Pollen representation, source area, and basin size: Toward a unified theory of pollen analysis

I. Colin Prentice*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

668 Citations (Scopus)


The concepts of pollen source area and of production and dispersal biases in pollen representation are quantified by means of a simple theoretical model. Source areas and relative pollen representation are shown to depend on basin size according to functions that describe the amount of pollen remaining airborne at increasing distances from single pollen sources. The form of these functions is determined by physical processes. Standard formulas for elevated sources do not apply, but the integrated form of Sutton's equation for particle dispersal from a ground-level source gives useful approximations applicable to pollen transport over a forest canopy. Simulations using this equation yielded source areas that increased realistically with basin size, showed substantial differences between source areas for pollen grains with different deposition velocities, and predicted that lighter pollen grains should become better represented with increasing basin size. All of these predictions are qualitatively consistent with present knowledge of the characteristics of pollen assemblages in different depositional environments. The model further allows parameters that can be estimated by statistical calibration methods to be predicted from underlying physical quantities. This extension suggests procedures for testing the theory with quantitative data on surface pollen and forest composition. Preliminary results showed reasonable agreement between estimated and predicted values of dispersal indices for the most abundant taxa in pollen spectra from the northern midwestern United States.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-86
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes


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