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At an altitude of 2705 m in the Colorado Rockies (USA), the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site gives a rare look at a high-elevation ecosystem from the late Pleistocene (especially MIS 5) of North America. Remains of more than four mammoths and about 35 mastodons dominate the macrofossil assemblage. Mammoth remains are attributed to Mammuthus columbi, and mastodon remains are referred to the well-known, continent-wide Mammut americanum. Mastodon remains occur within and between several lake-margin slump deposits. Their deposition must therefore have occurred as events that were to some degree separate in time. We treat the mastodon assemblage in each stratigraphic unit as a source of information on environmental conditions during the lives of these individuals. Mastodon mandibular tusks are abundant at the site and represent both males and females, from calves to full-grown adults. This study presents the first attempt to use microCT, thin-section, and isotope records from mandibular tusks to reconstruct features of life-history. We recognize an up-section trend in δ18O profiles toward higher values, suggestive of warmer temperatures. Throughout this sequence, mastodon growth histories show low mean sensitivities suggestive of low levels of environmental stress. This work helps frame expectations for assessing environmental pressures on terminal Pleistocene populations.
In North America, terrestrial records of biodiversity and climate change that span Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 are rare. Where found, they provide insight into how the coupling of the ocean–atmosphere system is manifested in biotic and environmental records and how the biosphere responds to climate change. In 2010–2011, construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA) revealed a nearly continuous, lacustrine/wetland sedimentary sequence that preserved evidence of past plant communities between ~140 and 55 ka, including all of MIS 5. At an elevation of 2705 m, the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site also contained thousands of well-preserved bones of late Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, horses, camels, deer, bison, black bear, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. In addition, the site contained more than 26,000 bones from at least 30 species of small animals including salamanders, otters, muskrats, minks, rabbits, beavers, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds. The combination of macro- and micro-vertebrates, invertebrates, terrestrial and aquatic plant macrofossils, a detailed pollen record, and a robust, directly dated stratigraphic framework shows that high-elevation ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are climatically sensitive and varied dramatically throughout MIS 5.
The vertebrate record at the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site (ZRFS) near Snowmass Village, Colorado ranges from ~140 to 77 ka, spanning all of Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5. The site contains at least 52 taxa of macro- and microvertebrates, including one fish, three amphibian, four reptile, ten bird, and 34 mammal taxa. The most common vertebrate is Ambystoma tigrinum (tiger salamander), which is represented by >22,000 elements representing the entire life cycle. The mastodon, Mammut americanum, is the most common mammal, and is documented by >1800 skeletal elements making the ZRFS one of the largest accumulations of proboscidean remains in North America. Faunas at the ZRFS can be divided into two groups, a lake-margin group dating to ~140–100 ka that is dominated by woodland taxa, and a lake-center group dating to ~87–77 ka characterized by taxa favoring more open conditions. The change in faunal assemblages occurred between MIS 5c and 5a (vertebrates were absent from MIS 5b deposits), which were times of significant environmental change at the ZRFS. Furthermore, the ZRFS provides a well-dated occurrence of the extinct Bison latifrons, which has implications for the timing of the Rancholabrean Mammal Age in the region.
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