799–820. Google Scholar

[26] Shu J W, Wang W M, Chen W. 2007a. Holocene vegetation and environment changes in the NW Taihu Plain, Jiangsu Province, East China (in Chinese). Acta Micropalaeontol Sin, 24: 210–221. Google Scholar

[27] Shu J W, Wang W M, Jiang L P. Did alder (Alnus) fires trigger rice cultivation in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, East China?. Palaeoworld, 2012, 21: 69-73 CrossRef Google Scholar

[28] Shu J W, Wang W M, Wang A G. 2007b. Preliminary study on surface pollen flora in the Longchi Mountain Nature Reserve, Yixing, Jiangsu Province (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 46: 340–346. Google Scholar

[29] Shu J W, Wang X H, Qin J W, Wang W M. 2010. Preliminary pollen analysis of surface samples from the Tiantongshan National Forest Park in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, East China (in Chinese). Acta Micropalaeontol Sin, 27: 253–262. Google Scholar

[30] Sun X J, Li X, Beug H J. Pollen distribution in hemipelagic surface sediments of the South China Sea and its relation to modern vegetation distribution. Mar Geol, 1999, 156: 211-226 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[31] Tang L Y. 1992. Vegetation and climate history at Menghai, Yunnan during the past 42,000 years (in Chinese). Acta Micropalaeontol Sin, 9: 433-455. Google Scholar

[32] Tong G B, Wu R J, Wu Y H, Shi Y, Liu Z M, Li Y C. 2000. Vegetation and environmental variations since Holocene in Mianning area, Sichuan Province (in Chinese). Acta Micropalaeontol Sin, 17: 470477. Google Scholar

[33] Wang W M, Ding J L, Shu J W, Chen W. Exploration of early rice farming in China. Quat Int, 2010a, 227: 22-28 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[34] Wang W M, Shu J W, Chen W, Ding J L. 2010b. Holocene environmental changes and human impact in the Yangtze River delta area, East China (in Chinese). Quat Sci, 30: 233244. Google Scholar

[35] Wu Y N, Li D L, Sha L B, Shu J W, Wang W M, Xu X Q. 2016. A diatom record of rapid sea-level rise during Early to Mid-Holocene in Baima Lake area, Zhejiang Province (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 55: 495–507.. Google Scholar

[36] Wu Z Y. 1980. Vegetation in China (in Chinese). Beijing: Science Press. 1071. Google Scholar

[37] Xiao X Y, Haberle S G, Shen J, Yang X D, Han Y, Zhang E L, Wang S M. Latest Pleistocene and Holocene vegetation and climate history inferred from an alpine lacustrine record, northwestern Yunnan Province, southwestern China. Quat Sci Rev, 2014a, 86: 35-48 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[38] Xiao X Y, Haberle S G, Yang X D, Shen J, Han Y, Wang S M. New evidence on deglacial climatic variability from an alpine lacustrine record in northwestern Yunnan Province, southwestern China. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol, 2014b, 406: 9-21 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[39] Xiao J Y, Shang Z Y, Shu Q, Yin J J, Wu X S. The vegetation feature and palaeoenvironment significance in the mountainous interior of southern China from the Last Glacial Maximum. Sci China Earth Sci, 2018, 61: 71-81 CrossRef Google Scholar

[40] Xiao X Y, Shen J, Haberle S G, Han Y, Xue B, Zhang E L, Wang S M, Tang G B. Vegetation, fire, and climate history during the last 18,500 cal a BP in south-western Yunnan Province, China. J Quat Sci, 2015, 30: 859-869 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[41] Xiao X Y, Shen J, Wang S M. Spatial variation of modern pollen from surface lake sediments in Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan Province, China. Rev Palaeobot Palynol, 2011, 165: 224-234 CrossRef Google Scholar

[42] Xiao X Y, Shen J, Xiao H F, Tong G B. Pollen records and vegetation and climate changes in Heqing Basin, Yunnan Province since middle Pleistocene. J Lake Sci, 2006, 18: 369-376 CrossRef Google Scholar

[43] Xiao X Y, Shen J, Xiao H F, Wang S M, Tong G B. 2007. Paleovegetation and paleoclimate of the Heqing Basin during 2.780–1.802 Ma B.P. in Yunnan Province, China (in Chinese). Quat Sci, 27: 417–426. Google Scholar

[44] Xu Q H, Zhang S R, Gaillard M J, Li M Y, Cao X Y, Tian F, Li F R. Studies of modern pollen assemblages for pollen dispersal- deposition- preservation process understanding and for pollen-based reconstructions of past vegetation, climate, and human impact: A review based on case studies in China. Quat Sci Rev, 2016, 149: 151-166 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[45] Xu X M, Chang W Y B, Liu J L. 1996. Changes in vegetation and climate in the Taihu Lake basin during the last 11,000 years (in Chinese). Acta Palaeontol Sin, 35: 175186. Google Scholar

[46] Yang X D, Wang S M, Tong G B, Wu J L, Jiang X Z. 1998. The Late Pleistocene pollen record in the lake sediments from ancient Heqing Lake and its significance for palaeoclimate (in Chinese). Quat Sci, 11: 335–343. Google Scholar

[47] Yu G, Chen X, Ni J, Cheddadi R, Guiot J, Han H, Harrison S P, Huang C, Ke M, Kong Z, Li S, Li W, Liew P, Liu G, Liu J, Liu Q, Liu K B, Prentice I C, Qui W, Ren G, Song C, Sugita S, Sun X, Tang L, Van C E, Xia Y, Xu Q, Yan S, Yang X, Zhao J, Zheng Z. Palaeovegetation of China: A pollen data-based synthesis for the mid-Holocene and Last Glacial Maximum. J Biogeogr, 2000, 27: 635-664 CrossRef Google Scholar

[48] Yu G, Prentice I C, Harrison S P, Sun X. Pollen-based biome reconstructions for China at 0 and 6,000 years. J Biogeogr, 1998, 25: 1055-1069 CrossRef Google Scholar

[49] Yue Y F, Zheng Z, Huang K Y, Chevalier M, Chase B M, Carré M, Ledru M P, Cheddadi R. A continuous record of vegetation and climate change over the past 50,000 years in the Fujian Province of eastern subtropical China. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol, 2012, 365-366: 115-123 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[50] Zheng Z, Lei Z Q. A 400,000 year record of vegetational and climatic changes from a volcanic basin, Leizhou Peninsula, southern China. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol, 1999, 145: 339-362 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[51] Zheng Z, Li Q. Vegetation, climate, and sea level in the past 55,000 years, Hanjiang Delta, Southeastern China. Quat Res, 2000, 53: 330-340 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[52] Zheng Z, Wang J, Wang B, Liu C, Zou H, Zhang H, Deng Y, Bai Y. High-resolution records of Holocene from the Shuangchi Maar Lake in Hainan Island. Chin Sci Bull, 2003, 48: 497-502 CrossRef ADS Google Scholar

[53] Zheng Z, Wei J, Huang K, Xu Q, Lu H, Tarasov P, Luo C, Beaudouin C, Deng Y, Pan A, Zheng Y, Luo Y, Nakagawa T, Li C, Yang S, Peng H, Cheddadi R. 2014. East Asian pollen database: Modern pollen distribution and its quantitative relationship with vegetation and climate. J Biogeogr, 41: 1819–1832. Google Scholar

  • Figure 1

    Geographic location map of newly added boreholes and boreholes in documents. Solid dots, newly added boreholes; hollow dots, boreholes in documents.

  • Figure 2

    Vegetation zoning map in southern China. (a) Modern vegetation zoning map; (b) 18 ka BP vegetation zoning map; (c) 9 ka BP vegetation zoning map; (d) 6 ka BP vegetation zoning map.

  • Table 1   Summary of information on newly added borehole profiles

    Drilling location


    Altitude (m)

    Thickness (cm)

    14C Age span (cal yr BP)

    Lake Wuxu






    Lake Lugu






    Lake Qinghai in Tengchong






    Lake Xingyun
























    Lake Poyang






    Lake Nanyi






    Lake Xianghu






    Lake Dongqian












    Mingai Village






Copyright 2019 Science China Press Co., Ltd. 《中国科学》杂志社有限责任公司 版权所有