Pollen Analysis of Caribou Dung from Ice Patches in Southwest Yukon

Ancient Caribou Ecology and Implications for Precontact Human Land-Use


  • Vandy E. Bowyer Athabasca University




pollen analysis, palynology, caribou dung, alpine, caribou ecology, ice patches


The purpose of this research is to better understand the relationship between ancient caribou ecology and precontact human land-use patterns in the southwest Yukon. In the summer, caribou are known to move to the alpine to seek high quality forage and use ice patches for relief from heat and insects. The selection of ice patches results in the aggregation of caribou at certain locales on the landscape which has important implications for precontact hunters in the region. To better understand ancient caribou ecology in the southwest Yukon, pollen was analysed from well preserved fossil caribou (Rangifer tarandus) dung from the Granger Mountain (JdUu-17) and Friday Creek (JcUu-1) ice patches. This paper provides a general overview of the pollen analysis of 51 samples of caribou dung collected from stratigraphic layers at ice patches. Radiocarbon samples collected from stratigraphically controlled layers of caribou dung at these sites provide dates ranging from 7460±40 to 460±40 years BP. Samples were comprised of a variety of wind- pollinated taxa such Picea, Pinus, Alnus, and Betula and insect-pollinated taxa such as Polemonium, Pedicularis and Epilobium. It is suggested that some of the pollen content of ancient dung from ice patches reflects plants selected by caribou during alpine “green-up” in warm summer months. Several pollen sources are considered in this discussion and further work on evaluating taphonomic processes will assist in interpreting pollen from fossil caribou dung.


Anderson, J.R. and A. C. Nilssen. 1998. “Do Reindeer Aggregate on Snow Patches to Reduce Harassment by Parasitic Flies or to Thermoregulate?” Rangifer 18(1): 3–17. http:// dx.doi.org/10.7557/

Bassett, I. J., C. W. Crompton and J. A. Parmalee. 1978. An Atlas of Airborne Pollen Grains and Common Fungus Spores of Canada. Canada Department of Agriculture Research Branch. Monograph Number 18. Ottawa.

Bergerud, A.T. 1972. “Food Habits of Newfoundland Caribou.” Journal of Wildlife Management 36(3): 913–923. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3799448

Berglund, B.E. ed. 1986. Handbook of Holocene Paleoecology and Paleohydrology. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Birks, H. J. B. 1977. “Modern Pollen Rain and Vegetation of the St. Elias Mountains, Yukon Territory.” Canadian Journal of Botany 55(18): 2367–2382. http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/ b77-270

———. and H. H. Birks. 1980. Quaternary Palaeoecology. London: Edward Arnold.

Bjune, E. 2000. “Pollen Analysis of Faeces as a Method of Demonstrating Seasonal Variations in the Diet of Svalbard Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhchus).” Polar Research 19(2): 183–192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-8369.2000.tb00342.x

Boertje, R. D. 1984. “Seasonal Diets of the Denali Caribou Herd, Alaska.” Arctic 37(2):161–165. http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic2182

———. and C.L. Gardner. 2000. Fortymile Caribou Herd: a novel proposed management and relevant Biology, 1992–1997. Rangifer Special Issue Number 12: 17–37.

Bowyer, V. E. 2011. “Caribou Hunting at Ice Patches: Seasonal Mobility and Long-term LandUse in the Southwest Yukon.” PhD. Dissertation. Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

———. , G.W. Kuzyk, D.W. Russell, R.S., Farnell, R.M. Gotthardt, P.G. Hare, and E. Blake. 1999. “Caribou Remains at Thandlat: Archaeology and Paleoecology of some well-preserved sites on ice patches in the southwestern Yukon.” Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Canadian Archaeological Association, Whitehorse, Yukon.

Carrion, J. S. 2002. “A Taphonomic Study of Modern Pollen Assemblages from Dung and Surface Sediments in Arid Environments of Spain.” Review of Paleobotany and Palynology 120: 217–232. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0034-6667(02)00073-8

Clegg, B.F., W. Tinner, D. G. Gavin and F..S. Hu. 2005. “Morphological Differentiation of Betula (birch) Pollen in Northwest North America and its Paleoecological Application.” The Holocene 15(2): 229–237. http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/0959683605hl788rp

Cody, W. J. 1996. Flora of the Yukon Territory. National Research Council of Canada. Ottawa: National Research Council Press.

Cwynar, L. 1988. “Late Quaternary Vegetation History of Kettlepond, southwestern Yukon.” Canadian Journal of Forestry Research 18: 1270–1279. http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/x88-196

———. 1993. “The Abundance of Exotic Western Hemlock Pollen at Waterdevil Lake, White Pass Northern British Columbia. A Preliminary Analysis.” Review of Paleoethnobotany and Palynology 7: 113–119. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0034-6667(93)90041-R

Danzeglocke, U., O. Juris and B. Weninger. 2007. CalPal Software. CalPal-2007 online. http:// www.calpal-online.de/. Accessed June 20, 2007.

Edmonds, E. J. 1988. “Population Status, Distribution, and Movements of Woodland Caribou in West Central Alberta.” Canadian Journal of Zoology 66: 817–826. http://dx.doi. org/10.1139/z88-121

Edwards, R. Y. and R. W. Ritcey. 1959. “Migrations of Caribou in Mountainous Area in Wells Gray Park, British Columbia.” The Canadian Field Naturalist 73: 21–25.

Faegri, K. and J. Iversen. 1964. Textbook of Pollen Analysis. New York: Hafner Publishing Company.

Farnell, R. A. and J. McDonald. 1990. “The Distribution, Movements, Demography, and Habitat Use of the Little Rancheria Caribou Herd.” Unpublished manuscript on file at Yukon Renewable Resources. Whitehorse, Yukon.

———. 1989. “Inventory of the Wolf Lake Caribou Herd Final Report.” Unpublished manuscript on file at Yukon Renewable Resources. Whitehorse, Yukon.

———., R. Florkiewicz, G. Kuzyk and K. Egli. 1998. “The status of Rangifer tarandus caribou in Yukon, Canada.” Rangifer Special Issue 10: 131–137. http://dx.doi.org/10.7557/

———., P. G. Hare, E. Blake, V. Bowyer, C. Schweger, S. Greer and R. Gotthardt. 2004. “Multidisciplinary Investigations of Alpine Ice Patches in Southwest Yukon, Canada: Paleoenvironmental and Paleobiological Investigations.” Arctic 57(3): 247–259. http://dx.doi. org/10.14430/arctic502

———., R. Sumanik, J. McDonald and B. Gilroy. 1991. “The Distribution, Movements, Demography, and Habitat Characteristics of the Klaza Caribou Herd in Relation to the Casino Trail Development, Yukon Territory.” Unpublished manuscript on file at Yukon Renewable Resources. Whitehorse, Yukon.

Fuller, T. K. and L. B. Keith. 1980. “Woodland Caribou Population Dynamics in Northeastern Alberta.” Journal of Wildlife Management 45(1): 197–213. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3807887

Galloway, J. M., J. Adamczewski, D. M. Schock, T. D. Andrews, G. MacKay, V. E. Bowyer, T. Meulendyk, B. J. Moorman and S. J. Kutz. 2012. “Diet and Habitat of Mountain Woodland Caribou Inferred from Dung Preserved in 5000 year-old Alpine Ice in the Selwyn Mountains, NWT, Canada.” Arctic 65 Suppl. 1: 59–79. http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic4185

Hansen, B. C. S. and D. R. Engstrom. 1985. “A Comparison of Numerical and Qualitative Methods of Separating Pollen of Black and White Spruce.” Canadian Journal of Botany 63: 2159–2163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/b85-305

Hare, P. G., S. Greer, R. Gotthardt, R. Farnell, V. Bowyer, C. Schweger and D. Strand. 2004. “Ethnographic and Archaeological Investigations of Alpine Ice Patches in Southwest Yukon, Canada.” Arctic 57(3): 260–272. http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic503

———. , C. D. Thomas, T. N. Topper and R. M. Gotthardt. 2012. “The Archaeology of Ice Patches: New Artifacts, Observations, and Insights.” Arctic 65 Suppl. 1: 118–135. http:// dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic4188

Harvest Management Coalition. 2012. “Fortymile Caribou Herd Harvest Plan 2012–2018.” Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fairbanks, Alaska. http://www.adfg.alaska. gov/static/home/about/management/wildlifeplanning/pdfs/fortymile_harvest_ plan_2012_2018.pdf.

Helwig, K., V. Monahan and J. Poulin. 2008. “The Identification of Hafting Adhesive on a Slotted Antler Point from a Southwest Yukon Ice Patch.” American Antiquity 73(2): 279–288.

Hoefs, M. and I. McTaggart-Cowan. 1978. Ecological Investigations of a Population of Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli dalli Nelson). Syeisis 12: Supplement 1: 1–81.

Ion, P. G. and P. Kershaw. 1989. “The Selection of Snowpatches as Relief Habitat by Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Macmillan Pass, Selwyn/Mackenzie Mountains,

N.W.T., Canada.” Arctic and Alpine Research 21(2): 203–211. http://dx.doi. org/10.2307/1551633

Ives, John W. 1977. “Pollen Separation of Three North American Birches.” Arctic and Alpine Research 9(1): 73–80. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1550410

Janzon, Lars-Ake. 1981. “Airborne Pollen Grains Under Winter Conditions.” Grana 20: 183–185. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00173138109427662

Juggins, S. 2011. “C2 Software for visualizing mulit-proxy stratigraphic data sets.” Newcastle Upon Tyne, University of Newcastle. http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/staff/stephen.juggins/software.code/C2/ Description.pdf. Accessed January 18, 2013.

Kapp, R. O. 1969. How to Know Pollen and Spores. Iowa: W. C. Brown.

Kelsall, J. P. 1968. The Migratory Barren-ground Caribou of Canada. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer.

Klanderud, K. and H. J. B. Birks. 2003. “Recent Increases in Species Richness and Shifts in Altitudinal Distributions of Norwegian Mountain Plants.” The Holocene 13 (1): 1–6. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1191/0959683603hl589ft

Kozlowska, A. and Z. Raczkowska. 2006. “Effect of Snow Patches on Vegetation in the HighMountain Nival Gullies (Tatra Mts. Poland).” Polish Journal of Ecology 54(1): 69–90.

Kropf, M., J. I. Mead and R. S. Anderson. 2007. “Dung, Diet, and the Paleoenvironment of the Extinct Shrub-ox (Euceratherium collinum) on the Colorado Plateau, USA.” Quaternary Research 67(1): 143–151. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yqres.2006.10.002

Kuhn, T. K. McFarlane, P. Groves, A. O. Moores and B. Shapiro. 2010. “Modern and Ancient DNA Reveal Partial Replacement of Caribou in the Southwest Yukon.” Molecular Ecology 19(7): 1312–1323. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04565.x

Kuzyk, G. W., D. E. Russell, R. S. Farnell, R. M. Gotthardt, P. G. Hare and E. Blake. 1999. “In Pursuit of Prehistoric Caribou on Thandlat, Southern Yukon.” Arctic 52(2): 214–219. http:// dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic924

Loffler, J. and R. Pape. 2008. “Diversity Patterns in Relation to the Environment in Alpine Tundra Ecosystems of Northern Norway.” Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 40(2): 373–381. http://dx.doi.org/10.1657/1523-0430(06-097)[LOEFFLER]2.0.CO;2

McKenna, K., S. Smith and B. Bennett. 2004. “Vegetation.” In Ecoregions of the Yukon Territory: Biophysical Properties of Yukon Landscapes, edited by C. A. S. Smith, J. C. Meikle and C. F. Roots, 39–42. Technical Bulletin 04-01. Summerland, British Columbia: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. PARC Technical Bulletin.

Mead, J. I., M. K. O’Rourke and T. M. Foppe. 1986. “Dung and Diet of the Extinct Harrington’s Mountain Goat (Oreamnos Harrintoni).” Journal of Mammology 67(2): 284–293. http:// dx.doi.org/10.2307/1380881

Moe, D. 1983. “Palynology of Sheep’s Faeces: Relationship Between Pollen Content, Diet and Local Pollen Rain.” Grana 22: 105–113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00173138309431970

Moore, P. D., J. A. Webb and M. E. Collinson. 1991. Pollen Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.

Oosenbrug, S. M. and J. B. Theberge. 1980. “Altitudinal Movements and Summer Habitat Preferences of Woodland Caribou in the Kluane Ranges, Yukon Territory.” Arctic 33(1): 59–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic2548

Oswald, E. T. and J. P. Senyk. 1977. Ecoregions of Yukon Territory. Victoria, BC: Fisheries and Environment Canada.

Quayle, J. F. and G. P. Kershaw. 1994. “Use of Summer Habitat by Caribou on the North Slope of a Mountain Near the Macmillan Pass, N.W.T.” Rangifer 9: 311–318.

Rhodes, A. 1999. “General Vegetation Descriptions for Friday Creek, Thandlat, Granger, and MacIntyre Mountains, and Sites #1 and #2.” Unpublished manuscript in possession of the author.

Ritchie, J. C. 1984. Past and Present Vegetation of the Far Northwest of Canada. Toronto. ON: University of Toronto Press.

Scotter, G. W. 1967. “The Winter Diet of Barren-Ground Caribou in Northern Canada.” The Canadian Field Naturalist 81: 33–39.

Skogland, T. 1980. “Comparative Summer Feeding Strategies of Arctic and Alpine Rangifer.” Journal of Animal Ecology 49: 81–98. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/4278

Smith, C. A. S., J. C. Meikle and C. F. Roots, eds. 2004. Ecoregions of the Yukon Territory: Biophysical Properties of Yukon Landscapes. Technical Bulletin 04-01. Summerland, BC: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. PARC Technical Bulletin.

Spooner, I. S., S. Barnes, K. B. Baltzer, R. Raeside, G. D. Osborn and D. Mazzuchi. 2003. “The Impact of Air Mass Circulation Dynamics on Late Holocene Paleoclimate in Northwestern North America.” Quaternary International 108: 77–83. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1040- 6182(02)00196-9

Staaland, H. 1984. “On the Quality of Svalbard Reindeer Pasture in the Summer and Autumn.” Rangifer 4(1): 16–23. http://dx.doi.org/10.7557/

Thomas, D. C., E. J. Edmonds and W. K. Brown. 1996. “The Diet of Woodland Caribou Populations in West-central Alberta.” Rangifer, Special Issue 9: 337–342. http://dx.doi. org/10.7557/

Thompson, R. S., T. R. Van Devender, P. S. Martin, T. Foppe and A. Long. 1980. “Shasta Ground Sloth (Nothrotheriops shastense Hoffstetter) at Shelter Cave, New Mexico: Environment, Diet, and Extinction.” Quaternary Research 14: 360–376. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0033- 5894(80)90017-4

Valkenburg, K., D. G. Kelleyhouse, J. L. Davis and J. M. Ver Hoef. 1994. “Case History of the Fortymile Caribou Herd, 1920–1990.” Rangifer 14(1): 11–22. http://dx.doi. org/10.7557/

Wahl, H. E., D. B. Fraser, R. C. Harvey and J. B. Maxwell. 1987. Climate of Yukon. Climatological Studies Number 40. Ottawa: Environment Canada.

Weladji, R. B, O. Holand and T. Almay. 2003. “Use of Climatic Data to Assess the Effect of Insect Harassment on the Autumn Weight of Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) calves.” Journal of Zoology London 260: 79–85. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0952836903003510

White, R. G. and J. Trudell. 1980. “Patterns of Herbivory and Nutrient Intake of Reindeer Grazing Tundra Vegetation.” In Proceedings of the 2nd International Reindeer/Caribou Symposium, Roros, Norway 1979, edited by E. Reimers, E. Gaare and S. Skjenneberg, 180–195. Trondheim, Norway: Direktoratet for vilt og ferskvannsfisk.



How to Cite

Bowyer, V. E. (2014). Pollen Analysis of Caribou Dung from Ice Patches in Southwest Yukon: Ancient Caribou Ecology and Implications for Precontact Human Land-Use. Journal of Glacial Archaeology, 1, 117–139. https://doi.org/10.1558/jga.v1i1.117