National Park Service


Date of this Version



Journal of Biogeography (J. Biogeogr.) (2016) 43, 778–790


U.S. Government Work


Aim: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) experienced one of the most extensive and rapid post-glacial plant migrations in western North America. We used plant macrofossils from woodrat (Neotoma) middens to reconstruct its spread in the Central Rocky Mountains, identify other vegetation changes coinciding with P. ponderosa expansion at the same sites, and relate P. ponderosa migrational history to both its modern phylogeography and to a parallel expansion by Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma).

Location: Central Rocky Mountains, Wyoming and Montana, and Black Hills, Wyoming and South Dakota, USA.

Methods: Plant macrofossils were analysed in 90 middens collected at 14 widely separated sites in the northern part of the range of P. ponderosa var. scopulorum. Middens with and without P. ponderosa were 14C dated to pinpoint time of appearance at each site. Sensitivity experiments using a bioclimatic model were used to evaluate potential climatic drivers of late Holocene expansion.

Results: Pinus ponderosa colonized the Black Hills region by at least 3850 yr bp (all ages given in calendar years before present). It expanded into the eastern Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming by 2630 yr bp, quickly spreading north in the western Bighorns from 1400 to 1000 yr bp. Concurrent with the latter expansion, P. ponderosa spread c. 350 km to the Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains in western Montana, establishing its northern limit and the modern introgression zone between var. scopulorum and var. ponderosa. Expansion in the Central Rockies of P. ponderosa involved two known haplotypes.