Regional and local controls on postglacial vegetation and fire in the Siskiyou Mountains, northern California, USA

Christy E. Briles, Cathy Whitlock, Patrick J. Bartlein, Philip Higuera

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40 Scopus citations


The Siskiyou Mountains of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon are a floristic hotspot, and the high diversity of conifers there likely results from a combination of geological, ecological, climatological and historical factors. To evaluate how past climate variability has influenced the composition, structure and fire regime of the Siskiyou forests, pollen, charcoal, and lithological evidence was examined from two lakes along a moisture gradient to reconstruct the vegetation, fire and climate history. The late-glacial period was characterized by subalpine parkland and infrequent fire at both sites. During the late-glacial/Early Holocene transition period, subalpine parkland was replaced by a closed forest of Pinus, Cupressaceae, Abies and Pseudotsuga and more frequent fires a 1000 years earlier at the wetter site, and it is likely that reduced Pacific Ocean upwelling created warmer drier conditions at the coast. In the Early Holocene, Pinus, Cupressaceae were less abundant and fire less frequent at the coastal site during a period of increased coastal upwelling and fog production. In the Late Holocene, Abies, Pseudotsuga, Pinus, and Quercus vaccinifolia increased in the forest at both sites suggesting a widespread response to cooling. Fewer fires at the wetter site may account for the abundance of Picea breweriana within the last 1000 years. The comparison of the two records implies that large-scale controls in climate during the last 14,000 cal yr BP have resulted in major changes in vegetation and fire regime. Asynchrony in the ecosystem response of wetter and drier sites arises from small-scale spatial variations in effective moisture and temperature resulting from topographically-influenced microclimates and coastal-to-inland climate gradients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-169
Number of pages11
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jul 31 2008


  • Biological diversity controls
  • Climate change
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Siskiyou Mountains
  • Synchrony
  • Vegetation history


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