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Holocene vegetation, fire and climate history of the Sawtooth Range, central Idaho, USA

  • Cathy Whitlock (a1), Christy E. Briles (a2), Matias C. Fernandez (a3) and Joshua Gage (a1)

The paucity of low- and middle-elevation paleoecologic records in the Northern Rocky Mountains limits our ability to assess current environmental change in light of past conditions. A 10,500-yr-long vegetation, fire and climate history from Lower Decker Lake in the Sawtooth Range provides information from a new region. Initial forests dominated by pine and Douglas-fir were replaced by open Douglas-fir forest at 8420 cal yr BP, marking the onset of warmer conditions than present. Presence of closed Douglas-fir forest between 6000 and 2650 cal yr BP suggests heightened summer drought in the middle Holocene. Closed lodgepole pine forest developed at 2650 cal yr BP and fires became more frequent after 1450 cal yr BP. This shift from Douglas-fir to lodgepole pine forest was probably facilitated by a combination of cooler summers, cold winters, and more severe fires than before. Five drought episodes, including those at 8200 cal yr BP and during the Medieval Climate Anomaly, were registered by brief intervals of lodgepole pine decline, an increase in fire activity, and mistletoe infestation. The importance of a Holocene perspective when assessing the historical range of variability is illustrated by the striking difference between the modern forest and that which existed 3000 yr ago.

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