US Geological Survey


Document Type


Date of this Version



The Holocene 21(2), pp. 305–317. DOI: 10.1177/0959683610378876


U. S. government work.


We used pollen assemblages to reconstruct late-Holocene paleohydrologic patterns in floodplain deposits from the lower Roanoke River basin (North Carolina, southeastern USA). Using 120 surface samples from 38 transects, we documented statistical relationships between pollen assemblages, vegetation, and landforms. Backswamp pollen assemblages (long hydroperiods) are dominated by Nyssa (tupelo) and Taxodium (cypress) and have high pollen concentrations. Sediments from elevated levees and seasonally flooded forests (shorter hydroperiods) are characterized by dominant Pinus (pine) pollen, variable abundance of hardwood taxa, and low pollen concentrations. We apply the calibration data set to interpret past vegetation and paleohydrology. Pollen from a radiocarbon-dated sediment core collected in a tupelo-cypress backswamp indicates centennial-scale fluctuations in forest composition during the last 2400 years. Backswamp vegetation has occupied the site since land clearance began ~300 years ago. Recent dam emplacement affected sedimentation rates, but vegetation changes are small compared with those caused by pre-Colonial climate variability. The occurrence of wetter conditions from ~2200 to 1800 cal. yr BP, ~1100 to 750 cal. yr BP, and ~400 to 250 cal. yr BP may indicate changes in cyclonic circulation patterns related to shifts in the position of the Bermuda High and jet stream.