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Late Pleistocene Piñon Pines in the Chihuahuan Desert

  • Ronald M. Lanner (a1) and Thomas R. Van Devender (a2)

Examination of late Pleistocene packrat middens from the northern and central Chihuahuan Desert disclosed macrofossils of Colorado piñon (Pinus edulis) and Texas piñon (P. remota). Radiocarbon dating indicates that Texas piñon was widespread in Trans-Pecos Texas and northeastern Mexico between 30,000 and 11,000 yr B.P. Today it is found in small refugia east of its former range. In the late Pleistocene Colorado piñon occurred at lower elevations on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Both species occurred in the Hueco Mountains, near El Paso, Texas. No clear evidence was found of the presence of Mexican piñon (P. cembroides), though today it is abundant in the Davis and Chisos Mountains. A paleoclimate is postulated that had the following characteristics: increased winter precipitation from Pacific frontal sources, reduced summer temperatures and precipitation, and milder winter temperatures due to a reduced frequency of Arctic airmass incursion. Winter precipitation appears to have decreased from north to south, while winter temperatures, and, possibly, summer precipitation, increased from north to south. During the late Pleistocene, the northern Chihuahuan Desert was dominated by woodlands of piñon pines, junipers, and oaks. The desert-scrub communities that characterize the area today are a Holocene phenomenon.

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Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
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