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Yellowstone National Park Report

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There are few other regions where the influence of climate on basic ecosystem attributes has been as well documented as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Research has shown that elk, bison, and grizzly bear populations in the GYE are tightly linked to annual climate variation (Meagher 1976, Picton 1978). Authors have shown that the distribution of vegetation types in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks is influenced by the seasonality of precipitation (Despain 1987, 1990). Natural disturbances, especially fires and insect outbreaks, are also known to coincide with specific climate scenarios in this region (Knight 1987, Balling et al. 1992). Therefore, understanding how climate can vary over time is essential for the proper management of these areas (Luckman 1996). Modem instrumental records have contributed greatly to our understanding of the current GYE climate system. In particular, work by Mock (1996) and Bartlein et al. (1997) has demonstrated how local manifestations of large-scale circulation patterns produce distinct climates within the GYE. In addition, studies using modem climate records and General Circulation Models by Balling et al. (1992) and Bartlein et al. (1997) have identified trends toward increasing aridity in the GYE and the potential for these trends to continue well into the future. Late Pleistocene and Holocene (18-1 kya) climate in the GYE is known mainly from lake­sediment cores. Work by Whitlock (1993), Whitlock and Bartlein (1993), and Thompson et al. (1993) indicates that after deglaciation, increased solar radiation during summer months led to a highly seasonal climate regime. As levels of solar radiation changed through the Holocene, GYE climate became increasingly more like today until the modem regime became established around 1500-1600 AD (Whitlock 1993, Elias 1997). While existing modem and paleoecological studies reveal important aspects of the GYE climate system, there is a distinct lack of high-resolution data for most of the last millennium. Lake sediments only record climate variation at a resolution of hundreds to thousands of years, and instrumental records do not exist before the 1890s. Dendroclimatology, the study of climate using patterns of tree-ring growth (Fritts 1976) is particularly well suited to fill this gap in our knowledge of GYE climate. Tree-rings have been used successfully for climate reconstructions worldwide, offer records spanning decades to millennia, and can provide annual resolution. Therefore, we are developing a network of tree-ring sites in the western Absaroka Mountains and eastern Bighorn Basin to fill important spatial (areas east of Yellowstone NP) and temporal (high resolution for the past 700-1,000+year) gaps in our knowledge of GYE climate.