Henry Gannett – The unrecognized father of alpine treeline work in the American West

Authors: Clayton Whitesides*, Coastal Carolina University
Topics: Mountain Environments, Biogeography, Historical Geography
Keywords: American West, treeline, dated research, edaphic
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Alpine treeline ecotones have been suggested and accepted as proxies for climate change for many decades. More recently, however, in some mountain ranges, edaphic and geomorphic controls have been cited as more important than climate in explaining the location of alpine treeline. Although climate is arguably the most accepted factor, it is interesting to note that edaphic and geomorphic factors have garnered more widespread attention and research only in the past couple decades. This is particularly surprising when considering Henry Gannett’s treeline observations and research published in the 1890s. Gannett, a USGS employee who participated in early survey expeditions of the American West, regularly documented the location of alpine treeline and frequently cited the importance and controlling influence of edaphic and geomorphic variables. Other than a few sporadic citations over the past 120 years, Gannett’s treeline work remains in obscurity. Better knowledge of Gannett’s work could have, and should have, altered the way alpine treelines have been studied. Scientists engaged in alpine treeline studies, particularly those in the American West, appear to have missed several dated, yet important, documents that may have altered the course of treeline research and transformed our current understanding of these ecotones.

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