National Park Service and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science CESU Project, History of Parks in Science, Presented at Recent Symposium

The National Park System protects places that have played important roles in the history of various scientific disciplines. Examples include the sand dunes of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where the first evidence for ecological succession was recorded; Yellowstone National Park, where a hot-spring bacterium was discovered to contain an enzyme that enables modern DNA sequencing technology; and Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument, whose Pleistocene mammal fossils were used in the development and confirmation of Carbon-14 dating. Stories about such places illuminate the intellectual heritage of America’s public lands and provide unique frames for public understanding of parks, history, and science. But those stories are not readily available to the general public.

In this cooperative project, students and faculty at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) collaborated with NPS staff to research and write original articles about national park sites that have played important roles in the history of various scientific disciplines. The articles will provide the first content for a new “History of Science” public website on They will also stimulate NPS and non-NPS subject matter experts to produce additional multimedia stories featuring other parks, disciplines, scientists, and historic eras.

This project served multiple public purposes. It promotes, facilitates, and assists people’s understanding of national parks and the unique resources they protect. It provides meaningful and sustained opportunities for UMCES students to learn about particular places in the National Park System and develop their own intellectual and emotional connections to those places. By educating the students and the general public about previously unexplored aspects of national parks – their connection to global intellectual heritage – the project can promote increased interest and engagement in national park stewardship.

Student findings were presented at an end-of-semester Graduate Student Symposium.  Student presentations can be viewed by clicking the links below.

Graduate Student Symposium Presentations (click link to view): 

Introductory comments

Acadia- niche partitioning by warblers

Boston Harbor Islands- intertidal community structure

Everglades- energy flow through an ecosystem

Grand Canyon- science and values guide management

Great Smoky Mountains- species distributions

Rocky Mountains- ecosystem responses to nitrogen deposition

Saguaro- controls on plant populations

Yellowstone- landscape response to fire

Yellowstone- the roots of PCR technology