Articles | Volume 6, issue 2
30 Mar 2010
 | 30 Mar 2010

Simulated effects of a seasonal precipitation change on the vegetation in tropical Africa

E. S. Gritti, C. Cassignat, O. Flores, R. Bonnefille, F. Chalié, J. Guiot, and D. Jolly

Abstract. Pollen data collected in Africa at high (Kuruyange, valley swamp, Burundi) and low altitude (Victoria, lake, Uganda; Ngamakala, pond, Congo) showed that after 6 ky before present (BP), pollen of deciduous trees increase their relative percentage, suggesting thus the reduction of the annual amount of precipitation and/or an increase of in the length of the dry season. Until now, pollen-climate transfer functions only investigated mean annual precipitation, due to the absence of modern pollen-assemblage analogs under diversified precipitation regimes. Hence these functions omit the potential effect of a change in precipitation seasonality modifying thus the length of the dry season. In the present study, we use an equilibrium biosphere model (i.e. BIOME3.5) to estimate the sensitivity of equatorial African vegetation, at specific sites, to such changes. Climatic scenarios, differing only in the monthly distribution of the current annual amount of precipitation, are examined at the above three locations in equatorial Africa. Soil characteristics, monthly temperatures and cloudiness are kept constant at their present-day values. Good agreement is shown between model simulations and current biomes assemblages, as inferred from pollen data. To date, the increase of the deciduous forest component in the palaeodata around 6 ky BP has been interpreted as the beginning of a drier climate period. However, our results demonstrate that a change in the seasonal distribution of precipitation could also induce the observed changes in vegetation types. This study confirms the importance of taking into account seasonal changes in the hydrological balance. Palaeoecologists can greatly benefit from the use of dynamic process based vegetation models to acccount for modification of the length of the dry season when they wish to reconstruct vegetation composition or to infer quantitative climate parameters, such as temperature and precipitation, from pollen or vegetation proxy.