Main content area

Holocene environmental change in the eastern Snake River Plain of Idaho, USA, as inferred from stable isotope analyses of small mammals

Commendador, Amy S., Finney, Bruce P.
Quaternary Research 2016 v.85 pp. 358-370
Brachylagus idahoensis, Spermophilus, Thomomys talpoides, carbon, climate, climate change, collagen, dry environmental conditions, frequency distribution, gophers, humans, nitrogen, paleoecology, rabbits, small mammals, stable isotopes, vegetation, Idaho, Snake River
Previous research on the small mammal population recovered from archeological excavations at the Wasden Site in southeastern Idaho suggests that changing frequency distributions through time represent a shift in climate during the early Holocene from a cooler, wetter regime to a warmer, drier one. This conclusion was re-evaluated using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of bone collagen from the three species of small mammals examined in the earlier studies: pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides), pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis), and ground squirrels (Spermophilus townsendii). Resulting carbon and nitrogen isotopic values are consistent with known differences in feeding ecology, suggesting high fidelity as proxies for past vegetation (and thus climate) regimes. Patterns of 15N enrichment and increased representation of C4-CAM vegetation observed in the pocket gophers, and to a lesser extent ground squirrels, suggests increasing warmth and/or aridity from the early Holocene until ∼7000 cal yr BP, thus supporting previous hypotheses of climate change on the eastern Snake River Plain. The results highlight the potential contribution of such studies for archeological research by providing additional proxies for environmental conditions that bear on paleoecological adaptations to climatic change, including past human use and occupation of the region.