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Late-glacial and Holocene palaeovegetation zonal reconstruction for central and north-central North America

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Abstract Aim 

The purpose of this study is to develop palaeovegetation zonation models for central and north-central North America, based on late-Quaternary and Holocene pollen stratigraphic data (n = 246 sites). A secondary purpose was to evaluate an hypothesis ( Strong & Hills, 2003) to explain the disjunct distribution of species in western Alberta. Location 

Hudson Bay-Lake Michigan to the Rocky Mountains region, north of 36° N to the Arctic Ocean (c. 70° N). Methods 

Pollen profiles spanning 40 years of palaeoecological research in North America were extracted from published and unpublished archival sources. Individual profiles were subdivided into 1000-year increments based on the assumption of a constant sedimentation rate between stratigraphic dates (e.g. surface sediments, radiocarbon 14C dates, tephra layers). The pollen composition among profiles was standardized to 54 commonly recognized taxa, with percentage composition within each stratigraphic sample prorated to 100% prior to analysis. Near-surface sediments from these profiles were included as analogues of modern vegetation. Cluster analysis was used as a guide to the classification of 2356 temporal stratigraphic samples, which resulted in the recognition of 16 pollen groups. These groups were summarized in terms of their pollen composition, mapped, and used in combination with terrain information and an ecological knowledge of the study area to construct six physiognomically-based palaeovegetation zonation models at 2000-year intervals from 14,000 to 4000 yr bp(radiocarbon years before present). Results 

The 14,000 yr bpmodel placed Boreal and Cordilleran Forests proximal to the southern glacial front, whereas Arctic tundra dominated the Yukon Territory–Alaska ice-free zone. Pollen and macrofossil evidence suggests that this Boreal Forest zone contained a mixture of coniferous and deciduous tree species. Grassland was postulated immediately south of the forest zone, with its northern extreme near 49° N latitude in the Alberta–Montana border area. Separation of the Laurentide and Cordilleran glacial fronts about 12,000 yr bpinitiated the northward advance of Boreal Forests into western Canada. By the end of the Hypsithermal at about 6000 yr bp, Boreal Forests occurred near the Arctic Ocean, and Grassland and Aspen Parkland zones may have extended to 54° N and 59° N latitude in Alberta, respectively. Between 6000 and 4000 yr bp, a 5° and 1° latitudinal southward shift of the northern Boreal Forest and Grassland/Aspen Parkland boundaries occurred, respectively, near their contemporary positions with corresponding expansions of the Subarctic and Arctic zones. Modern Canadian Cordilleran Forests along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains were interpreted as originating from the north-central Montana–south-western Alberta area. Jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.), a common Boreal Forest species, appears to have entered central Canada via the north side of Lake Superior after 11,000 yr bp. Main conclusions 

Modern vegetation in central Canada evolved from biomes located in the northern USA during the late-Quaternary. The Boreal Forest biome contained the same arboreal taxa as the modern vegetation, except it lacked jack pine. The proposed regional palaeovegetation models support the hypothesis of Strong & Hills (2003), but new independent palaeoecological data will be needed for a proper evaluation.
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Keywords: Boreal forest; Holocene; Hypsithermal; North America; grassland; late-Quaternary; palaeoecology; pollen; vegetation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Publication date: 2005-06-01

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