Title

A Warm Thermal Enclave in the Late Pleistocene of the South-Eastern United States

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-2009

Publication Title

Biological Reviews

DOI

10.1111/j.1469-185X.2008.00069.x

ISSN

1469-185X

Abstract

Physical and biological evidence supports the probable existence of an enclave of relatively warm climate located between the Southern Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in the United States during the Last Glacial Maximum. The region supported a mosaic of forest and prairie habitats inhabited by a “Floridian” ice-age biota. Plant and vertebrate remains suggest an ecological gradient towards Cape Hatteras (35°N) wherein forests tended to replace prairies, and browsing proboscideans tended to replace grazing proboscideans. Beyond 35°N, warm waters of the Gulf Stream were deflected towards the central Atlantic, and a cold-facies biota replaced “Floridian” biota on the Atlantic coastal plain. Because of niche diversity and relatively benign climate, biodiversity may have been greater in the south-eastern thermal enclave than in other unglaciated areas of North America. However, the impact of terminal Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions may also have been shorter and more severe in the enclave than further north. A comparison with biotic changes that occurred in North America approximately 55 million years (ma) ago at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum suggests that similar processes of change took place under both ice-house and greenhouse climates.