Aldo Leopold Lecture

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Yellowstone’s importance goes beyond its boundaries—it is the largest remaining, intact ecosystem in the temperate latitudes of the planet, a place valued around the world for its “wildness”.  To what extent has the present Yellowstone ecosystem been shaped by a legacy of past environmental change?  Pollen and charcoal records from Yellowstone’s lakes reveal the evolution of the ecosystem from the last ice age to the present day as well as the dynamic linkages that connect changes in climate, vegetation and fire regimes over thousands of years. This information provides a framework for understanding current ecosystem dynamics and offers an historical baseline for evaluating the consequences of future climate change in the region. 

Dr. Cathy Whitlock

Dr. Cathy Whitlock is a Regents Professor Emerita in Earth Sciences at Montana State University and a Fellow of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.  Cathy is nationally and internationally recognized for her research and leadership activities in the field of climate and environmental change. Since the 1980s, she has been studying Yellowstone’s environmental history by collecting sediment cores from lakes that provide information about past vegetation, fire, and climate.  This research continues to the present day in Yellowstone and in comparable places around the world.  During the course of her career, Cathy has trained dozens of undergraduate and graduate students to join her in the field of paleoecology.  She is also an author of the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment (2021) and Montana Climate Assessment (2017), which describe the impacts of past and future climate change in the region.  Cathy has received numerous awards and honors from professional societies and organizations, and in 2018, she became the first person from a Montana university to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.