Abstract

Carbon isotopes in rodent fecal pellets were measured on packrat (Neotoma spp.) middens from the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The pellet samples reflect the abundance of cold-intolerant C4 and Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plant species relative to the predominant C3 vegetation in the packrat diet. The temporal sequence of isotopic results suggests a temperature decline followed by a sharp increase corresponding to the Bølling/ Allerød–Younger Dryas–early Holocene sequence. This pattern was then tested using the past distribution of Utah agave (Agave utahensis). Spatial analyses of the range of this temperature-sensitive CAM species demonstrate that its upper elevational limit is controlled by winter minimum temperature. Applying this paleotemperature proxy to the past elevational limits of Utah agave suggests that minimum winter temperatures were ∼8 °C below modern values during the Last Glacial Maximum, 4.5–6.5 °C below modern during the Bølling/Allerød, and 7.5–8.7 °C below modern during the early Younger Dryas. As the Younger Dryas terminated, temperatures warmed ∼4 °C between ca. 11.8 ka and 11.5 ka. These extreme fluctuations in winter minimum temperature have not been generally accepted for terrestrial paleoecological records from the arid southwestern United States, likely because of large statistical uncertainties of older radiocarbon results and reliance on proxies for summer temperatures, which were less affected.

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