National Geographic grant to rediscover some ecological history

 

I just received word that the National Geographic Society will be funding a small expedition to Glacier Bay to attempt to rediscover one of the most seminal plot networks in ecology - the primary succession plots of William Skinner Cooper.

In 1916, William Skinner Cooper sailed into Glacier Bay, Alaska, and found a way to look through time.  Glacial recession had exposed bedrock, some centuries before and some recently.  Cooper knew that he could utilize the variety of landscape ages to study how ecosystems develop through time by moving through the region, from newly exposed areas to 200+ year areas.  Through these areas, he pioneered our understanding of vegetation succession (species change through time), a foundational concept in biology.  Cooper is known as the “Father of Glacier Bay” due to his efforts, and a founder of the science of ecology.

2016 marks a full century since Cooper installed these historic plots, where he made detailed measurements of species composition, size, and densities.  Unfortunately, their locations are lost; however, paper maps (hand-drawn by Cooper) do remain in archives.  This work will fund the rediscovery, remeasurement, and revival of this important piece of scientific history at the 100 year anniversary of his exploratory work.  Each location will be mapped (e.g., tree locations) using 10cm GPS so current and future scientists can monitor these sites, among the longest repeat-measured plots in North America.  Results will be published in both scientific and popular literature, and maps and educational materials made available through the National Parks Service.  These sites, by virtue of their long history, significant location, and exposure to rapid temperature increases due to climate change are critical to both documenting our past and monitoring change into the future.