Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2020
Limited numbers of high-resolution records predate the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) making it difficult to quantify the impacts of environmental changes prior to peak glaciation. We examined sediments from Last Canyon Cave in the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming to construct a >45 ka environmental record from pollen and stable isotope analysis. Artemisia pollen was hyper-abundant at the beginning of the record. Carbon isotope values of bulk organic matter (>40 ka) showed little variation (-25.3 ± 0.4‰) and were consistent with a arid C3 environment, similar to today. After 40 cal ka BP, Artemisia pollen decreased as herbaceous taxa increased toward the LGM. A significant decrease in δ13C values from 40–30 cal ka BP (~1.0‰) established a new baseline (-26.6 ± 0.2‰), suggesting cooler, seasonally wetter conditions prior to the LGM. These conditions persisted until variation in δ13C values increased significantly with post-glacial warming, marked by two spikes in values at 14.4 (-25.2‰) and 13.5 cal ka BP (-25.4‰) before δ13C values dropped to their lowest values (-26.9 ± 0.2‰) at the onset of the Younger Dryas (12.8 ka). These results provide insights into late Pleistocene conditions and ecological change in arid intermontane basins of the Rocky Mountains.