Alpine Plants of Katahdin: Resurveying High Elevation Plants after 33 Years

Expedition Team Members:

Andrea Tirrell¹², Michael Cianchette¹, Charlie Cogbill³, Don Hudson⁴, Jacquelyn Gill¹²

¹School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine

²Climate Change Institute, University of Maine

³Harvard Forest, Harvard University

⁴Baxter State Park Research Committee, Maine


Expedition Location:  Baxter State Park, Maine

Expedition Dates:  Summer/Fall 2022

Funding Support:  Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund


Research Background:

During the summer of 1989, plant ecologists Dr. Don Hudson and Dr. Charlie Cogbill were asked by Baxter State Park to complete a baseline survey of the high elevation plants on Katahdin’s tablelands. No such comprehensive surveys had been completed to date, so these surveys served as the park’s first characterization of alpine plant communities on Maine’s highest peak. They utilized belt transects and 1m X 1m quadrats to estimate the coverage of each species and marked their transect locations with film photos and descriptions of the area, as permanent structures are not permitted in Baxter State Park.


33 years later, we completed the first complete resurvey of Katahdin’s high elevation plant communities. Utilizing the original photos and site descriptions, we were able to find or approximate each original transect site. We also utilized differential GPS, which has centimeter level accuracy, and 3D image photography, to permanently and virtually mark transect locations. That way, future surveyors can find and resample these sites with ease.


Andrea TirrellPhoto 1: Alpine plant-eye-view of a transect on Pamola Peak, Baxter State Park.


Rachel CogbillPhoto 2: Charlie Cogbill, Michael Cianchette, and Andrea Tirrell surveying alpine plants on Katahdin’s Tableland.


Rachel CogbillPhoto 3: Andrea Tirrell, Don Hudson, Charlie Cogbill, and Michael Cianchette hold the Climate Change Institute flag at Chimney Pond before heading out for a long day of field work.


Andrea TirrellPhoto 4: Michael Cianchette surveying alpine plants during a tough weather day.


Research Outcomes:

The surveys completed during the summer of 2022 will serve as a comparison of alpine plant community structure through time on Maine’s most iconic peak. Such resurveys are not common, so having this record of alpine plant community change will be a unique opportunity. Especially during a time of climate change and increased hiker activity, understanding how Katahdin’s alpine plant communities may have changed is critical to their conservation. These resurveys could help identify areas of Katahdin in need of increased conservation efforts.


Funding Source:

We would like to thank our funding source, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, for making these resurveys possible. Without their contribution to the project, we would not have been able to complete the resurveys, or virtually mark them with updated techniques.

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