PALYNOLOGY IN NORTH AMERICA

'Palynology'“ refers to the analysis of organic-walled plant remains, such as pollen. As such, the earliest published study in North America is that of Young (1908), who followed earlier studies in Europe by Pfister (1895), and counted pollen in processed samples of honey. Thus, “actuo“- palynology precedes the study of fossil or “paleo“- palynology in North America.

Two dates might be given for the origin of "paleo-palynology." The first is 1884, when Paulus Reinsch published the results of an acid treatment to free resistant pollen and spores from German coals, after treatment with hydrochloric, hydroflouric, and similar strong acids. The second date for the beginning of palynology is 1917, when Lenart Von Post published the first quantitative (percentages) analysis of the pollen and spore contents of Scandinavian Bogs.

These events followed by over a century the first observation of pollen by Englishman Nehemiah Grew in 1640 (Sarjeant, 2002), using one of the earliest microscopes. And, it was Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg who in 1837 first saw microfossils preserved in sediment (Sarjeant, 1978). It was Reinsch's chemical extraction proceedure, and Von Post's quantification that marked the beginnings of palynology, not just the first discovery of pollen and other microfossils.

The study of paleo-palynology began in North America in 1911, before the word had been coined (Hyde and Williams, 1944), when Reinhardt Thiessen published studies of spores and pollen in thin sections and extractions (Schulze's process) of coal (Thiessen, 1911, 1920; Lyons and Teichmüller, 1995). Alternatively, the illustration of "sponge spicules" by Merrill (1895; see Sarjeant, 1966) were the first observation of what later proved to be dinoflagellates (hystrichosphaerids).

After the sporadic early studies, began a vigorous period of exploratory (Quaternary) palynology during the 1930's. The first application of Von Post's numerical approach was by Finnish palynologist Väinö Auer (1927) working on bogs in southeastern Canada. The earliest study by an American was that of Patricia Draper (1929). Later, in 1929 Ivey F. Lewis and E. C. Cocke (Virginia Tech.) published the analysis of the sediments of Dismal Swamp, Virginia. This was soon followed by Paul B. Sears (1930)(Oberlin College) study of Bucyrus bog and Mud Lake Bog (Sears, 1931); Antioch Bog (Illinois) and Waupaca bog (Wisconsin) by Voss (1931); Lane's (1931) study of the East McCulloch (Ohio) peat; Bowman's (1931) study in Quebec; and in 1932 John E. Potzger (Butler University) published on a northern Michigan bog. The first Ph.D. dissertation on Quaternary palynology was that of John Voss (U. Chicago) (1933) followd by Leonard Richard Wilson (U. Michigan) (1935).

The North American study of palynological morphology began in 1928 with Roger P. Wodehouse's (U. Toronto) first paper and Paul Sears' (1930) illustrated key. In 1934 L.R. Wilson (Coe College, Iowa) published a description of North American Lycopodium spores, and the following year, 1935, Wodehouse published the world's first manual of pollen illustrations.

The year 1939 witnessed the initial Quaternary palynological publications by several scientists who joined Sears, Potzger and Wilson in developing (paleo)palynology in North America -- Murey Buell (N. Carolina State U.), Stanley Cain (U. Tennessee), and Henry P. Hansen (U. Oregon). These three (plus John E. Potzger and Paul B. Sears) were the founders of North American Quaternary palynology. Each went on to become leaders in the nascent conservation movement. To these five could be added L. R. Wilson, who continued his studies of Quaternary sediments (1935, 1938), but whose interest soon turned to older deposits.

Although not the first American to do so (Thiessen, 1911) L.R. Wilson published the first of his many papers on Paleozoic palynology in 1943, and in 1950 Alfred Traverse completed the first Ph.D. dissertation on pre-Quaternary palynology. Also in 1943, Carrol published the first actuo-palynological study of the modern pollen rain. This technique, pioneered by Firbas (1931), provided a powerful tool for interpretation of pollen diagrams by quantifying the relationship between vegetation and the pollen rain it produces.

From 1943 - 1948, Paul Sears (and from 1948-1952, L. R. Wilson) published the Pollen and Spore Circular, the first palynological journal. Although it was mimeographed on coarse recycled paper, its humble pages contain the proposal for the word 'palynology' by Hyde and Williams (1944). Archival collections of the circular exist at the University of Minnesota and University of Arizona palynology palynology laboratories.

During the 1950's palynological research in North America was stimulated by the Pollen and Spore Circular, and through 5 National Pollen Conferences. The first National Converence was hosted by Stanley Cain at Yale University, in 1953. The second was hosted later the same year in Boston, by the AAAS. Three years later, Kathryn Clisby hosted the Third National Pollen Conference at Oberlin College. In 1957 (Penn State) and 1958 (Botanical Society of America Meetings, Palo Alto, California.), Al Traverse hosted the Fourth and Fifth National Pollen Conferences.

Conference Date Location Convenor
First National Pollen Conference Feb., 1953 Yale University Stanley Cain
Second National Pollen Conference Dec., 1953 Boston, Mass. AAAS
Third National Pollen Conference 1956 Oberlin College Kathryn Clisby
Fourth National Pollen Conference 1957 Bot Soc Amer Alfred Traverse
Fifth National Pollen Conference 1958 Palo Alto, California Alfred Traverse

The mid-twentieth century witnessed a diversification of palynology, with the development of aerobiology, pollination ecology, and archeological palynology. Wodehouse's (1945) "Hayfever Plants," followed by Hyde and Adams (1958) "Airborne Pollen," provided the identification tools needed for the development of aeroallergy. Simultaneously, airborne samplers such as May's (1945) cascade impactor, Durham's (1946) gravity sampler, and Hirst's (1952) vacuum sampler made quantitative research possible.

Pollination ecology and “melisso-palynology“ (honey-palynology) share a link through the fertilization of crop plants. Pollen identification and quantification are of minor importance in pollination ecology, which in addition to agricultural applications also concerns the pollination of natural plants (evolutionary ecology). The sexual role of pollen in fertilization was recognized by the ancient Assyrians in 850 B.C. (Wodehouse, 1935). And, the first published North American study of pollination ecology was that of James Logan (1739), Governor of Pennsylvania, who observed that removal of corn (Zea mays) male panicles supressed development of the ears of corn. This agricultural theme was continued in North America by Lovell (1918) and Gray (1857). The study of pollination in natural systems was pioneered by Clements and Long (1923) working at Pikes Peak, Colorado; and it's genetic (evolutionary) implications were pursued by Stebbins (1957, 1970).

In North America, the study of “melisso-palynology“ has been of minor importance compared to Europe, where the pollen content of honey is routinely studied to ensure the nectar source. North American studies (Young, 1908; Todd and Vansell, 1942) paralleled the development in Europe (Erdtman, 1935); however, in North America today filtration and pasteurization remove pollen from commercially-available honey. Whereas in Europe, these practices are less common, and melisso-palynology is an active discipline. (see “session e,“ Domìnguez et al., 2004)

The application of palynology to archeology began with von Post et al.'s (1925) investigations and was developed in Europe by Firbas (1934), Iversen (1941) and Godwin (1944). This aspect of archeological palynology primarily concerns the impact of humans on the natural vegetation as seen in standard (bog and lake) pollen analyses. This approach was adopted by Paul B. Sears (1937, 1950, 1953) for North America including Mexico.

A second aspect of archeological palynology is based on the analysis of sediments from archeological sites. This approach was developed by Geoffrey Dimbleby in Britain during the 1950s, particularly the pollen analysis of soils. It was applied more broadly in North America by Paul Martin and his colleagues (Lindsay 1958; Whitehead, 1959; Martin and Schoenwetter, 1960a, 1960b; Gray and Smith, 1962), by Sears and Roosma (1961) and by Bohrer (1968).

Three elements of the palynology of archeological sites have received particular attention. First, the history of the plant domestication and utilization, which was pioneered by Martin and Schoenwetter (1960a). Second, the palynological investigation of human diet through the analysis of human feces (coprolites) (Martin and Sharrock, 1964; Kelso ,1971; Williams-Dean, 1978). Third, the palynological investigation of artefacts (Hevly, 1964 p. 86,89; Bohrer, 1968; Bryant and Morris, 1986) and the function of site features (Schoenwetter, 1962; Hill and Hevly, 1968.)

The third element of archeological palynology (artefacts), above, is also the approach followed by “forensic palynology“, in which criminal behavior is traced through the analysis of pollen on clothing, automobiles, and other items associated with crimes. Although mentioned in the classical pollen textbooks, case-studies have not been published until recently (see “session f,“ Domìnguez et al., 2004).

Traverse and Sullivan (1983) describe the steady growth of the palynological community in North American during the late 1950's and 1960's. A central event during this period was the First International Pollen Conference, organized by Gerhard O. W. Kremp in Tucson, Arizona, in 1962. Thereafter, North American palynologists such as John Grayson and Herbert Sullivan began to discuss the formation of a North American palynological society.

This formation took place on Dec. 8, 1967 at the Amoco (Pan American) Petroleum Co. in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By a vote of 17 / 14 the 32 persons present christened the new organization the "American Association of Stratigraphic Palnologists." The First Annual Meeting of AASP was held at Louisiana State University, Oct. 17-19, 1968, with a total membership of 188. AASP was joined in representing North American Palynologists by the Canadian Association of Palynologists in 1978.

from: Traverse, A. Sullivan, H.J. 1983 The background, origin, and early history of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists. PALYNOLOGY (7): 7-18.
      1 Delbert E. Potter
      2 Logan L. Urban
      3 James B. Urban
      4 Kenneth M. Piel
      5 Arthur E. LeBlanc
      6 Charles F. Upshaw
      7 Lewis E. Stover
      8 George R. Fournier
      9 Robert L. Tabbert
      10 William F. Von Almen
      11 William S. Hopkins
      12 Mel W. Thompson
      13 D. Colin McGregor
      14 William A. S. Sarjeant
      15 Alfred Traverse
      16 George F. Hart
17 William C. Elsik
18 Graham L. Williams
19 Earl T. Peterson
20 Fritz H. Cramer
21 John F. Grayson
22 Paul W. Nygreen
23 Howard Simpson
24 Robert T. Clarke
25 Mart P. Schemel
26 David R. Mishell
27 William C. Myers
28 Richard W. Hedlund
29 Bernard L. Shaffer
30 Herbert J. Sullivan
31 Dennis R. Logan
32 O. Ben Bourn

Founders of AASP outside Pan Am Research Building
December 9, 1967

Jansonius and MacGregor (1995) trace the development of palynological literature from 1840 - 1990, based on records compiled by the Canadian Geological Survey. The numbers of papers published per year held study after the 1930's at 10 - 20 per year. After 1950, the rate climbed steadily to a peak of 450 - 500 articles and reports per year from 1975 - 1985, and has held steady or declined thereafter.

Origin of AASP adapted from:

  • Traverse, A. Sullivan, H.J. 1983 The background, origin, and early history of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists. PALYNOLOGY (7): 7-18.


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    Owen Davis last update 7/04