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Palynological evidence for 19th century grazing-induced vegetation change in the southern Sierra Nevada, California, U.S.A.

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Aim Stratigraphic pollen records are used to assess historic vegetation changes that have transpired in a North American mountain meadow since the introduction of Old World livestock species in the middle 1800s.

Location Monache Meadows is located on the Kern Plateau in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, California, U.S.A. It is situated along the upper reaches of the South Fork Kern River in the southernmost drainage basin of the Sierra Nevada.

Methods Short core samples of meadow sediments were extracted from five locations throughout Monache Meadows. These five samples are classified according to topographic position within the meadow – two upper meadow sites and three lower meadow sites. Stratigraphic analyses of fossil pollen from each core were used to assess vegetation composition before the introduction of European livestock (pre1850) and throughout the historic period (1850–present). The historic period geochronology is based on 210Pb dating of selected strata from each core.

ResultsRiccia was a dominant taxon in the upper meadow before the introduction of grazing; Salix seems to have been more abundant in the lower meadow. Both Riccia and Salix decreased dramatically by c.1900, coeval with marked increases in Artemisia (upper meadow) and Cyperaceae (upper and lower meadows).

Main conclusions Changes in meadow vegetation occurring during the latter part of the 19th century at Monache Meadows are attributed primarily to the introduction of European livestock (sheep and cattle). Other factors that may have contributed to the observed shifts in composition and dominance include changes in native herbivore populations and decreased fire frequency as a result of 20th century fire suppression policies.

Keywords: 210Pb; California; Sierra Nevada; grazing impacts; mountain meadow ecology; pollen analysis; vegetation change

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, U.S.A.

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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