Patterns and drivers of Holocene vegetational change near the prairie–forest ecotone in Minnesota: revisiting McAndrews’ transect


  • David M. Nelson,

    1. Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, 1206 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801, USA;
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  • Feng Sheng Hu

    1. Department of Plant Biology,
    2. Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and
    3. Department of Geology, University of Illinois, 265 Morrill Hall, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
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Author for correspondence:
David M. Nelson
Tel: +1 217 333 4376
Fax: +1 217 333 0508


  • • Holocene vegetational dynamics along the prairie–forest border of Minnesota were first documented in McAndrews’ classic work. Despite numerous subsequent paleo-studies, a number of questions remain unanswered about the vegetation history of the region. Here, pollen, stable-isotope, mineral, and charcoal data are described from three lakes near McAndrews’ sites. These data were compared with other paleoenvironmental records to reconstruct vegetation, aridity, and fire.
  • • The climate was relatively wet with increasing summer temperatures before ~8000 yr before present (BP). The rates of changes were asymmetric for the onset and termination of middle-Holocene aridity, with an abrupt increase at ~8000 yr BP and a gradual, but variable, decline from ~7800 to 4000 yr BP.
  • • Early-Holocene coniferous forests changed to mixed-grass prairie without an intervening period of tallgrass prairie or deciduous forest, whereas the retreat of prairie was characterized by transitions from mixed-grass to tallgrass prairie to deciduous forest and finally to coniferous forest. Within the middle Holocene, the composition and structures of grass-dominated vegetation varied both temporally and spatially.
  • • Fire primarily responded to changes in climate and fuel loads. Vegetation was more strongly influenced by climatic changes than by fire-regime shifts.