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Holocene Vegetation and Climate in the Puerto Blanco Mountains, Southwestern Arizona

  • Thomas R. Van Devender

Plant macrofossils from 21 pack rat (Neotoma sp.) middens at 535–605 m from the Puerto Blanco Mountains, southwestern Arizona, provide and excellent history of vegetation and climate for the last 14, 120 yr B.P. in the Sonoran Desert. A late Wisconsin juniper-Joshua tree woodland gave way to a transitional early Holocene desertscrub with sparse Juniperus californica (California juniper) by 10,540 yr B.P. Important Sonoran Desert plants including Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro) and Encelia farinosa (brittle bush) were dominants. Riparian trees such as Acacia greggii (catclaw acacia), Prosopis velutina (velvet mesquite), and Cerdicium floridum (blue palo verde) grew on dry, south-facing slopes in a middle Holocene Sonoran desertscrub in a warm, wet summer climate with frequent winter freezes. Modern subtropical Sonoran desertscrub formed about 4000 yr B.P. as summer rainfall and winter freezes declined. Cercidium microphyllum (foothills palo verde), Sapium biloculare (Mexican jumping bean), Olneya tesota (ironwood) and Stenocereus thurberi (organ pipe cactus) became dominant as riparian trees retreated to wash habitats. The inferences of a latest Wisconsin/early Holocene summer monsoonal maximum by J. E. Kutzbach (1983), Modeling of Holocene climates. In “Late-Quaternary Environments of the United States,” Vol. 2, “The Holocene” (H. E. Wright, Ed.), pp. 271–277. Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) are not supported for the Southwest. Apparently the persistence of late Wisconsin circulation patterns offset any increases in insolation.

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Quaternary Research
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