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Millennial scale climate-fire-vegetation interactions in a mid-elevation mixed coniferous forest, Mission Range, northwestern Montana, USA

  • Mio Alt (a1), David B. McWethy (a1), Rick Everett (a2) and Cathy Whitlock (a1)

Mixed coniferous forests are widespread at middle elevations in the Northern Rocky Mountains, yet relatively little is known about their long-term vegetation and fire history. Pollen and charcoal records from Twin Lakes, in the Mission Range of northwestern Montana provide information on mixed-coniferous forest development and fire activity over the last 15,000 years. These data suggest an open parkland and minimal fire activity before 13,500 cal yr BP, consistent with cold, dry conditions. Increases in Pinus pollen after 13,500 cal yr BP indicate a transition to closed forests, and a slight rise in fire activity as conditions warmed and fuel biomass increased. High levels of Artemisia pollen between 10,000 and 6000 cal yr BP suggest an open forest during the early Holocene when conditions were warmer and drier than present. Low-severity fires likely maintained open forest/shrublands but produced little charcoal during this interval. Present-day mixed-coniferous forests were established in the last 6 ka and included forest taxa characteristic of low- (Pseudotsuga-Larix/Pinus ponderosa) and high-severity fire regimes (Picea/Abies). Increased climate variability and anthropogenic burning may have helped maintain heterogeneous, mixed-coniferous forests during the last several millennia when climate conditions became cooler and wetter.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author at: Paleoecology Laboratory, 710 Leon Johnson Hall, Montana State University Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA. E-mail (M. Alt).
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