Downloadable GIS maps of palaeovegetation since the last interglacial
Edition March 2022

Compiled by Jonathan Adams, School of Geography and Ocean Science, Nanjing University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

With the assitance of SHANG Siyi

In memory of the brilliant and irreverent Prof Hugues Faure (1928-2003)

Link to Jonathan Adams' Google scholar

Link to Jonathan Adams' ResearchGate

The regional paleomaps(last edited 2002)

This page is a download source of both improved visual maps and GIS format maps of paleovegetation presented in the original maps pages by Jonathan Adams, and by Jonathan Adams & Hugues Faure. No additional information sources have been added here, they are intended as a more usable version of the QEN series maps, that can be used by biogeographers, archaeologists, modellers etc. Further improvements and updates to these maps using based on the accumulated literature are anticipated over the coming months and years. Updated versions will be linked to this page. If you have questions or suggestions for improving the maps, please contact Jonathan Adams directly via email or via Researchgate.

These maps are not copyrighted, and are provided freely for everyone to use. However, please cite this source if you make use of it:

Adams J.M.(2022) Downloadable GIS maps of palaeovegetation since the last interglacial. Nanjing University. URL

An atlas of the ice age Earth

The following ecosystems maps, compiled by Jonathan Adams, were last edited in 2002. This edition is a mirror of a site held online(click here ), but with GIS downloadable maps. The maps and text are not copyrighted, but please cite this Web site as described at the base of this page.






Summary maps of forest and desert cover

The four maps below provide a rough guideline to the general changes in vegetation cover that have occurred since the Last Glacial Maximum. They are roughly drawn and not intended as a reference source (the more detailed regional maps on these web pages will provide you with a much more accurate guide to the likely palaeovegetation cover). They are merely a brief introduction to show how the world changed. It is evident that for 18,000 14C years ago the area of the most extreme deserts was much greater than in either the present day world or the other two Holocene time slices. For the early and mid-Holocene, in contrast, extreme desert almost disappeared due to much moister climates.

During the arid LGM and the several thousand years that followed it, forest cover was also greatly reduced due to a mixture of cold and aridity. Closed forests were almost non-existent in Europe and Siberia, and tropical forest seems to have been confined by aridity to what are presently the highest rainfall areas. The early-to-mid Holocene (8,000 & 5,000 BP) had greater forest cover due to higher rainfall in many parts of the world, and slightly warmer temperatures in the high latitudes and at high altitudes.

Summary map of vegetation cover at 18,000 14C years BP.

 This map illustrates the aridity of full-glacial conditions suggested on the basis of palaeoevidence from around the world; there was much less closed forest and more desert than at present. In fact, current evidence from various parts of the world suggests that the greatest overall aridity was reached slightly after 18,000 14C y.a., and closer to 16,000-14,000 BP. In this sense, the map may be more appropriate as a representation of conditions slightly after the LGM. Nevertheless, the whole period from about 21,000- 14,000 14C y.a. seems to have experienced much colder and more arid conditions than at present.

Summary map of vegetation cover at 8,000 14C years BP.


By 8,000 14C y.a., the Earth was under a full interglacial climate, with conditions warmer and moister than present in many parts of the world. Tropical forest in Africa (and probably also Asia) was expanded in area, and the areas of desert in Africa and Asia were much reduced.

Summary map of vegetation cover at 5,000 14C years BP.


Generally, conditions remained similar to those in the 8,000 y.a. slice, though with some reduction in the African and Asian monsoon rains.

Summary map of 'present potential' vegetation cover. 


This map is for purposes of comparison, showing the areas of forest and other desert that would be present in the present-day world if humans had not altered them by agriculture and forestry. Although it represents a 'potential' state, it is nevertheless much as the world would actually have looked about 4,000-3,000 14C y.a., before agriculture became important in modifying vegetation cover in many regions.


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