Margaret Bryan Davis

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Margaret Bryan Davis
Margaret Bryan

October 23, 1931 (1931-10-23) (age 87)
Boston, MA
Known forwork in the study of plant pollen and past vegetation
Spouse(s)Rowland Davis

Dr. Margaret Bryan Davis (née Margaret Bryan; born October 23, 1931) is an American palynologist and paleoecologist, who used pollen data to study the vegetation history of the past 21,000 years (i.e. since the last ice age) and showed conclusively how temperate-forest species migrated at different rates and in different directions while forming a changing mosaic of communities. Early in her career, she challenged the standard methods and prevailing interpretations of the data and fostered rigorous analysis in palynology. As a leading figure in ecology and paleoecology, she served as president of the Ecological Society of America and the American Quaternary Association and as chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. In 1982 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Davis received a B.A from Radcliffe College (1953), Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University (1957)[1] and an honorary M.S from Yale University (1974). During her undergraduate studies at Radcliffe, she took a class on paleobotany which sparked her interest in the field. She became interested in the vegetational history of the Quaternary period, which she studied for her PhD under Elso Barghoorn (paleobotanist) and Hugh Raup (forest ecologist) at Harvard Forest.[2] During her final year at Radcliffe, she received a Fulbright fellowship, which allowed her to travel to Denmark to study at University of Copenhagen under Johannes Iversen of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in 1953-1954. There she studied pollen deposits from Greenland. Her findings were published in her first paper, "Interglacial Pollen Spectra from Greenland", in 1954. For her PhD research, she studied pollen data from cores taken from sites near Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. She then obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation and worked initially at Harvard before continuing her paleoecological research in the geology department at the California Institute of Technology for two years. She then spent a year at Yale University as a research fellow, studying vegetation composition and pollen sedimentation in lakes.[3] There she introduced the method of studying pollen influx or pollen accumulation rates (number of pollen grains per square centimeter per year) in cores, which was an important advance for interpreting fossil pollen data in terms of changes in past vegetation and past sedimentation conditions.

Personal life and push for appropriate pay[edit]

Margaret Bryan Davis was born on October 23, 1931. She spent her childhood and early adolescence in the greater Boston area.[4] She married Rowland Davis in 1956; however the couple divorced in 1970.[3] When Rowland obtained a job in the Department of Botany at the University of Michigan, she knew that she had to have a job in the area and accepted a research position at the University. In a 1972 Ann Arbor News article, she admitted that she believed this put her in a poor position to bargain for salary. Because of this, Davis believed that her future employer took advantage of her weak bargaining position. "Salary is set by bargaining," she said and added "that the employer pays what he feels the market will bear, not what the merits of the employee are." "'Men can move. Everybody believes women can't,' she says. 'I was vulnerable to low wages because I couldn't leave the University. I was the lowest paid person in my ranking.' Dr. Davis felt her promotion to full professor at a below-the-minimum salary proved that she was being taken advantage of. Yet the promotion itself indicated she was highly regarded by her colleagues and superiors." She pursued her complaint with the University and was eventually given both a pay raise and back pay, but only after considerable persistence on her part.[5]


After her postdoctoral positions at Caltech and Yale, Davis joined the botany department at the University of Michigan in 1961 as a research associate. In 1964 she became an associate research biologist at the University's Great Lakes Research Division, and in 1966 she was appointed an associate professor of zoology. In 1970, she was promoted to full professor.[1][5] In 1973 Davis returned to Yale to serve as a professor of biology, where she worked until 1976. In 1976, she became a professor and head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. In 1983, she was appointed Regents' Professor of Ecology and is now the Regents' Professor of Emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.[1][6][7][8]


Davis began her research during her undergraduate studies at Radcliffe College (1953). She studied pollen deposits during the Quaternary period. As a Fulbright scholar in 1953-1954, she studied palynology under the direction of Johannes Iversen in Denmark. She analyzed pollen from samples from Greenland that were likely deposited during the previous interglacial period. Her first research paper was published in 1954. Her 1963 paper, "On the Theory of Pollen Analysis", greatly impacted the study of pollen records and their interpretation and led to studies of how well the distribution of a species' pollen reflects the population numbers of the trees that produced it. Her later research mapping the migration of tree species illustrated the differential timing and directions of movement for species during the past 14,000 years in North America. This work has been influential in predicting the migration of tree species that may results from global climate changes.[4] She also hypothesized that disease caused the decline in hemlock populations about 5,300 years ago in the northeastern US.[9] Starting in the 1980s while at the University of Minnesota, Davis studied long-term forest dynamics of forest communities at the Sylvania Wilderness in the upper peninsula of Michigan. These old growth forests contained mainly maple and hemlock trees. She and her graduate students studied the fossil pollen throughout the forest. Their detailed analyzes allowed them to trace patterns of forest stands as well as changes in the forest.[10]


From 1978 - 1980 she served as the president of American Quaternary Association.[3] Davis also served as the president of the Ecological Society of America from 1987 to 1988. In 1982, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and she is a member of the International Association for Vegetation Science.[11] In 1993, she became the 6th recipient of the Nevada Medal, awarded by the Desert Research Institute.[12] That same year she became the 3rd woman to receive the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America.[13] In 2009, she became an honoree of National Women's History Month.[14]

In 2011, she received a William S. Cooper Award from the Ecological Society of America.[15] In 2012, she was elected Fellow of the Ecological Society of America.[16] She is a Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society.[17]

She received a honorary doctorate from the College of Biological Sciences of the University of Minnesota in 2012.[18]


  1. ^ a b c Oakes, Elizabeth H. 2000. Davis, Margaret B. in Encyclopedia of World Scientists. Facts on File Science Library. p. 174
  2. ^ p. 106 in Foster, David R. 2014. Hemlock: A Forest Giant on the Edge. Yale University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Oakes, Elizabeth H. 2000. Davis, Margaret B. in Encyclopedia of World Scientists. Facts on File Science Library. p. 174.
  4. ^ a b Rafferty, John P. 2014. Margaret Bryan Davis. Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. ^ a b Hampton, Kathleen. 1972. Sex Discrimination: The Case Of Margaret Bryan Davis. Ann Arbor News. March 19, 1972.
  6. ^ Wayne, Tiffany K. 2011. American Women of Science Since 1900: Essays A-H. Vol.1. ABC-CLIO, LLC. p. 332-333/
  7. ^ "4 Women Honored for Roles in Science". Pioneer Press. January 25, 1991.
  8. ^ 4 Women Honored for Roles in Science. St. Paul Pioneer Press. January 25, 1991 - 2B Metro.
  9. ^ p. 107 in Foster, David R. 2014. Hemlock: A Forest Giant on the Edge. Yale University Press.
  10. ^ University of Minnesota Webpage for Margaret B. Davis "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-16. Retrieved 2014-03-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ National Women's History Project
  12. ^ Palynologists in the News: 1993 Nevada Medal to Margaret Davis. AASP Newsletter April 1993, Vol. 26, no. 2, p. 12. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2012-07-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ ESA Awards page Archived 2008-05-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "National Women's History Project".
  15. ^ "You are being redirected..."
  16. ^ "You are being redirected..."
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Margaret B. Davis | University Awards and Honors".

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