Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 683–692 | Cite as

The Holocene biogeography of Pinus sabiniana Douglas ex D. Don (gray pine) in California

  • Adrian R. Whitaker
  • Jeffrey S. Rosenthal
  • Eric Wohlgemuth
Original Article


Pinus sabiniana Douglas ex D. Don (gray pine) is one of the dominant species in the ubiquitous Gray Pine-Blue Oak Woodland that rings the Great Central Valley of California. The species is absent, however, in a nearly 100 km section of the Sierra Nevada foothills between the Kings and Kaweah rivers. We test several previous explanations for this biogeographic gap, including prehistoric and historic anthropogenic burning, Early Holocene pluvial lakes as a migration barrier, and unique topography as a limiting factor. Through the examination of archaeobotanical and radiocarbon evidence, we find that gray pine distribution has been stable for the past 4,000 years and likely longer. Importantly, gray pine is absent in 44 of 45 individual samples from the Wahtoke Creek Site, the only archaeological site with archaeobotanical data within the modern distribution gap. This suggests that gray pine has been largely absent from the gap for over 6,000 years and refutes several previous explanations for the biogeographical gap. Instead, data support a topographical or ecological peculiarity of the gap rather than historic or prehistoric anthropogenic burning, or an Early Holocene migration of the species that was blocked by bodies of water in the Central Valley.


Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana Douglas ex D. Don) California Biogeography Archaeobotany 



Our colleagues at Far Western helped us tremendously in preparing the manuscript: Darla Rice and Ruth Zipfel generated site distribution maps and Pat Mikkelsen edited the text and provided us with constructive comments on a draft manuscript. This study was undertaken as part of a data recovery excavation at CA-FRE-61, funded by the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans archaeologists Jon Brady and Alan Gold were instrumental in coordinating our field effort and providing us feedback on our draft report, which included an early version of this manuscript. Two anonymous reviewers provided constructive comments that improved our arguments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian R. Whitaker
    • 1
  • Jeffrey S. Rosenthal
    • 1
  • Eric Wohlgemuth
    • 1
  1. 1.Far Western Anthropological Research Group IncDavisUSA

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