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Changing Patterns in the Holocene Pollen Record of Northeastern North America: A Mapped Summary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

J. Christopher Bernabo
Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912 USA
Thompson Webb III
Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912 USA


By mapping the data from 62 radiocarbon-dated pollen diagrams, this paper illustrates the Holocene history of four major vegetational regions in northeastern North America. Isopoll maps, difference maps, and isochrone maps are used in order to examine the changing patterns within the data set and to study broad-scale and long-term vegetational dynamics. Isopoll maps show the distributions of spruce (Picea), pine (Pinus), oak (Quercus), herb (nonarboreal pollen groups excluding Cyperaceae), and birch + maple + beech + hemlock (Betula, Acer, Fagus, Tsuga) pollen at specified times from 11,000 BP to present. Difference maps were constructed by subtracting successive isopoll maps and illustrate the changing patterns of pollen abundances from one time to the next. The isochrone maps portray the movement of ecotones and range limits by showing their positions at a sequence of times during the Holocene. After 11,000 BP, the broad region over which spruce pollen had dominated progressively shrank as the boreal forest zone was compressed between the retreating ice margin and the rapidly westward and northward expanding region where pine was the predominant pollen type. Simultaneously, the oak-pollen-dominated deciduous forest moved up from the south and the prairie expanded eastward. By 7000 BP, the prairie had attained its maximum eastward extent with the period of its most rapid expansion evident between 10,000 and 9000 BP. Many of the trends of the early Holocene were reversed after 7000 BP with the prairie retreating westward and the boreal and other zones edging southward. In the last 500 years, man's impact on the vegetation is clearly visible, especially in the greatly expanded region dominated by herb pollen. The large scale changes before 7000 BP probably reflect shifts in the macroclimatic patterns that were themselves being modified by the retreat and disintegration of the Laurentide ice sheet. Subsequent changes in the pollen and vegetation were less dramatic than those of the early Holocene.

Research Article
University of Washington

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