We analyzed a 12,000-yr sediment core from Wien Lake, central Alaska, for a suite of phenolic products from CuO oxidation of lignin polymers and compared their composition with pollen data from the same core to assess lignin phenols as sedimentary biomarkers. Inferences of the gross taxonomic origin of sediment organic matter from lignin-phenol composition agree with vegetational reconstructions based on pollen assemblages. In particular, the ratios of syringly to vanillyl phenols are consistently higher before 6500 yr BP, when angiosperms dominated or codominated the regional vegetation, than after 6500 yr BP, when gymnosperms dominated. However, the ratios of cinnamyl (p-coumaric and ferulic acids) to total vanillyl phenols (C/V) do not show patterns expected from the abundance of woody plants. C/V ratios are particularly high (0.7-0.85) after 6500 yr BP when pollen spectra suggest closed boreal forests dominated by Picea, and the stratigraphic patterns are strikingly similar between C/V and Picea pollen concentrations, CuO oxidation of modern pollen of P. glauca and P. mariana yields exceptionally high amounts of cinnamyl phenols (8.90 and 6.41 mg/100 mg OC for P. glauca and P. mariana, respectively). In particular, p-coumaric acid is obtained in large amounts (8.87 and 6.41 mg/100 mg OC for P. glauca and P. mariana, respectively) versus vanillyl phenols (0.25 and 0.49 mg/100 mg OC for P. glauca and P. mariana, respectively) and ferulic acid (0.03 and 0.00 mg/100 mg OC for P. glauca and P. mariana, respectively). Thus lignin phenols derived from fossil Picea pollen preserved in sediments likely drive the C/V profile of the Wien Lake core. These data imply that if Picea pollen concentrations are sufficiently high, the amount of nonwoody tissue in sediments may be grossly overestimated when the lignin composition of gymnosperm needles is used as the end member of nonwoody tissues. Given that pollen grains are among the most resistant components of sedimentary organic matter and that p-coumaric acid is labile, it is important to consider pollen as a nonwoody tissue type when lignin biomarkers are used to determine the sources of vascular-plant material in sediments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology