Sunday, September 28, 2014

Packrat middens across (parts of) America: update to Tweet et al. 2012

A personal indulgence, but then what isn't with a blog? If you've got your copy of Tweet et al. (2012) handy, you'll see that the body of the paper describes 33 National Park Service units where there has been some reference to packrat middens. Two more were added in proof, and didn't get onto the map. I now have references for packrat middens in five additional NPS units, which will be described below, along with new information for one of the units added in press (City of Rocks National Preserve) and an updated map. There's nothing particularly earth-shaking, mostly anecdotal reports, but there's another geographic outlier in Glacier National Park (which can probably use all the climate proxies it can get). In further good news, the USGS/NOAA packrat midden database can once again be accessed, at

City of Rocks National Preserve (CIRO)

The packrat record of CIRO has been further documented in Weppner et al. (2013), who incorporated them in a larger study on the fire history of the reserve. Several middens were reported from the Circle Creek drainage basin in the park, with a record going back at least 45,000 years. They were used to illustrate floral composition, in particular to show that Utah juniper arrived around 4,000 years ago and single-leaf pinyon around 3,000 years ago. The first appearance of the latter does not appear to have been successful, and they disappeared only a few hundred years later, to reappear around 700 years ago. Together, they make pinyon-juniper woodlands, which feature high-severity fires. Information from this project was also extracted for a GSA abstract (Pierce et al. 2013).

Glacier National Park (GLAC)

Carolin (2011) briefly noted that members of the Bigfork High School Cave Club had discovered packrat midden material in a park cave. Saxon Sharpe (Desert Research Institute) dated the material to about 2,000 years ago.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (JODA)

JODA consists of three units. The Clarno Unit, the most northwesterly parcel, is perhaps most famous for the Clarno Nut Beds. Within the Clarno Unit, a packrat midden probably constructed during the middle Holocene (several thousand years ago) has been reported from beneath an overhang in the vicinity of the well-known Hancock Tree (Retallack 1991; Bestland and Retallack 1994).

Petrified Forest National Park (PEFO)

Packrat middens dating back a few decades have been found in PEFO (K. Cole, 2002 pers. comm. to W. Parker, cited in Tweet et al. [2009]).

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI)

Undated packrat middens are present in Bear Den Cave in the Sequoia National Park section of SEKI (Santucci et al. 2001), and packrats may have been responsible for gathering at least some of the cave's vertebrate fossils, dating back over 7,200 years ago (Cole et al. 2006). As noted in Tweet et al. (2012), the middens described in Cole (1983) come from lower Kings Canyon, west of SEKI, not SEKI proper.

Walnut Canyon National Monument (WACA)

Murdock (1994) studied the packrat middens of Walnut Canyon for her thesis. She studied eight middens dating from between 70 and 3,800 radiocarbon years before present (radiocarbon years are not exactly the same as calendar years, and the "present" of "before present" is 1950, just before atomic testing got into high gear). These middens showed similar vegetation to the modern setting, except for the oldest midden, which had much more abundant conifer needles. This may indicate that conifers either departed naturally or due to the increasing presence of humans in the area. Buckwheat, rabbitbrush, sage, snakeweed, and yucca have also increased, with yucca being absent or very rare in the oldest middens. Rowlands et al. (1995a, 1995b) summarized her work. At the time of the research, WACA was a smaller unit, expanding to its present boundaries in 1996. Some of the midden sites were outside of the monument before this expansion, including the oldest. [2018/04/21: I've since been able to read Murdock's thesis instead of relying on summaries, and it turns out that all of the Middle Holocene localities are just outside of the monument, although middens are present within it.]


There are doubtless other NPS units with packrat middens, of great antiquity or not. A few that I might have guessed are not here (yet), such as Carlsbad Caverns NP and Yosemite NP, and you'd think that the southwestern corner of Utah would be great (Bryce Canyon NP, Cedar Breaks NM, and Zion NP), but apparently that area is not conducive to midden preservation (Madsen et al. 2002).

You actually can kind of read this without embiggening, if you squint, but do your eyes the favor. Explanation of sites is below.
Numbered points:
  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon (approximate location of the Clarno Unit)
  2. Lava Beds National Monument, California
  3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
  4. Death Valley National Park, California
  5. Mohave National Preserve, California
  6. Joshua Tree National Park, California
  7. Glacier National Park, Montana
  8. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
  9. City of Rocks National Preserve, Idaho
  10. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
  11. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada
  12. Golden Spike National Historic Site, Utah
  13. Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah
  14. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  15. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah
  16. Arches National Park, Utah
  17. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  18. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
  19. Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona
  20. Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, Arizona
  21. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  22. Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
  23. Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona
  24. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
  25. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  26. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
  27. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  28. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  29. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana and Wyoming
  30. Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah
  31. Colorado National Monument, Colorado
  32. Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado (equivocal)
  33. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  34. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
  35. Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
  36. El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico
  37. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico
  38. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  39. Big Bend National Park, Texas
  40. Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota


Bestland, E. A., and G. J. Retallack. 1994. Geology and paleoenvironments of the Clarno Unit. Final Report to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, NPS Contract CX-9000-1-10009.

Carolin, T. 2011. Director's corner. Science in the Crown 7(1):2.

Cole, K. 1983. Late Pleistocene vegetation of Kings Canyon, Sierra Nevada, California. Quaternary Research 19:117–129.

Madsen, D. B., S. A. Elias, W. Chengyu, S. T. Jackson, R. S. Thompson, and D. Rhode. 2002. The paleoecology of Red Valley Bog, Markagunt Plateau, Utah. Technical report submitted to the National Park Service. On file at Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Mead, J. I., T. W. McGinnis, and J. E. Keeley. 2006. A Mid-Holocene fauna from Bear Den Cave, Sequoia National Park, California. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 105(2):43–58.

Murdock, L. 1994. Analysis of woodrat (Neotoma) middens found in Walnut Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona. Thesis. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ.

Pierce, J. L., K. Riley, K. N. Weppner, J. L. Betancourt, and G. Meyer. 2013. The arrival and influence of fire-prone pines in Idaho: a tale of two ecosystems. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 45(7):54.

Retallack, G. J. 1991. A field guide to mid-Tertiary paleosols and paleoclimatic changes in the high desert of central Oregon—Part 1. Oregon Geology 53(3):51–59.

Rowlands, P. G., H. G. Johnson, C. C. Avery, and N. J. Brian. 1995a. The effect of dewatering a stream on its riparian system: a case study from northern Arizona. Pages 11-23 in Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Hydrology Section of the Arizona Nevada Academy of Sciences, Flagstaff, AZ.

Rowlands, P. G., C. C. Avery, N. J. Brian, and H. Johnson. 1995b. Historical flow regimes and canyon bottom vegetation dynamics at Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona. NPS report.

Santucci, V. L., J. Kenworthy, and R. Kerbo. 2001. An inventory of paleontological resources associated with National Park Service caves. Technical Report NPS/NRGRD/GRDTR-01/02. TIC# D-2231. NPS Geological Resources Division, Denver, CO.

Tweet, J. S., V. L. Santucci, J. P. Kenworthy, and A. Mims. 2009. Paleontological resource inventory and monitoring—Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRPC/NRTR—2009/245. TIC# D-59. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.

Tweet, J. S., V. L. Santucci, and A. P. Hunt. 2012. An inventory of packrat (Neotoma spp.) middens in National Park Service areas. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 57:355–368.

Weppner, K. N., J. L. Pierce, and J. L. Betancourt. 2013. Holocene fire occurrence and alluvial responses at the leading edge of pinyon-juniper migration in the northern Great Basin, USA. Quaternary Research 80(2):143–157.

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