Multiproxy records of temperature, precipitation and vegetation on the central Chinese Loess Plateau over the past 200,000 years

Louise Fuchs, Bin Zhou, Clayton Magill, Timothy I. Eglinton, Youbin Sun, Francien Peterse

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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The strength of the East Asian Summer Monsoon (EASM) and associated moisture availability have been linked to the spatial distribution of occurrence of C3 and C4 vegetation on the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP). Variations in the stable carbon isotopic composition of organic matter in loess-paleosol sequences from several locations on the CLP indicate that vegetation has shifted from mainly C3 plants during cool, dry glacials to more C4 plants during warm, wet interglacials. Although increased temperatures generally lead to an expansion of C4 vegetation, increased humidity has an opposite effect, as does increasing pCO2, leaving the exact driver(s) of vegetation change, and thus EASM strength, elusive. Here we reconstruct continuous, directly comparable records of air temperature, monsoon precipitation, and vegetation type over the past 200,000 years based on branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether (brGDGT) membrane lipids, plant leaf waxes and their isotopic stable carbon and hydrogen isotopic composition (δ13Cwax and δ2Hwax, respectively) preserved at Lingtai on the central CLP. BrGDGT-based temperatures vary between 12 and 21 °C over glacial-interglacial cycles, and consistently lead changes in loess proxies (grain size, magnetic susceptibility), as also observed elsewhere on the CLP. Variations in δ13Cwax are only minor (<2‰) and indicate that C3 plants have continuously dominated at Lingtai, in contrast to a nearby section where C4 plants flourished during interglacials. This difference can be explained by the site elevation (∼1300 m above sea level), resulting in air temperatures too low for widespread C4 vegetation occurrence. Instead, variations in the average chain length of the leaf waxes coinciding with large shifts in δ2Hwax (∼40‰) during glacial-interglacial transitions suggest that changes in rainfall source and seasonality may have pushed C3 woody vegetation present during glacials to more non-woody C3 vegetation during interglacials, as a result of differences in respective water-use efficiency. Our multiproxy records thus indicate that subtle changes in the C3 species composition can be used to reveal variations in EASM precipitation dynamics in elevated areas where temperature exerts a first order control on the vegetation type.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107579
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date5 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2022


  • Branched GDGTs
  • Chinese loess Plateau
  • Isotopes
  • Monsoon
  • Paleoclimate
  • Plant waxes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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