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Postglacial vegetation and climate of Grand Teton and southern Yellowstone National Parks

Author(s): Cathy L. Whitlock
Year Published: 1993

Pollen records from northern Grand Teton National Park, the Pinyon Peak Highlands, and southern Yellowstone National Park were examined to study the pattern of reforestation and climatic change following late—Pinedale Glaciation. The vegetational reconstruction was aided by analyses of associated plant macrofossils and the modern pollen rain of the region. Radiocarbon—age determinations and tephrochronology provided a chronologic framework to help correlate pollen records among sites. The fossil records indicate that alpine meadow communities, with Betula and Juniperus, were present between ≈14 000 and ≈11 500 yr BP. This early assemblage implies a lowering of modern upper treeline by at least 600 m and a climate was ≈5—6° colder than present. Between 11 500 and 10 500 yr BP, increased temperature and winter precipitation allowed first Picea, and then Abies and Pinus cf. albicaulis to spread into areas underlain by andesite and nonvolcanic bedrock. By 10 500 yr BP, the fossil record in these areas resembled modern spectra from subalpine forest. In contrast, the Central Plateau of Yellowstone, which is underlain by infertile rhyolitic soils, was treeless prior to ≈10 000 yr BP. The absence of late—glacial subalpine parkland in this area is attributed to the same edaphic factors that limit Picea, Abies, and Pinus albicaulis from the rhyolite plateau today. Between 10 000 and 9500 yr BP, Pinus contorta forest developed throughout the region in response to further warming. Pseudotsuga and Populus were present between 9500 and 5000 yr BP, suggesting a warmer, drier climate than today and more frequent fires. In the last 5000 yr BP mixed forests of Picea, Pinus, and Abies have developed on andesitic and nonvolcanic terrain, and closed forests of Pinus contorta have persisted on rhyolitic substrates. The vegetational patterns are attributed to a combination of climatic and nonclimatic controls operating on different spatial and temporal scales. Climatic changes brought about by the retreat of Laurentide ice and the amplification of the seasonal cycle of radiation explain the broad patterns of vegetational change on millennial time scales. On shorter time scales and smaller spatial scales, substrate differences and migration history shaped the vegetational variability.

Citation: Whitlock, C. 1993. Postglacial vegetation and climate of Grand Teton and the southern Yellowstone National Park. Ecological Monographs. 63(2): 173-198
Topic(s): Fire History
Ecosystem(s): Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest, Subalpine wet spruce-fir forest
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 13516
TTRS (Tall Timbers Research Station) Number: 8800
Record updated: Mar 22, 2018