08 May 2023
 | 08 May 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Climate of the Past (CP).

Disentangling environmental drivers of Subarctic dinocyst assemblage compositional change during the Holocene

Sabrina Hohmann, Michal Kucera, and Anne de Vernal

Abstract. Analysis of compositional changes in fossil organic-walled dinoflagellate cyst (dinocysts) assemblages is a widely used tool for the quantitative reconstruction of past environmental parameters. This approach assumes that the assemblage composition is significantly and independently related to the reconstructed environmental parameters. Theoretically, dinocyst assemblages can be used to reconstruct multiple environmental variables. However, there is evidence that primary and subordinate drivers for assemblage compositions differ regionally and it remains unclear whether a significant relationship to specific parameters in the present ocean always implies that this relationship is significant in fossil assemblages, questioning if past changes in these multiple parameters can be reconstructed simultaneously from fossil assemblages. Here, we analysed a local subset of the Northern Hemisphere dinocyst calibration dataset (n =1968), including samples from the Baffin Bay area (n = 421), and evaluated the benefits of a local versus a more regional or global calibration for the environmental reconstruction of Baffin Bay oceanography during the Holocene. We determined the dimensionality of the dinocyst ecological response and identified environmental drivers in the Baffin Bay area for the modern dataset. We analysed four existing Holocene records along a North-South transect in the area and evaluated the statistical significance of downcore reconstructions by applying the local and global datasets with different techniques: the modern analogue technique (MAT), the weighted average partial least square (WA-PLS), and maximum likelihood (ML). We evaluate reconstructions tested as significant in the light of the existing state of knowledge about West Greenland’s Holocene paleoceanography. Our analyses imply that present-day and Holocene dinocyst assemblages in the Baffin Bay area are primarily driven by salinity changes; other parameters were less important in driving assemblage compositions and their contribution differed among the studied records. We show that the objectively occurring and temporally coherent shifts in dinocyst assemblages in the Holocene of Baffin Bay can be interpreted robustly only by transfer functions that are calibrated locally. Transfer functions based on the broad North Hemisphere calibration yielded many insignificant environmental reconstructions. At the same time, we show that even in the local calibration, not all parameters that appear to significantly affect dinocyst assemblages in the calibration dataset can be meaningfully reconstructed in the fossil record. A thorough evaluation of the calibration dataset and the significance of downcore applications is necessary to reveal the region-specific information contained in dinocyst assemblage composition.

Sabrina Hohmann et al.

Status: open (until 03 Jul 2023)

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Sabrina Hohmann et al.

Sabrina Hohmann et al.


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Short summary
Drivers for dinocyst assemblage compositions differ regionally and through time. Shifts in the assemblages can sometimes only be interpreted robustly by locally, sometimes by globally calibrated transfer functions, questioning the reliability of environmental reconstructions. We suggest the necessity of a thorough evaluation of transfer function performances and significances for downcore applications to disclose the drivers for present and fossil dinocyst assemblages in a studied core location.