Pollen analysis of Tulare Lake, California: Great Basin-like vegetation in Central California during the full-glacial and early Holocene

Owen K. Davis

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67 Scopus citations


Pollen analysis and nine radiocarbon dates of an 853-cm core from historically drained Tulare Lake, south-central California are reported prior to 7000 yr B.P., the vegetation of the southern San Joaquin Valley (central California) resembled that of the contemporary Great Basin, including abundant greasewood (Sarcobatus), which currently does not occur west of the Sierra Nevada. The early-Holocene pollen assemblage is dominated by Cupressaceae (>40%), Pinus (>20%), Quercus (5-20%), Artemisia (> 15%), and Sarcobatus (>5%), suggesting pinyon-juniper-oak woodland in the uplands, with greasewood on the saltflats near the lake. Giant sequoia was widespread along the Sierra Nevada streams draining into Tulare Lake, prior to 9000 yr B.P. as Sequoiadendron pollen is greater than 4%. The pollen assemblages before 18,500 yr B.P. are similar to those of the early Holocene (Cupressaceae, Artemisia, and Sarcobatus), but a gap in sedimentation from ca. 18,500-10,500 yr B.P. prohibits characterization of full-glacial vegetation. The end of Great Basin-like pollen assemblages 7000 yr B.P. (demise of Sarcobatus) coincides with increased frequency of charcoal; i.e., greater fire frequency in the Holocene woodland and grassland. From 7000-4000 yr B.P. the pollen assemblage is dominated by Other Compositae and Chenopodiaceae-Amaranthus pollen, suggesting expansion of xerophytic steppe at the expense of oak woodland. Higher percentages of littoral pollen (Cyperaceae, Typha-Sparganium) and lower percentages of pelagic algae (Botryococcus + Pediastrum) during the middle Holocene indicate lake levels generally lower than during the early Holocene. The late Holocene begins with a cold-wet period 3500-2500 yr B.P. followed by progressive drying of the lake. Climate estimates based on modem pollen analogs confirm the climate implications of the vegetation and lake history. Early Holocene climate was cold and wet, and maximum Holocene temperature and drought occurred between 7000 and 4000 yr B.P. Cool-moist climate from 4000 to 2000 yr B.P. is followed by a return to aridity and high temperature ca. 1000 yr B.P.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-257
Number of pages9
JournalReview of Palaeobotany and Palynology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Nov 1999


  • Biogeography
  • California
  • Climate change
  • Palynology
  • Quaternary
  • Vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Palaeontology


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