South-central New Mexico, USA, at the junction of the Rocky Mountains, High Plains and Chihuahuan Desert, is one of the better known regions in the late Quaternary of North America. Plant macrofossils and pollen from a packrat midden series in Rough Canyon, New Mexico allows refinement of plant distributions and paleoclimates in this transitional area since full glacial times. From 17000 to 12000 14C yr BP, Pinus edulis-Juniperus scopulorum woodlands dominated limestone substrates between 1800 and 1490 m, with Pseudotsuga menziesii and other mixed-conifer species restricted to shady, north-facing slopes. Juniperus deppeana, the dominant juniper today above 2000 m in southern New Mexico, is conspicuously absent from glacial middens and must have been displaced south of the US-Mexico border. The minimum climatic conditions for P. edulis-J. scopulorum woodlands are ca 20% wetter and 3.5-5??C cooler (July mean maximum temperatures) than the modern climate at Rough Canyon. Holocene warming/drying may have started as early as 12000 14C yr BP with the extirpation of J. scopulorum from Rough Canyon, and was completed by at least 10540 14C yr BP. The record for arrivals of some desert species is confounded by traces of pollen and macrofossils in some of the glacial middens, which could signify either earliest occurrence or temporal mixing (contamination) of assemblages. AMS 14C dating can discriminate between early arrival and contamination in midden macrofossils but not in pollen. AMS dates show that Choisya dumosa, presently near its northern (cold) limits at Rough Canyon, endured late glacial winters, possibly as clonal populations. Some Larrea tridentata leaves and pollen occur in middens dominated by conifers and oaks no longer at the site; an AMS date of 3205 14C yr BP on Larrea leaves from one midden indicates contamination. Evidence for some macrofossil contamination, however, does not rule out the possibility that pollen of desert elements (e.g. Larrea, Prosopis) in late glacialearly Holocene middens indicates their presence in the Tularosa Basin, well ahead of their local appearance in Rough Canyon. Finally, the increasing dominance of desert elements after 5000 14C yr BP in the Rough Canyon series and elsewhere in the northern Chihuahuan Desert could reflect slow, postglacial migration from the south and/or progressive encroachment with gradual stripping of soils formed during the last glacial period. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V.
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Late Quaternary vegetation history of Rough Canyon, south-central New Mexico, USA