Detecting ancient wild rice (Zizania spp. L.) using phytoliths: a taphonomic study of modern wild rice in Minnesota (USA) lake sediments

C. L. Yost, M. S. Blinnikov, M. L. Julius

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14 Scopus citations


Wild rice (Zizania spp. L.) is a North American native grain with spiritual and dietary significance to many native people. Wild rice is also an important aquatic plant that provides critical habitat to wetland and aquatic wildlife. Past distribution of wild rice in North America is poorly understood, largely because of the limited taxonomic resolution of Poaceae pollen. A novel technique for detecting diagnostic Zizania silica phytoliths allows unambiguous identification of this taxon in lake sediments. We need to better understand modern depositional patterns of phytoliths in lake sediments, however, before attempting detailed paleoreconstructions. We analyzed distributions of diagnostic Zizania and other Poaceae phytoliths in modern sediments from three lakes with variable percent cover of wild rice and a non-wild rice control lake in central Minnesota. Absolute counts of phytoliths per gram sediment were achieved using an exotic diatom marker. Non-Zizania short-cell phytoliths, i.e. phytoliths from wetland grasses Phragmites australis and Muhlenbergia glomerata, dominate the assemblages in all lakes. Most Poaceae short-cell phytoliths appear to be derived locally, with little evidence for regional inheritance from eolian or alluvial processes. Because of anatomical differences in decay of plant debris and other taphonomic issues, Zizania inflorescence rondel phytoliths were most abundant, with morphotypes from other parts rarely encountered. Even in sediments under the densest wild rice stands, Zizania phytoliths contributed a maximum of 9p% to total Poaceae phytolith abundance. Lake morphology also affects the depositional pattern of phytoliths in modern sediments, so coring locations should be considered carefully. At least 500 phytoliths should be counted to detect a sufficient number of wild rice phytolith morphotypes. Diagnostic Zizania phytoliths are a reliable tool for wild rice detection in paleolake sediments.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)221-236
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • aquatic plants, grasses, habitats, indigenous peoples, lakes, Minnesota, Muhlenbergia, Phragmites australis, phytoliths, pollen, sediments, silica, wildlife, Zizania

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