Late-Holocene climate changes linked to ecosystem shifts in the Northwest Wisconsin Sand Plain, USA

Randy Calcote, Christopher Nevala-Plagemann, Elizabeth A. Lynch, Sara C. Hotchkiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Records of century-scale climate variability in the Upper Midwest generally agree that moisture availability increased between 4000 and 3000 cal. yr BP (calendar years before present = 1950 CE), and that there were large, frequent droughts 1000–700 cal. yr BP followed by wetter/cooler conditions. Variability among regional sites, however, remains problematic. In this study we reconstruct climate on the Northwest Wisconsin Sand Plain (NWSP), USA, to identify potential climatic drivers of previously documented changes in vegetation and fire regimes. Oak pollen was replaced by pollen from xeric pine taxa at several sites on the NWSP ~1425 cal. yr BP, accompanied by a change to larger, less frequent charcoal peaks. Another major vegetation change occurred ~700 cal. yr BP, when pollen of the more mesic P. strobus L. (white pine) increased and charcoal influx decreased. We used a vegetation-independent lake-level record to determine whether long-term changes in moisture availability were associated with these ecosystem changes. Decreases in percent organic matter in shallow-water sediment cores from Cheney Lake indicate that the lake level decreased sharply ~1500 cal. yr BP, consistent with the interpretation that the changes in vegetation and fire regime were driven by a severe and previously undocumented drought. The lake level rose again, reaching approximately modern levels by 800–700 cal. yr BP, consistent with the hypothesis of cooler/wetter conditions in the Upper Midwest in the past ~700 years and with the expansion of mesic taxa on the NWSP 700 cal. yr BP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-420
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 20 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by NSF grants DEB-6760756, DEB-0816762, and DEB-0816557, a Pittman-Robertson grant through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and a grant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate school.


  • Lake-level history
  • Little Ice Age
  • Medieval Climate Anomaly
  • Upper Midwest
  • climate history
  • paleoecology

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • WISP


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