Landscape–lake interactions in the Beartooth Mountains, Wyoming: a 350-year fire history reconstruction

Sabrina R. Brown, Jeffery R. Stone, David McLennan, Jennifer Latimer, Karlyn S. Westover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Wildfire is the dominant natural disturbance agent in forests of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and can have long-lasting impacts on local landscapes and limnologic processes. We applied a multi-proxy paleolimnological approach to infer the impact of forest fires on the catchment of Island Lake, Wyoming (USA), over the last ~ 350 years. Specifically, we examined whether fossil diatom assemblages recorded indirect, limnological impacts from fire, including changes in water clarity, nutrient input, and lake mixing. The objective of this study was to determine if post-fire lake changes could be reconstructed effectively using fossil diatom assemblages from Island Lake, Wyoming, by comparing the diatom record to dendrochronological and macroscopic charcoal records. Local and regional fire years AD 1747 and 1900 were determined from tree-ring records, which were corroborated with sediment accumulation rates and magnetic susceptibility in Island Lake sediments. Inferred lacustrine conditions that were associated with fire events, particularly regional, mixed-severity fire year 1900, included increased turbidity, greater water column mixing, and possible augmented influx of total phosphorus to the system. Thus, the fossil diatom assemblage in Island Lake appears to have recorded forest fire activity indirectly, particularly when fire activity was severe or widespread within the catchment. An increase in small colonial Fragilaria (sensu lato) species since 1975, in association with the rise in abundance of Asterionella formosa and Tetracyclus glans, suggests recent changes in thermal stratification patterns, epilimnion temperatures, and available nutrients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-119
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Matt Brindle, Ken Cleghorn, Natalie Erlenbaugh, Jared Foster, Heather Foxx, Bethany Kile, Courtney Natt, Cory Portwood, and Qichao Yao for field assistance, and Allie McCune for laboratory assistance. We thank the Paleolimnology Lab at University of Illinois-Champaign for 210 Pb dating. The CSDCO/LacCore Visiting Graduate Student Grant provided funding for initial core description, SEM time, travel, and lodging. Indiana State University’s COMPETE grant funded radiocarbon dating. The Indiana State University’s Center for Student Research and Creativity Graduate Student Grant aided with field work costs and the purchase of laboratory supplies. We also thank the Indiana State University Department of Earth and Environmental Systems for partial funding of field work and laboratory supplies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Charcoal
  • Climate
  • Diatoms
  • Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
  • Paleoecology

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • BEAM


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