Responses of high-elevation herbaceous plant assemblages to low glacial CO2 concentrations revealed by fossil marmot (Marmota) teeth
McLean, Bryan S.
Ward, Joy K.
Polito, Michael J.
Emslie, Steven D.
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Atmospheric CO2 cycles of the Quaternary likely imposed major constraints on the physiology and growth of C3 plants worldwide. However, the measured record of this remains both geographically and taxonomically sparse. We present the first reconstruction of physiological responses in a late Quaternary high-elevation herbaceous plant community from the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA. We used a novel proxy – fossilized tooth enamel of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) – which we developed using detailed isotopic analysis of modern individuals. Calculated carbon isotopic discrimination (Δ) of alpine plants was nearly 2‰ lower prior to the Last Glacial Maximum than at present, a response almost identical to nonherbaceous taxa from lower elevations. However, initial shifts in Δ aligned most closely with onset of the late Pleistocene bipolar temperature ‘see-saw’ rather than CO2 increase, indicating unique limitations on glacial-age high-elevation plants may have existed due to both low temperatures and low CO2. Further development of system-specific faunal proxies can help to clarify this and other plant- and ecosystem-level responses to past environmental change.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2014. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Oecologia 175 (2014): 1117-1127, doi:10.1007/s00442-014-2982-y.
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