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Holocene vegetation and climate change on the Colorado Great Plains, USA, and the invasion of Colorado piñon (Pinus edulis)

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Abstract Aim 

To reconstruct the last c. 7000 years of vegetation and climate change in an unusual region of modern Great Plains grassland and scarp woodland in south-east Colorado (USA), and to determine the late Holocene biogeography of Colorado piñon (Pinus edulis) at its easternmost extent, using a series of radiocarbon-dated packrat (Neotoma sp.) middens. Location 

The West Carrizo Canyon drains the Chaquaqua Plateau, a plateau that projects into the western extent of the southern Great Plains grasslands in south-eastern Colorado, USA. Elevations of the study sites are 1448 to 1525 m a.s.l. Today the plateau is mostly Juniperus scopulorumP. edulis woodland. Methods 

Plant macrofossils and pollen assemblages were analysed from 11 14C-dated packrat middens. Ages ranged from 5990 yr bp(6839 cal. yr bp) to 280 yr bp(485 cal. yr bp). Results 

The results presented here provide information on the establishment and expansion of JuniperusP. edulis woodland at its eastern limits. The analysis of both plant macrofossils and pollen from the 11 middens documents changes in plant communities over the last 7000 years, and the establishment of P. edulis at its easternmost limit. Though very minor amounts of P. edulis pollen occur as early as the middle Holocene, plant macrofossils were only recovered in middens dating after c. 480 cal. yr bp. Main conclusions 

Originally, midden research suggested a late glacial refuge to the north-east of the Carrizo Canyon site, and a middle Holocene expansion of P. edulis. Results reported here are consistent with a late Holocene expansion, here at its eastern limits, but noted elsewhere at its northern and north-eastern limits. In general, this late Holocene expansion is consistent with pollen data from sediments in Colorado and New Mexico, and suggests that P. edulis is still expanding its range at its present extremes. This has implications for further extension of its range due to changing climatic conditions in the future.
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Keywords: Biogeography; Colorado; Great Plains; Holocene vegetation change; Pinus edulis; climate change; packrat middens; plant macrofossils; pollen; range expansion

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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