This study investigates stable carbon isotopes (??13C), opal phytolith assemblages, burnt phytoliths, microscopic charcoal and Sporormiella spores from modern soils and paleosols in Kansas and Oklahoma. Grass and dicot phytoliths in combination with ??13C are used as proxies for reconstructing the structure of grasslands and woodlands. Burnt grass phytoliths and microscopic charcoal are evaluated as proxies for reconstructing paleofire incidence. Concentrations of the fungal spore Sporormiella are used as a proxy for assessing large herbivore activity. These proxies were tested on various modern grassland communities of the central and southern Great Plains, including areas with bison, cattle, and small herbivores, and areas under different fire frequencies.Opal phytolith assemblages and ??13C values show that before cal 11ka, C3 grasses and woody plants predominated in areas that today are dominated by C4 grasses. The origin of the shortgrass prairie dates back to about cal 10ka. The origin of the tallgrass prairie, however, is not clear as phytolith data show variable assemblages throughout the Holocene (mixed-grass, tallgrass, and tallgrass-woodland mosaic). Different proxies (burnt phytoliths vs. charcoal) reveal different fire frequencies, but it is apparent that microfossil evidence for fire incidence is closely related to the abundance of woody plants in the landscape.Before cal 12. ka, soils show somewhat elevated concentration of Sporormiella, but lower concentrations than the modern high-density bison and cattle grazing areas. Throughout the Holocene, Sporormiella frequencies are low, which suggests lower large ungulate densities and perhaps high mobility. ?? 2010 Elsevier B.V.