Mount Whitney Transect

Mount Whitney Transect

The “Mt. Whitney Transect” or the “Southern Sierra Transect” covers a very broad area of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California ranging in elevation from 52 meters in the foothills, to 3,640 meters in Evolution Valley. The transect includes areas of Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia and Inyo National Forests, the Kern River Preserve, and Canebrake Ecological Reserve. This rich ecological region includes grassy plains, pinyon/juniper woodlands, conifer forests, and alpine glacial lakes.

The historical surveys took place in two phases – one in 1911 and the other in 1916 – and consisted of an east-west and north-south component. These survey teams were led by Joseph Grinnell, Walter Taylor, Tracey Storer, and Harry Swarth and included students and spouses. In both years, they surveyed 31 sites, using pack mules, noting all the birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. In total, they contributed nearly 5,000 specimens, over 140 photographs, and nearly 1,000 pages of field notes that have remained a lasting legacy of their efforts. Much of this work also contributed to the book, “Birds and Mammals of the Sierra Nevada” (L. Sumner and J.S. Dixon, University of California Press), published in 1952.

Resurvey work within the Southern Sierra Mountains began in 2008 and continued through 2010. These surveys focused primarily on birds and mammals, with certain sites targeted for amphibian and reptile resurveys. Survey methods included audio and visual surveys and live trapping, with limited, representative vouchers of targeted taxa collected and housed at the MVZ. These specimens, and those from Grinnell’s original surveys, are already being used in phylogeographic, phenotypic and ecological comparisons between the two eras, and are providing information on species distributions in this region, as well as across the state, through time.