Asymmetric Vegetation Responses to Mid-Holocene Aridity at the Prairie–Forest Ecotone in South-Central Minnesota

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The mid-Holocene (ca. 8000–4000 cal yr BP) was a time of marked aridity throughout much of Minnesota, and the changes due to mid-Holocene aridity are seen as an analog for future responses to global warming. In this study, we compare the transition into (ca. 9000–7000 yr ago) and out of (ca. 5000–2500 yr ago) the mid-Holocene (MH) period at Kimble Pond and Sharkey Lake, located along the prairie forest ecotone in south-central Minnesota, using high resolution (∼5–36yr) sampling of pollen, charcoal, sediment magnetic and loss-on-ignition properties. Changes in vegetation were asymmetrical with increasing aridity being marked by a pronounced shift from woodland/forest-dominated landscape to a more open mix of grassland and woodland/savanna. In contrast, at the end of the MH, grassland remained an important component of the landscape despite increasing effective moisture, and high charcoal influxes (median 2.7–4.0 vs. 0.6–1.7mm2 cm−2 yr−1 at start of MH) suggest the role of fire in limiting woodland expansion. Asymmetric vegetation responses, variation among and within proxies, and the near-absence of fire today suggest caution in using changes associated with mid-Holocene aridity at the prairie forest boundary as an analog for future responses to global warming.