Vegetation and Mammuthus primigenius extinction history on St Paul Island, Alaska

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Yue Wang1, Lee Newsom2, Soumaya Belmecheri2, Brendan Culleton2 and John W Williams1, (1)University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, United States, (2)The Pennsylvania State University, Univesity Park, PA, United States
St. Paul Island, AK, part of the Pribilofs, is an island remnant of the Bering Land Bridge, a possible coastal Picea refugium at the last glacial maximum, and a Holocene refugium for Mammuthus primigenius. A prior pollen record from Lake Hill indicates that St. Paul was predominantly herb tundra during the last glacial maximum followed by a shrub tundra in the early Holocene (Colinvaux, 1980). Subsequently, three radiocarbon dates on bones from Qagnax Cave indicate a last appearance of Mammuthus primigenius of 6.5 ka on St. Paul (Veltre et al. 2008). In March 2013, our team retrieved a 13.5 m composite core from Lake Hill to refine the extinction timing chronology, assess environmental change during the extinction interval, and test hypotheses about vegetation-megafauna feedback. This paper reports the results from modern botanical survey and analyses of fossil pollen, Sporormiella and other coprophilous spores, anchored by a new radiocarbon chronology consisting of seven AMS dates. Presently, bryophytes, Equisetum, Poaceae, Juncaceae, Salix and Viola commonly occur at the lake margin, accompanied increasingly by sedge meadow taxa with greater distance from the water’s edge, especially Cyperaceae, Asteraceae, Apiaceae, Lupinus, Rubus and Valeriana. Sporormiella is consistently present in low abundances (2%, ~700 grains/cm3) in the late glacial and early Holocene until a drop to zero at 6,050 yr BP, remaining absent during the middle and late Holocene when it reappears at 1904 AD. The timing of Sporormiella decline and reappearance match well to the youngest mammoth bone date and the historic reintroduction of reindeer (1911 AD) on St. Paul Island. After 11 ka, major pollen types include Apiaceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Artemisia and Salix, with lower abundances of Betula, Alnus and Ericaceae, consistent with herb tundra with some shrubs. Degraded Picea pollen grains are found at 12,240 yr BP in very low concentrations (223 grains/cm3), indicating long-distance deposition from a distal source with no local refugium. Declines in Apiaceae and Poaceae, and increases in Artemisia and Salix between 8014 and 7605 yr BP suggest a gradual increase prevalence of shrub tundra. The establishment of shrub tundra precedes the Sporormiella decline, suggesting this vegetation change was not caused by the megafaunal extinction.