Great Plains vegetation dynamics in response to fire and climatic fluctuations during the Holocene at Fox Lake, Minnesota (USA)

Julie L. Commerford, Bérangère Leys, Joshua R. Mueller, Kendra K. McLauchlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Vegetation composition and fire frequency are tightly linked in North American grasslands and have varied considerably throughout the Holocene in response to different drivers. Yet, detailed records of both long-term changes in grassland vegetation composition and diversity, coupled with fire history, are still relatively sparse. In this study, we examine a sediment core from Fox Lake, Minnesota, using pollen, charcoal, magnetic susceptibility, organic carbon (%C), and silica (%Si) records with the aim of understanding grassland structure and function during the Holocene, particularly in the context of vegetation composition and diversity, erosion, and fire activity. Nonarboreal pollen comprises between 37% and 86% of the assemblage throughout the record with the largest percentages occurring during the mid-Holocene (~8000–4000 yr BP). The pollen record also suggests that at 8200 yr BP, there was an abrupt shift from oak-elm woodland to a more open landscape of grassland or savanna, which remained throughout the mid-Holocene. Additionally, the pollen data suggest that vegetation composition exhibited little change in diversity through time despite recurring fire. Charcoal concentrations varied from 30 to nearly 1200 particles cm−3, indicating changes in relative amount of biomass burned, but the morphotypes of charcoal pieces indicate that woody fuels persisted during the mid-Holocene despite the apparent grassland-dominated landscape. Magnetic susceptibility in the sediment ranges from −0.9 to 22.4 (×10−5 SI) throughout the record, with the biggest increase occurring as the vegetation shifted from woodland to grassland entering the mid-Holocene. Organic carbon ranges from 4.6% to 20.0% and exhibits a slow but steady increase after the 8200 yr BP event. Silica decreases slightly but remains generally high between 20.4% and 22.5%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-313
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was supported by the National Science Foundation CAREER grant (NSF BCS-0955225) to KM. LacCore (NSF IF-0949962) provided logistical support. A GK-12 fellowship (NSF DGE-0841414, PI Ferguson) supported JC during the 2014–2015 academic year.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • charcoal morphotypes
  • climate change
  • grassland biodiversity
  • Great Plains
  • magnetic susceptibility
  • pollen

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • NICE


Dive into the research topics of 'Great Plains vegetation dynamics in response to fire and climatic fluctuations during the Holocene at Fox Lake, Minnesota (USA)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this