A million year vegetation history and palaeoenvironmental record from the Lake Magadi Basin, Kenya Rift Valley

Veronica M. Muiruri, R Bernhart OWEN*, Tim K. Lowenstein, Robin W. Renaut, Robert Marchant, Stephen M. Rucina, Andrew Cohen, Alan L. Deino, Mark J. Sier, Shangde Luo, Kennie Leet, Christopher Campisano, Nathan M. Rabideaux, Daniel Deocampo, Chuan Chou Shen, Anthony Mbuthia, Brant C. Davis, Wadha Aldossari, Chenyu Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    This study examines a one-million-year pollen record from a 194-m-long Lake Magadi core (HSPDP-MAG14-2A) in the south Kenya Rift Valley. The pollen indicate a general trend through the last 740 kyr from wetter conditions to generally drier environments. Grassland dominated with less common Podocarpus and Cyperaceae in a sparse flora between 1000 and 740 ka. Poaceae, woodland and herbaceous plants are common through the remaining core and abundant between 740 and 528 ka and after 200 ka. Pollen diversity increased after 200 ka. Podocarpus and Cyperaceae reached a peak abundance at ~575 ka with a subsequent decline that suggests a progressive increase in aridity, interrupted by wetter intervals. Podocarpus-dominated forests expanded and contracted many times during the Quaternary and document an anti-phased relationship with data from Lake Malawi. Similar anti-phased correlations are noted for herbaceous plants, suggesting that the two basins responded differently to the same climate or were influenced by contrasting climate regimes. Increases in macrocharcoal correlate with increasing pollen abundance and suggest wetter conditions. Data from the Magadi, Koora and Olorgesailie basins indicate similar trends and a dominant climate control on vegetation and habitats. Large lakes characterised all three basins at 740–528 ka with climate subsequently becoming drier, but with many wetter intervals. At various times the lakes expanded, contracted and dried out, except at Lake Magadi where spring inflows maintained lacustrine conditions through the late Quaternary. Faulting also contributed to fragmentation of the landscape and formation of a mosaic of habitats. An especially intense period of aridity at ~528–392 ka coincided with extinction of many large-bodied mammals and may have helped to drive a change from the use of Acheulean hand axes to the production of Middle Stone Age tools by 320 ka. After 200 ka pollen diversity increased substantially with a mix of montane, riparian and dry forest associations that were present in varying amounts through to ~4.2 ka at the core top.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number110247
    JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
    Early online date26 Jan 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Oceanography
    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Earth-Surface Processes
    • Palaeontology

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Climate change
    • Hominin evolution
    • Palaeolakes
    • Podocarpus
    • Pollen
    • Quaternary


    Dive into the research topics of 'A million year vegetation history and palaeoenvironmental record from the Lake Magadi Basin, Kenya Rift Valley'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this