H. John B. Birks, Oliver Heiri, Heikki Seppä, Anne E. Bjune
Department of Biology, University of Bergen, Thormøhlensgate 53A, NO-5006 Bergen, Norway; Bjerknes Centre for
Climate Research, Allégaten 55, NO-5007 Bergen, Norway; Environmental Change Research Centre, University
College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK; and School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford,
Oxford OX1 3QY, UK.
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The importance of reconstructing past environments quantitatively in palaeoecology is reviewed by showing
that many ecological questions asked of palaeoecological data commonly involve the reconstructions of past environment.
Three basic approaches to reconstructing past climate from palaeoecological data are outlined and discussed in terms of
their assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses. These approaches are the indicator-species approach involving bioclimateenvelope
modelling; the assemblage approach involving modern analogue techniques and response surfaces; and the
multivariate calibration-function approach. Topics common to all approaches are reviewed – presentation and
interpretation, evaluation and validation, comparison, and general limitations of climate reconstructions. Challenges and
possible future developments are presented and the potential future role of quantitative climate reconstructions in
palaeoecology is summarised.