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Holocene vegetation and historic grazing impacts at Capitol Reef National Park reconstructed using packrat middens

Great Basin Naturalist

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Abstract

Mid- to late-Holocene vegetation change from a remote high-desert site was reconstructed using plant macrofossils and pollen from 9 packrat middens ranging from 0 to 5400 yr in age. Presettlement middens consistently contained abundant macrofossils of plant species palatable to large herbivores that are now absent or reduced, such as winterfat (Ceratoides lanatd) and ricegrass (Stipa hymenoides). Macrofossils and pollen of pinyon pine (Pinus edulis), sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), and roundleaf buffaloberry (Shepherdia rotundifolia) were also recently reduced to their lowest levels for the 5400-yr record. Conversely, species typical of overgrazed range, such as snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), viscid rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus visidiflorus), and Russian thistle (Salsola sp.), were not recorded prior to the historic introduction of grazing animals. Pollen of Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) also increased during the last 200 yr. These records demonstrate that the most severe vegetation changes of the last 5400 yr occurred during the past 200 yr. The nature and timing of these changes suggest that they were primarily caused by 19th-century open-land sheep and cattle ranching. The reduction of pinyon and sagebrush concurrent with other grazing impacts suggests that effects of cattle grazing at modern stocking levels may be a poor analog for the effects of intense sheep grazing during drought.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Holocene vegetation and historic grazing impacts at Capitol Reef National Park reconstructed using packrat middens
Series title:
Great Basin Naturalist
Volume:
57
Issue:
4
Year Published:
1997
Language:
English
Publisher:
Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Brigham Young University
Contributing office(s):
Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description:
12 p.
First page:
315
Last page:
326