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Understanding the potential for ecosystem transformation and community change in response to climate variability is central to anticipating future ecological changes, and long-term records provide a primary source of information on these dynamics. We investigated the late Holocene history of upland forest and peatland development at Cranesville Swamp, a peatland located along the West Virginia–Maryland border in the USA. Our primary goal was to determine whether establishment of peatland was triggered by moisture variability, similar to recent developmental models derived from depressional peatlands in glaciated regions. Results indicate that the peatland established at about 1200 cal yr BP, and was associated with a dramatic and persistent change in upland forest composition. Furthermore, timing of these upland and wetland ecological changes corresponded with evidence for multidecadal drought and enhanced moisture variability from nearby tree-ring and speleothem climatic reconstructions. Our results add to a growing body of research highlighting the sensitivity of both peatland development and upland forest communities to transient drought and enhanced moisture variability, and suggest that enhanced moisture variability in the future could increase the probability of similarly abrupt and persistent ecological change, even in humid regions like eastern North America.
Journal: Quaternary Research - Volume 85, Issue 2, March 2016, Pages 204–210