Postglacial vegetational and fire history: Pollen, plant macrofossil and charcoal records from two Alaskan lakes

Willy Tinner, Feng Sheng Hu, Ruth Beer, Petra Kaltenrieder, Brigitte Scheurer, Urs Krähenbühl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pollen, plant macrofossil and charcoal analyses of sediments from two Alaskan lakes provide new data for inferring Lateglacial and Holocene environmental change. The records span the past 14,700 years at Lost Lake, 240 m a.s.l., central Alaska, north of the Alaska Range and 9600 years at Grizzly Lake, 720 m a.s.l., Copper River Plateau, south of the Alaska Range. Salix shrubs expanded in the herb tundra about 14,400 cal b.p., and Betula shrub tundra became established at ca. 13,200 cal b.p. Diminished Betula shrub cover in association with the increased abundance of herbaceous taxa occurred at 12,500-11,600 cal b.p., although the timing of these changes is not well constrained. Populus expanded at 11,200 cal b.p. and formed dense stands until 9600-9400 cal b.p. when Picea glauca forests or woodlands became established at both sites. The abundance of Alnus viridis increased markedly around 8500 cal b.p. at both sites, marking the development of alder shrub thickets around the lakes and on mountain slopes in these areas. Boreal forests dominated by Picea mariana became established around 7200 cal b.p. at Grizzly Lake and 5700 cal b.p. at Lost Lake. At Grizzly Lake, marked vegetational oscillations occurred within the past 8500 years; for example, A. viridis expanded at 2750 cal b.p. and 450 cal b.p. and declined at 150 cal b.p. Some of these oscillations coincide with large-scale climatic events, such as the Little Ice Age cooling (LIA), and they probably reflect vegetational sensitivity to climatic change at this high site. Microscopic charcoal at Lost Lake suggests that fire was important in the lateglacial birch tundra, probably because of severe moisture deficits of the regional climate and/or high abundance of fine fuels. On the basis of the Grizzly Lake microscopic charcoal record, regional fires were common between 8500 and 6800 cal b.p. and between 450 and 150 cal b.p. Around Grizzly Lake, the mean return intervals of local fires estimated from macroscopic charcoal were ∼386 years between 6800 and 5500 cal b.p. when Picea glauca dominated over P. mariana, ∼254 years between 5500 and 3900 cal b.p. when P. mariana was more abundant than P. glauca, and ∼200 years after 3900 cal b.p. in both P. glauca and P. mariana dominated forests. Correlation analysis of pollen and microscopic charcoal at Grizzly Lake reveals that increased fire activity led to the reductions of P. glauca, P. mariana, and tree Betula in association with the expansions of A. viridis, Epilobium, Lycopodium clavatum, and L. annotinum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-293
Number of pages15
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Holocene
  • Lateglacial
  • Macroscopic charcoal
  • Microscopic charcoal
  • Picea glauca
  • Picea mariana

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Plant Science
  • Palaeontology


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