"Aim: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) experienced one of the most extensive and rapid post-glacial plant migrations in western North America. We used plant macrofossils from woodrat (Neotoma) middens to reconstruct its spread in the Central Rocky Mountains, identify other vegetation changes coinciding with P. ponderosa expansion at the same sites, and relate P. ponderosa migrational history to both its modern phylogeography and to a parallel expansion by Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma).
Location: Central Rocky Mountains, Wyoming and Montana, and Black Hills, Wyoming and South Dakota, USA.
Methods: Plant macrofossils were analyzed in 90 middens collected at 14 widely separated sites in the northern part of the range of P. ponderosa var. scopulorum. Middens with and without P. ponderosa were 14C dated to pinpoint time of appearance at each site. Sensitivity experiments using a bioclimatic model were used to evaluate potential climatic drivers of late Holocene expansion.
Results: P. ponderosa colonized the Black Hills region by at least 3850 yr BP (all ages given in calendar years before present). It expanded into the eastern Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming by 2630 yr BP, quickly spreading north in the western Bighorns from 1400 to 1000 yr BP. Concurrent with the latter expansion, P. ponderosa spread c. ~350 km to the Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains in western Montana, establishing its northern limit and the modern introgression zone between var. scopulorum and var. ponderosa. Expansion in the Central Rockies of P. ponderosa involved two known haplotypes.
Main conclusions: P. ponderosa expanded its range across large parts of northern Wyoming and central Montana during the late Holocene, probably in response to both northward and westward increases in summer temperature and rainfall. The underlying climatic driver may be the same as for the contemporaneous expansion of J. osteosperma, but will remain undetermined without focused development and integration of independent palaeoclimate records in the region."