Power Paleoecology Lab & Garrett Herbarium

Welcome to the Power Paleoecology Lab

Overview          Current News          New Exhibits           New Publications          Sponsors


Research in the Power Paleoecology Lab focuses on long term spatial and temporal scale ecosystem responses to environmental disturbance including  fire, climate change, and anthropogenic impacts. Current research projects include studies in alpine forests of the western U.S., Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest of Bolivia and the Caribbean, Tropical Rain Forest in Colombia as well as a new project in the highlands of Ethiopia.

We use a variety of techniques to document and explore modern and past ecosystem dynamics.  We combine historical records, fossil pollen and plant macrofossils, diatoms, phytoliths, dung spores, micro & macrofossil charcoal analysis, stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O), and sediment geochemistry toward understanding the role of paleoclimate and ecological process through time and space. 

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 Current Projects

Paleofire Research in the Uinta Mountains This project is in collaboration with the Ashley National Forest and explores the role of wildfires influencing vegetation change during the last several thousand years. The forests of the Uinta Mountains have been shaped by natural disturbances and previous work at high-elevation sites suggests fire has been a significant and persistent natural disturbance in spruce-lodgepole pine ecosystems.  Significant reorganization of the plant communities has followed long-term paleoclimate trends of the Intermountain West, including a mid-Holocene expansion of fire-adapted lodgepole pine into the high-elevation forests.  

Utah Lake and the Last Glacial Maximum
 This interdisciplinary project explores climate and vegetation history and natural disturbances over the past 25,000 years. We hope to contribute to our knowledge of natural and human-caused disturbance in the Bonneville Basin as related to the paleoclimate variability.  We expect the climatically-driven hydrologic changes within the basin since the Last Ice Age have shaped the evolution of this ecosystem.   This project is currently being supported in part by the Global Change and Sustainability Program at the University of Utah.

Paleotempestology research in the Caribbean
Tropical cyclones in the Caribbean Sea are dominant drivers of ecosystem disturbance for island archipelagos. Hurricane intensity is expected to rise
with increased global heating, but uncertainty about the role of wind shear, with winds at different altitudes either combining to produce cyclones or cancelling each other and dispersing the buildup of heat. A central question is whether these recent changes in tropical cyclone activity are unprecedented?

Natural disturbance, including tropical cyclones, fires and volcanic eruptions contribute to history of vegetation change and biotic evolution on islands. Understanding the long-term frequency and intensity of natural disturbances and impacts on island evolution provides insight into processes that contribute to and/or confine the resiliency of island ecosystems.  As islands face increasing pressure from global change, a growing impetus is emerging to document and understand Caribbean island archipelagos.

The collapse of the Aksumite people on the Tigray Plateau, Ethiopia

Insights about relative roles of environment and human choices that affect the trajectories of civilizations are challenging to

capture from distant time periods. This project brings together a team of scientist from multiple institutions (Simon Fraser University, University of Stirling, and University of Kansas) and disciplines to explore the causal factors leading to the rise and fall of societies living on the Tigray Plateau during the past three millennia.  We are exploring the degree to which the environment influenced social, political and economic complexity of pre-Aksumite (ca 800–400 BCE) and Aksumite (ca 150 BCE–700 CE) civilizations on the Tigray Plateau in the Horn of Africa.


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Ecological Main Structure, historical trends for building resiliency at the
Colombian Andes in post-conflict .



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