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Late Pleistocene paleoecology of arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) caches and nests from Interior Alaska's mammoth steppe ecosystem, USA

  • Benjamin V. Gaglioti (a1) (a2), Brian M. Barnes (a1) (a3), Grant D. Zazula (a4), Alwynne B. Beaudoin (a5) and Matthew J. Wooller (a2) (a6) (a7)...

Botanical analyses of fossil and modern arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) caches and nests have been used to reconstruct the past vegetation from some parts of Beringia, but such archives are understudied in Alaska. Five modern and four fossil samples from arctic ground squirrel caches and nests provide information on late Pleistocene vegetation in Eastern Beringia. Modern arctic ground squirrel caches from Alaska's arctic tundra were dominated by willow and grass leaves and grass seeds and bearberries, which were widespread in the local vegetation as confirmed by vegetation surveys. Late Pleistocene caches from Interior Alaska were primarily composed of steppe and dry tundra graminoid and herb seeds. Graminoid cuticle analysis of fossil leaves identified Calamagrostis canadensis, Koeleria sp. and Carex albonigra as being common in the fossil samples. Stable carbon isotopes analysis of these graminoid specimens indicated that plants using the C3 photosynthetic pathways were present and functioning with medium to high water-use efficiency. Fossil plant taxa and environments from ground squirrel caches in Alaska are similar to other macrofossil assemblages from the Yukon Territory, which supports the existence of a widespread mammoth steppe ecosystem type in Eastern Beringia that persisted throughout much of the late Pleistocene.

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Corresponding author. E-mail address: (B. V. Gaglioti).
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