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Late Quaternary Vegetational History of Illinois

James E. King
Ecological Monographs
Vol. 51, No. 1 (Mar., 1981), pp. 43-62
DOI: 10.2307/2937306
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2937306
Page Count: 20
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Late Quaternary Vegetational History of Illinois
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Abstract

Pollen diagrams from the Prairie Peninsula in Illinois record the climatically related vegetation shifts that have occurred since the late Pleistocene. They indicate that the major period of prairie development started between 8500 and 7900 BP, apparently occurring first along the southern margin. These events mark the beginning of the Hypsithermal interval and are correlated with the final disintegration of the Laurentide ice sheet and the establishment of the postglacial system of atmospheric circulation over North America. The late-glacial vegetation was spruce woodland in the north and open spruce woodland/tundra in central Illinois. These vegetation communities disappeared from the state in a northward direction between 14 000 and 10 900 BP. They were followed in northern Illinois by Pinus, Abies, Betula, and Fraxinus; in central Illinois Fraxinus expanded in the lowlands while the uplands remained relatively treeless. These assemblages, which persisted longer in the south than in the north, were subsequently replaced first by a mixture of cool temperate, then warm temperate deciduous trees as climatic amelioration continued. By 9000 BP, Illinois was dominated by deciduous forest. In response to Hypsithermal climatic stress, prairie vegetation began replacing deciduous forest about 8300 BP on the uplands in central Illinois and by 7900 BP xeric oak-hickory forest became dominant in northern Illinois. This is the beginning of the Prairie Peninsula as a discrete floristic area in Illinois. About 5000 BP the southern border of the Prairie Peninsula experienced increased moisture and renewed forest development suggesting a western contraction of the prairie margins. Central Illinois, however, remained grassland to the present. Between 900 and at least 400 yr ago an indicated trend toward cooler temperatures is correlated with late stages of the Neoglacial. Pollen evidence from northern Illinois and adjacent Lake Michigan indicates the reappearance or increase in Betula, Pinus, Picea and Larix. This short cool episode appears to end prior to the beginning of large-scale historic land clearance, about 140 yr ago, as the evidence for a vegetational readjustment to warmer climate is truncated by the logging of the forests, the plowing of the prairies and the resultant dramatic increase in Ambrosia pollen.

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