Catherine H. Yansa, Ph.D.

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Catherine with Castoroides ohioensis
Photo of Catherine with a model of an extinct Castoroides ohioensis (Pleistocene giant beaver) at the Kenosha Public Museum. One area of her research involves reconstructing local environmental conditions associated Pleistocene megafauna.

Associate Professor
Department of Geography
Michigan State University
Geography Building
673 Auditorium Rd, Room 227
East Lansing, MI
48824-1117 USA
Office: 517-353-3910
Pollen Lab: 517-432-5559
Fax: 527-432-1671

      Affiliations at MSU:
      Department of Geological Sciences (adjunct)
      Canadian Studies Center
      Center for Water Sciences
      Ecology, Evol. Biology & Behavior 
      Environmental Science & Policy

Department of Geography

I am core members of MSU’s Quaternary Landscapes Research Group (QLRG) and the Plant Geography and Paleovegetation Studies program.

index-tree bullet Welcome! My research focuses on reconstructing past environments in north-central North America since the last glacial maximum (over the last ~20,000 years) by studying plant fossils (pollen and plant macrofossils) preserved in lake sediments. The objectives and implications of my research are:

  1. to document past responses of plants to climate changes at various temporal and spatial scales and use these as analogs for potential responses of plants to predicted global warming; and
  2. to interpret the landscape contexts for prehistoric Native American occupations to explore long-term human-environment interactions.
Education & Appointments ¦ Research ¦ Publications & Grants ¦ Teaching ¦ Graduate Students ¦ Service

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Education & Appointments

Ph.D. Geography, University of Wisconsin at Madison (2002, Advisor: Vance T. Holliday)
M.S. Geology, University of Saskatchewan, Canada (Advisor: James F. Basinger)
B.A. Anthropology, with Honor, University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Professional Appointments
Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Michigan State University (2008-present)
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Michigan State University (2002-2008)
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin (1999-2000)
Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1998)

Catherine's last dig
I was an archaeologist before I became a paleoecologist and geographer. Here I'm at my last "dig" at the DjMr-2 site in southern Saskatchewan during November (brrr).

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Research Interests

1) Reconstruction of paleoenvironments and, by inference, paleoclimates since the last glaciation by the analysis of fossil pollen and plant macrofossils (seeds, leaves, buds, etc.) from lake/wetland sediments. I’m particularly interested in determining temporal and spatial variations in plant colonization and succession, including estimation of migration rates. I also work with archaeologists and paleontologists in interpreting the local environmental conditions associated with Pleistocene megafauna by studying plant fossils from sediments associated with skeletons of extinct mammoths (Mammuthus, probably M. jeffersonii) and giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis). Projects (and colleagues) include:

bullet-pine Dissertation work on the northern Great Plains (advisor: Vance Holliday).
bullet-pine Schaefer and Hebior mammoth sites, Kenosha Co., Wisconsin (Dan Joyce, Dave Overstreet).
bullet-pine Erb (giant beaver) site, Jefferson Co., Wisconsin (Peter Jacobs, Samantha Kaplan, John Dallman).
bullet-pine Full- and late-glacial tundra fossil sites in northeastern Illinois (Brandon Curry).
bullet-pine Full-glacial lake deposit in northwestern Tennessee (Dan Larsen, Dave Grimley, Samantha Kaplan, Brandon Curry).
bullet-pine Glacial Lake Agassiz deposits in North Dakota (Tim Fisher, Allan Ashworth, Tom Lowell, Ken Lepper).
bullet-pine Vegetation responses to Medieval warming and Little Ice Age cooling in Lower Michigan (Christina Hupy).


Research interests 1

Research interests 1

2) Interpret the landscape contexts for prehistoric human occupations by investigating plant fossils from archaeological contexts as well as from wetland sediments adjacent to archaeological sites. Time periods investigated range from Paleoindian to Upper Mississippian just prior to Euro-American contact. Current and recent projects (and colleagues) include:

bullet-pine Paleoindian and Archaic environments of the Northern Plains (dissertation).
bullet-pine Schaefer and Hebior Mammoth sites, Kenosha Co., Wisconsin (Dan Joyce, Dave Overstreet): these mammoths were butchered by Early Paleoindians 14,700 calendar years ago along a lake shore.
bullet-pine Fabry Farm site, Door Co., Wisconsin (Dave Overstreet): Late Paleoindians occupied the shoreline of glacial Lake Algonquin 13,000 calendar years ago.
bullet-pine Late Woodland and Upper Mississippian land use in southwestern Lower Michigan (Jodie O’Gorman, MSU): project in planning stages.


Fabry Farm Trench A
Fabry Farm site, WI organic layer (base) 13,000 cal BP

Laboratory Facilities / Field & Lab Equipment

A fully functional laboratory for pollen and plant macrofossils analysis is available for student and faculty use in the Department of Geography at MSU. Field equipment includes a Livingston corer to collect lake sediment cores and a Russian peat corer to sample peatland deposits. Check out the Quaternary Landscapes Research Group (QLRG) webpage for further details.

A Russian peat corer used to collect sediment at the Schaefer Mammoth site (100 m downslope of excavation). Bottom (left) part of core was dated to 15,230 cal yr BP.
 Russian peat corer

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Publications & Grants

Refereed Publications

Yansa, C.H. and K.M. Adams (2012) Mastodons and mammoths in the Great Lakes region, USA and Canada: New insights into their diets as they neared extinction. Geography Compass 6(4): 175-188. [pdf]

Schaetzl, R.J., C.H. Yansa, and M.D. Luehmann (2012) Paleobotanical and environmental implications of a buried forest bed in northern Lower Michigan, USA. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Published on the web 5 December 2012, 10.1139/cjes-2012-0115.

Curry, B.B., M.E. Konen, T.H. Larson, C.H. Yansa, K.C. Hackley, T.V. Lowell, J. Petras (2012). Letter to the Editor, Reply to Iannicelli's (2012) Letter to the Editor. Quaternary Research 77: 332-334. [pdf]

A.C. Ashworth, J. Rock., and C.H. Yansa (2011). Moorhead low-water phase deposits of Lake Agassiz in North Fargo, North Dakota. In: Fisher, T.G., K. Lepper, A.C. Ashworth, and H.C. Hobbs (eds.) Southern Outlet and Basin of Glacial Lake Agassiz, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Geological Society of America Field Guides 24: 389-391.

Curry, B.B., M.E. Konen, T.H. Larson, C.H. Yansa, K.C. Hackley, H. Alexanderson and T.V. Lowell (2010) The DeKalb mounds of northeastern Illinois as archives of deglacial history and postglacial environments. Quaternary Research 74: 82-90. [pdf]

Long, D.T., M.J. Parson, C.H. Yansa, S.S. Yohn, C.E. McLean and R.G. Vannier (2010) Assessing the response of watersheds to catastrophic (logging) and possible secular (global temperature change) perturbations using sediment-chemical chronologies. Applied Geochemistry 25: 143-158. [pdf]

Nelson, J.A., K. Licht, C.H. Yansa and G. Filippelli (2010) Climate-related cyclic deposition of carbonate and organic matter in Holocene lacustrine sediment, Lower Michigan, USA. Journal of Paleolimnology 44: 1-13. [pdf]

Grimley, D.A., D. Larsen, S.W. Kaplan, C.H. Yansa, B.B. Curry. E.A. Oches (2009) A multi-proxy paleoecological and paleoclimatic record within full glacial lacustrine deposits, western Tennessee, U.S.A. Journal of Quaternary Science 24: 960-981.[pdf]

Hupy, C.M. and C.H. Yansa (2009a) Chapter 7, The last 17,000 years of vegetation history [of Michigan]. In Michigan Geography and Geology. R.J. Schaetzl, J.T. Darden, and D. Brandt. (eds). Pearson Custom Publishers, Boston, MA, 91-105. [pdf]

Hupy, C.M. and C.H. Yansa (2009b) Late Holocene vegetation history of the forest tension zone in central Lower Michigan, USA. Physical Geography 30: 205-235. [pdf]

Fisher, T.G., C.H. Yansa, T.V. Lowell, K. Lepper, I. Hajas and A. Ashworth (2008) The chronology, climate, and confusion of the Moorhead Phase of glacial Lake Agassiz: New results from the Ojata Beach, North Dakota, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 27: 1124-1135.[pdf]

Yansa, C.H. and T.G. Fisher (2007) Absence of a Younger Dryas signal along the southern shoreline of Glacial Lake Agassiz in North Dakota during the Moorhead Phase (12,60011,200 CALYBP). Current Research in the Pleistocene 24: 24- 28. [pdf]

Yansa, C.H. (2007)  Lake records of Paleoindian and Archaic environments of the Northern Plains: The “park oasis” hypothesis. Plains Anthropologist 52: 109-144. [pdf]

Yansa, C.H., W.E. Dean, and E.C. Murphy (2007)  Late Quaternary paleoenvironments of an ephemeral wetland in North Dakota, USA: Relative interactions of ground-water hydrology and climate change. Journal of Paleolimnology 38 (in press). [pdf]

Yansa, C.H. (2006) The timing and nature of Late Quaternary vegetation changes in the northern Great Plains, USA and Canada: A re-assessment of the spruce phase. Quaternary Science Reviews 25: 263-281. [pdf]

Yansa, C.H. and A.C. Ashworth (2005)  Late Pleistocene palaeoenvironments of the southern Lake Agassiz basin, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 20: 255-267. [pdf]

Curry, B.B. and C.H. Yansa (2004) Stagnation of the Harvard sublobe (Lake Michigan lobe) in northeastern Illinois, USA, from 24,000 to 17,600 BP and subsequent tundra-like ice-marginal paleoenvironments from 17,600 to 15,700 BP. Géographie Physique et Quaternaire 58: 305-321. [pdf]

Yansa, C.H. and J.F. Basinger (1999) A postglacial plant macrofossil record of vegetation and climate change in southern Saskatchewan.  In Holocene Climate and Environmental Change in the Palliser Triangle: A Geoscientific Context for Evaluating the Impacts of Climate Change on the Southern Canadian Prairies, D.S. Lemmen and R.E. Vance (eds.).  Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 534: 139-172. [pdf]

Yansa, C.H.  (1998) Holocene paleovegetation and paleohydrology of a prairie pothole in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Journal of Paleolimnology 19: 429-441. [pdf]

Grant Proposals Funded

2006    MSU Center for Water Sciences, Venture Grant. Title: Improving the accuracy of radiocarbon chronologies from lake-sediment cores: Testing for the 14C reservoir effect in aquatic macrophytes, Yansa (PI) and D. Long (Co-PI) ($9,830, 06/06-05/07).

2004    Michigan Botanical Society, Hanes Fund. Title: Development of the flora of southern Lower Michigan over the last 8000 Years: a pollen and plant macrofossil study of Miner and Duck Lakes, Yansa (PI) ($17,920, 07/04-06/07)

2004    MSU, REF proposal for Center for Watershed Ecology, J. Stevenson (PI), Yansa one of 12 Co-PIs ($600,000/yr 1 and continued support as Center for Water Sciences).

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Courses I teach regularly at MSU:
GEO 206: Physical Geography
GEO 330: Regional Geography of the United States and Canada
GEO 401: Plant Geography
GEO 492: Reconstructing Past Environments (Pollen Analysis)
GEO 871: Graduate Seminar in Physical Geography
ISS 310: People and Environment

Geo 401
"Coring party" at Duck Lake, Michigan, included members of my GEO 492 (pollen analysis) class, Tim Fisher, Tom Lowell, Grahame Larson, Walt Loope, Christina Hupy, and guests. We used both a Livingston and Virbracorer to collect long cores and a Freeze Wedge devise to collect sediments just below the sediment-water interface. Here's we're taking a break, having a BBQ on the ice in February!
 Geo 401
I'm standing with my GEO 401 class (above) at Toumey Woodlot on the MSU campus before doing field work as part of a class project. Students did a comparitive study of this woodlot, which contains an old growth maple-beech forest stand, with that of a secondary growth maple-beech forest stand located elsewhere on campus. They compared these stands by determining importance values and other measures to assess vegetation change since Euro-American land clearance.

Geo 401 
Janele Johnson & Bobby Gwizdz measuring the diameter of a beech.

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Graduate Students

I am dedicated to the education of graduate students. Currently, I am advising Albert Fulton (PhD candidate) and Alison Keener (MS student) and serve on several graduate student committees in the Departments of Geological Sciences, Anthropology and Plant Biology. Please contact me if you are interested in doing research with me at MSU!

For information about our graduate program contact the department’s graduate advisor (Dr. Antoinette WinklerPrins) and the graduate secretary (Ms. Sharon Ruggles).

Christina Hupy
Dr. Christina Hupy, my first Ph.D. student, completed her program in 2005 and is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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Professional Service (Selected)

2006-current: Board Member (elected), Biogeography Specialty Group of the AAG (Association of American Geographers)
2006-current: Editorial Board Member, The Michigan Botanist
2005-current: Chair, Nomination Committee, Archaeological Geology Division of the Geological Society of America
2004-2005: President, Canadian Association of Palynologists (President-Elect, 2002-2003)
Late Neogene Terrestrial Ecosystem Database Workshop at Pennsylvania State University
I was a participant in the Late Neogene Terrestrial Ecosystem Database Workshop at Pennsylvania State University, Feb. 18-20, 2007. This NSF-sponsored workshop was organized by R. Graham, E. Grimm, S. Jackson, and J. Williams. (Photo by Pierre Richard.)

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