Field associations (voluminous ash flow deposits, rhyolitic stocks and dykes, ring complexes), evidence of repeated influxes of mafic magma, and thermal constraints indicate that many high-level silicic plutons (magma chambers) acted as open systems for considerable parts of their history. The long thermal lifetime, as well as other evidence from the volcanic record, suggests that some such systems reached a quasi-steady state in which magma input was balanced by magma output for times longer than those required for crystallisation. Reconstruction of the evolution of large, long-lived caldera-forming systems, such as that of the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, indicates that many chambers have lost a highly fractionated silicic cap, in some cases cyclically. Crystallised plutons may contain no obvious record of this evolutionary phase.
Geochemical data from silicic ash flow deposits can be used to reconstruct the volcanic stage of pluton development. Many silicic systems, especially of alkaline affinity, apparently pass from a stage in which melt evolution is dominated by crystal-liquid processes to one in which other processes may also contribute to differentiation. Apparently, the transition is most readily achieved in volatile-rich, alkaline silicic systems emplaced in complex, ancient sialic crust of the cratons. Once established, the preservation of highly fractionated caps on magma chambers requires a balance between thermal input and cooling-induced crystallisation. If heat enters the system too quickly, the cap may get stirred into the dominant magma volume by convection. If heat input is too slow, the magma body will crystallise inward from the margins, and the plutonic-consolidation stage will begin.