Recent Research Highlights, updated Summer 2023

NSF Award- The Small Mammals of the Paisley and Connley Caves: Disentangling Drivers of Diversity in Pleistocene Extinction Survivors

Rebecca Terry, Meaghan Wetherell

The research aspect of this project will test how climate change and humans have altered small mammal communities over the last 17,000 years. I will be assisting with the age-depth modelling portion of that. 

The subaward I am administering will largely focus on the broader impacts: an educational video game featuring the paleontological, archeological, geological and ecological studies of the Chewaucan basin that allows players to travel back in time to view and explore the basin at different periods of time.

New Article: Reconstructing paleohydrology in the northwest Great Basin since the last deglaciation using Paisley Caves fish remains (Oregon, U.S.A.)

Adam M. Hudson, Meaghan M. Emery-Wetherell, Patrick M. Lubinski, Virginia L. Butler, Deanna N. Grimstead, Dennis L. Jenkins

The arid northwest Great Basin underwent substantial hydroclimate changes in the past 15,000 years, greatly affecting its desert ecosystems and prehistoric people. There are conflicting interpretations of the timing of hydrologic changes in this region, requiring more records to resolve the dominant climatic drivers. The Paisley Caves archaeological site, located near former pluvial Lake Chewaucan, contains well-dated, stratified sediments best known for evidence of early human occupation in North America. We present a novel paleohydrologic record for the Chewaucan basin based on the frequency of fish remains (Salmonidae and Cypriniformes, likely tui chub) and their carbon, oxygen, and strontium isotope compositions, from the Paisley Caves. Cypriniformes abundance peaks first at the start of the Bølling/Allerød warm interval (∼14.7 ka) and again during the early Younger Dryas (∼12.8 ka). Isotope compositions indicate tui chub were derived from an expansive Lake Chewaucan throughout the Bølling/Allerød, but mainly from spring- or stream-influenced sources by the late Younger Dryas to the present. Fish abundance dropped sharply through the Younger Dryas and early Holocene, when isotope compositions indicate a mix of habitats. Isotope compositions indicate the driest conditions during the middle Holocene, followed by slightly wetter conditions up to the present. This record agrees with recent pluvial lake reconstructions, supporting the hypothesis that a northward shift in the winter storm track supported deep lakes throughout the Bølling/Allerød in the northwest Great Basin. Lake level decline during the Younger Dryas suggests drying climate, differing from more southerly records. During the Holocene, however, shifts in Chewaucan basin hydrology are consistent with the rest of the western U.S. This highlights the need for region-specific records to inform predictions of the hydrologic impact of climate change on arid regions.

We used isotopes from fish bones to understand how lake level (and weather patterns) have changed over the last 15,000 years.

I was responsible for the age-depth models here.

New Article: Quantifying sedimentation patterns of small landslide-dammed lakes in the central Oregon Coast Range

Logan R. Wetherell, Lisa L. Ely, Joshua J. Roering, Megan K. Walsh, Molly J. Burchfield, Keifer E. Nace, Meaghan M. Wetherell, William T. Struble

Understanding sedimentation patterns in small coastal watersheds due to landscape perturbations is critical for connecting hillslope and fluvial processes, in addition to managing aquatic habitats for anadromous fish and other aquatic species in the Oregon Coast Range (OCR). Changes in sedimentation patterns spanning the last 250 years are preserved in two landslide-dammed lakes in small watersheds (< 10 km2) underlain by the Tyee Formation in the central OCR. Dendrochronology of drowned Douglas-fir stumps in both lakes provided precise timing of the damming and formation of the lakes, with Klickitat Lake forming in winter ad 1751/52 and Wasson Lake in winter ad 1819/20. Perturbations from wildfires, logging and road development, and previously underappreciated snow events affect sedimentation rates in the lakes to different degrees, and are identified in the sediment record using cesium-137 (137Cs), high-resolution charcoal stratigraphy, local fire records, and aerial photography. Each lake has variable sedimentation accumulation rates (0.05–4.4 cm yr−1) and mass accumulation rates (0.02–1.42 g cm−2 yr−1). Sedimentation rates remained low from the landslide-damming events until the mid-19th century, when they increased following stand-replacing wildfires. Aside from a sediment remobilization triggered by human modification of the landslide dam at Klickitat Lake around 1960, the largest peaks in mass accumulation rates in the mid-20th century at both lakes in the early 1950s precede major road construction and logging activity in the watersheds. Subsequent sedimentation rates are lower, but variable, and possible effects of logging and road development might be exacerbated by abnormal precipitation and heavy snow events. A comparison of previous studies of landslide-dammed lakes in larger watershed of the OCR are consistent with our findings of increased sedimentation in the mid-20th century, as well as higher sedimentation rates in the debris-flow dominated southern Tyee Formation than in the lower-relief northern Tyee Formation

Looking at tree age and sediment rate in lakes created by landslide dams in the Oregon coastal range.

I was responsible for the age-depth models here.