The timing and nature of Late Quaternary vegetation changes in the northern Great Plains, USA and Canada: A re-assessment of the spruce phase

Catherine H. Yansa

    This paper revises the chronology for the northward migration of Picea glauca (white spruce) across the northern Great Plains, following the recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, and reinterprets the species composition and structure of the late-glacial vegetation on the basis of pollen and plant-macrofossil analysis. The timing of spruce migration is based on 26 14C ages obtained from Picea macrofossils. The date for the appearance of white spruce in southern South Dakota, USA, remains unchanged, 12,600 14C yr BP (c. 15,000 cal yr BP), but its arrival in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, by 10,300 14C yr BP (c. 12,100 cal yr BP) is about 1500 years later than previously estimated based on an organic sediment date. Picea glauca thus migrated northwards at an average rate of 0.38 km/14C year (0.30 km/calendar year), significantly slower than the previously published rate of 2 km/14C year. White spruce probably inhabited lake shorelines, whereas prairie, parkland, and boreal plants occupied both lowlands and uplands, forming an open white spruce parkland. This interpretation differs from a previous reconstruction of a boreal-type spruce forest and thus offers another paleoclimatic interpretation. Precipitation was probably low and summer temperatures relatively mild, averaging about 19C.