Skip to main content Accessibility help

C4 Plant Productivity and Climate-CO2 Variations in South-Central Texas during the Late Quaternary

  • Lee C. Nordt (a1), Thomas W. Boutton (a2), John S. Jacob (a3) and Rolfe D. Mandel (a4)


A continuous record of organic carbon δ13C from a buried soil sequence in south-central Texas demonstrates: 1) strong coupling between marine and adjacent continental ecosystems in the late Pleistocene as a result of glacial meltwater entering the Gulf of Mexico and 2) ecosystem decoupling in the Holocene associated with a reduction of meltwater and a shift in global circulation patterns. In the late Pleistocene, reduction in C4 plant productivity correlates with two well-documented glacial meltwater pulses (∼15,000 and 12,000 14C yr B.P.), indicating a cooler-than-present adjacent continental environment. Increased C4 production between 11,000 and 10,000 14C yr B.P. suggests that the Younger Dryas was a warm interval responding to the diversion of glacial meltwater away from the Mississippi River. With waning meltwater flow, C4 productivity generally increased throughout the Holocene, culminating in peak warm intervals at ∼5000 and 2000 14C yr B.P. Shifts in the abundances of C3–C4 plants through the late Quaternary show no correlation to ecophysiological responses to atmospheric CO2 concentration.


Corresponding author

1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Fax: (254) 710-2673. E-mail:


Hide All
Baker, R.G., Gonzalez, L.A., Raymo, M., Bettis, E.A., Reagan, M.K., Dorale, J.A. Geology 26, (1998). 1131 1134.
Balesdent, J., and Mariotti, A. Measurement of soil organic matter turnover using 13C natural abundance. Boutton, T.W., and Yamasaki, S.-I. Mass Spectrometry of Soils. (1996). Marcel Dekker, New York. 83 111.
Barber, D.C., Dyke, A., Hillaire-Marcel, C., Jennings, A.E., Andrews, J.T., Kerwin, M.W., Bilodeau, G., McNeely, R., Southon, J., Morehead, M.D., and Gagnon, J.M. Forcing of the cold event of 8200 years ago by catastrophic drainage of Laurentide lakes. Nature 400, (1999). 344 348.
Barnes, V.E. Geologic Atlas of Texas. (1983). Univ. of Texas, Austin.
Benner, R., Fogel, M.L., Sprague, E.K., and Hodson, R.E. Depletion of 13C in lignin and its implication for stable carbon isotope studies. Nature 329, (1987). 708 710.
Bomar, G.W. Texas Weather. (1983). Univ. of Texas Press, Austin.
Bousman, C.B. Paleoenvironmental change in central Texas: The palynological evidence. Plains Anthropologist 43, (1998). 201 219.
Boutton, T.W. Stable carbon isotope ratios of soil organic matter and their use as indicators of vegetation and climate change. Boutton, T.W., and Yamasaki, S.-I. Mass Spectrometry of Soils. (1996). Marcel Dekker, New York. 47 82.
Boutton, T.W., Harrison, A.T., and Smith, B.N. Distribution of biomass of species differing in photosynthetic pathway along an altitudinal transect in southeastern Wyoming grassland. Oecologia 45, (1980). 287 298.
Boutton, T.W., Nordt, L.C., and Archer, S.R. Climate, CO2, and plant abundance. Nature 372, (1994). 625 626.
Boutton, T.W., Archer, S.R., Midwood, A.J., Zitzer, S.F., and Bol, R. δ13C values of soil organic carbon and their use in documenting vegetation change in a subtropical savanna ecosystem. Geoderma 82, (1998). 5 42.
Broecker, W.S., Kennett, J.P., Flower, B.P., Teller, J.T., Trumbore, S., Bonani, G., and Wolfi, W. Routing of meltwater from the Laurentide ice sheet during the Younger Dryas cold episode. Nature 341, (1989). 318 321.
Brown, P.A., and Kennett, J.P. Megaflood erosion and meltwater plumbing changes during the last North American deglaciation recorded in Gulf of Mexico sediments. Geology 26, (1998). 599 602.
Bryant, V.M., and Holloway, R.G. A late-Quaternary paleoenvironmental record of Texas: An overview of the pollen evidence. Bryant, V.M., and Holloway, R.G. Pollen Records of Late Quaternary North American Sediments. (1985). Am. Assoc. Stratigraphic Palynologists, Calgary. 39 70.
Cerling, T., Quade, J., Wang, Y., and Bowman, J.R. Carbon isotopes in soils and paleosols as ecology and paleoecology indicators. Nature 341, (1989). 138 139.
Science 241, (1988). 1043 1052.
Cole, D.R., and Monger, H.C. Influence of atmospheric CO2 on the decline of C4 plants during the last deglaciation. Nature 368, (1994). 533 536.
Collatz, G.J., Berry, J.A., and Clark, J.S. Effects of climate and atmospheric CO2 partial pressure on the global distribution of C4 grasses; present, past, and future. Oecologia 114, (1998). 441 454.
Coplen, T.B. New guidelines for reporting stable hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen isotope-ratio data. Geochimica Cosmochimica et Acta 60, (1996). 3359 3360.
Dorale, J.A., Gonzalez, L.A., Reagan, M.K., Pickett, D.A., Murrell, M.T., and Baker, R.G. A high-resolution record of Holocene climate change in speleothem calcite from Coldwater Cave, northeast Iowa. Science 258, (1992). 1626 1630.
Ehleringer, J.R., Cerling, T.E., and Helliker, B.R. C4 photosynthesis, atmospheric CO2, and climate. Oecologia 112, (1997). 285 299.
Epstein, H.E., Lauenroth, W.K., Burke, I.C., and Coffin, D.P. Productivity pattern of C3 and C4 functional types in the U.S. Great Plains. Ecology 78, (1997). 722 731.
Fairbanks, R.G. A 17,000-year glacio-eustatic sea level record: Influence of glacial melting rates on the Younger Dryas event and deep ocean circulation. Nature 342, (1989). 637 642.
Farquhar, G.D., Ehleringer, J.R., and Hubick, K.T. Carbon isotope discrimination and Photosynthesis. Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology 40, (1989). 503 537.
Flower, B.P., and Kennett, J.P. The Younger Dryas cool episode in the Gulf of Mexico. Paleoceanography 5, (1990). 949 961.
Fredlund, G.G., and Tieszen, L.L. Phytolith and carbon isotope evidence for late Quaternary vegetation and climate change in the southern Black Hills, South Dakota. Quaternary Research 47, (1997). 206 217.
Forman, S.L., Oglesby, R., Markgraf, V., and Stafford, T. Paleoclimatic significance of late Quaternary eolian deposition on the Piedmont and High Plains, Central United States. Global Planetary Change 11, (1995). 35 55.
Hall, S.A., and Valastro, S. Grassland vegetation in the southern Great Plains during the last glacial maximum. Quaternary Research 44, (1995). 237 245.
Holliday, V.T. Stratigraphy and Paleoenvironments of Late Quaternary Valley Fills on the Southern High Plains . (1995). Geol. Soc. Am. Memoir 186, Boulder.
Holliday, V.T. Folsom drought and episodic drying on the Southern High Plains from 10,900–10,200 14C B.P. Quaternary Research 53, (2000). 1 12.
Hu, F.S., Slawinski, D., Wright, H.E., Ito, E., Johnson, R.G., Kelts, K.R., McEwan, R.F., and Boedigheimer, A. Abrupt changes in North American climate during early Holocene times. Nature 400, (1999). 437 440.
Humphrey, J.D., and Ferring, C.R. Stable isotopic evidence for latest Pleistocene and Holocene climatic change in North-Central Texas. Quaternary Research 41, (1994). 200 213.
Indermuhle, A., Stocker, T.F., Joos, F., Fischer, H., Smith, H.J., Wahlen, M., Deck, B., Mastroianni, D., Tschumi, J., Blunier, T., Meyer, R., and Stauffer, B. Holocene carbon-cycle dynamics based on CO2 trapped in ice at Taylor Dome, Antarctica. Nature 398, (1999). 121
Kelly, E.F., Yonker, C., and Marino, B. Stable carbon isotope composition of paleosols: An application to Holocene. Swart, P.K., Lohmann, K.C., McKenzie, J., and Savin, S. Climate Change in Continental Isotopic Records. (1993). Am. Geophys. Union, Washington. 233 239.
Kennett, J.P., Elmstrom, K., and Penrose, N. The last deglaciation in Orca Basin, Gulf of Mexico: High-resolution planktonic foraminiferal changes. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 50, (1985). 189 216.
Leventer, A., Williams, D.F., and Kennett, P. Dynamics of the Laurentide ice sheet during the last deglaciation: Evidence from the Gulf of Mexico. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 59, (1982). 11 17.
Liu, B., Phillips, F.M., and Campbell, A.R. Stable carbon and oxygen isotopes of pedogenic carbonate, Ajo Mountains, southern Arizona: Implications for paleoenvironmental Change. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 124, (1996). 233 246.
Maasch, K.A., and Oglesby, R.T. Meltwater cooling of the Gulf of Mexico: A GCM simulation of climatic conditions at 12 Yr. Paleoceanography 5, (1990). 977 996.
Mandel, R.D. Bettis, E.A. III Geomorphic controls of the Archaic record in the Central Plains of the United States. (1995). Geol. Soc. Am, Boulder. 37 66.
Marchitto, T.M., and Wei, K.Y. History of Laurentide meltwater flow to the Gulf of Mexico during the last deglaciation, as revealed by reworked calcareous nannofossils. Geology 23, (1995). 779 782.
Melillo, J.M., Aber, J.D., Linkins, A.E., Ricca, A., Fry, B., and Nadelhoffer, K.F. Carbon and nitrogen dynamics along the decay continuum: Plant litter to soil organic matter. Clarholm, M., and Bergstrom, L. Ecology of Arable Land. (1989). Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht. 53 62.
Midwood, A.J., and Boutton, T.W. Soil carbonate decomposition by acid has little effect on δ13C of soil organic matter. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 30, (1998). 1301 1307.
Nadelhoffer, K.J., and Fry, B. Controls on natural nitrogen-15 and carbon-13 abundances in forest soil organic matter. Soil Science Society of America Journal 52, (1988). 1633 1640.
Nordt, L.C., Boutton, T.W., Hallmark, C.T., and Waters, M.R. Late Quaternary vegetation and climate change in Central Texas based on the isotopic composition of organic carbon. Quaternary Research 41, (1994). 109 120.
Overpeck, J.T., Peterson, L.C., Kipp, N., Imbrie, J., and Rind, D. Climate change in the circum-North Atlantic region during the last deglaciation. Nature 338, (1989). 553 557.
Owensby, C.E., Ham, J.M., Knapp, A.K., and Auen, L.M. Biomass production and species composition change in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem after long-term exposure to elevated atmospheric CO2 . Global Change Biology 5, (1999). 497 506.
Paruelo, J.M., and Lauenroth, W.K. Relative abundance of plant functional types in grasslands and shrublands of North America. Ecological Applications 6, (1996). 1212 1224.
Polley, H.W., Johnson, H.B., Marino, B.D., and Mayeux, H.S. Increase in C3 plant water-use efficiency and biomass over glacial to present CO2 concentration. Nature 361, (1993). 61 64.
Smith, D.G., and Fisher, T.G. Glacial Lake Agassiz: The northwestern outlet and paleoflood. Geology 21, (1993). 9 12.
Spero, H.J., and Williams, D.F. Evidence for seasonal low salinity surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 16,000 years. Paleoceanography 5, (1990). 963 975.
Stuiver, M., and Reimer, P.J. Extended C-14 data base and revised calib 3.0 C-14 age calibration program. Radiocarbon 35, (1993). 215 230.
Stute, M., Schlosser, P., Clark, J.F., and Broecker, W.S. Paleotemperatures in the Southwestern United States derived from noble gases in ground water. Science 256, (1992). 1000 1003.
Teeri, J.A., and Stowe, L.G. Climatic patterns and the distribution of C4 grasses in North America. Oecologia 23, (1976). 1 12.
Teller, J.T. Meltwater and precipitation runoff to the North Atlantic, Arctic, and Gulf of Mexico from the Laurentide ice sheet and adjacent regions during the Younger Dryas. Paleoceanography 5, (1990). 897 905.
Thoms, A.V., and Mandel, R.V. The Richard Beene Site: A deeply stratified Paleoindian to Late Prehistoric occupation in South-Central Texas. Current Research in the Pleistocene 9, (1992). 42 43.
Toomey, R.S., Blum, M.D., and Valastro, S. Late Quaternary climates and environments of the Edwards Plateau, Texas. Global and Planetary Change 7, (1993). 299 320.
Winkler, M.G., Swain, A.M., and Kutzbach, J.E. Middle Holocene dry period in the northern United States: Lake levels and pollen stratigraphy. Quaternary Research 25, (1986). 235 250.


C4 Plant Productivity and Climate-CO2 Variations in South-Central Texas during the Late Quaternary

  • Lee C. Nordt (a1), Thomas W. Boutton (a2), John S. Jacob (a3) and Rolfe D. Mandel (a4)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed