George Malanson

George Malanson
Coleman-Miller Professor, Emeritus
Curriculum Vitae: 
Research Interests: 
landscape ecology of mountain geography; spatial simulations of land cover change

My current research focus is on the response of alpine tundra and alpine treeline to climate change.  I am examining the multiscale nature of the composition of alpine tundra communities across the Europe and western North America, and I develop simulations of the effects of white pine blister rust on treeline dynamics and patterns. My broad research agenda has had a continuing focus on biodiversity, and diverse aspects are linked by a focus on the interaction of spatial pattern and process. I address how spatial patterns (e.g., natural or human-caused fragmentation) and processes (e.g., dispersal) affect vegetation dynamics and ecological sustainability in response to human-induced changes such as climatic change and altered disturbance regimes.

My research integrates fieldwork, including quantitative vegetation sampling, computer simulations, and statistical analyses. I use simulations to investigate dispersal and plant community dynamics in fragmented landscapes. Much of my past fieldwork was based in the northern Rocky Mountains, where I studied patterns and processes at alpine treeline, and simulation work is now focused on the interactions of multiple drivers of change, especially for treelines with whitebark pine.   I am now looking at large datasets for alpine tundra patterns across Europe as well as western North America.

My teaching philosophy arises from a background in liberal arts. My purpose is to have students learn how to think, how to organize information, how to evaluate ideas, and how to present their own ideas. At a graduate level I stress critical analysis through a wide reading of the literature, through a sharper critique of current theory, and finally through bringing new data to bear on what students have defined as an assailable frontier of knowledge.

Research Group photo gallery

Awards and honors

  • 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award, American Association of Geographers

  • 2008 Sagarmatha Distinguished Career Award, AAG Mountain Geography Specialty Group

  • 2007 Henry C. Cowles Award for outstanding publication, with J.A. Kupfer and S.B. Franklin, AAG Biogeography Specialty Group

  • 2006 Henry C. Cowles Award for outstanding publication, with K.J. Alftine, AAG Biogeography Specialty Group

  • 2004 James J. Parsons Distinguished Career Award, AAG Biogeography Specialty Group

  • 2003-present Coleman - Miller Professor, University of Iowa

  • 2003 elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Offices held, service (1998-)

  • Ecological Society of America, Vegetation Section, Vice-Chair, 2016-present

  • National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, program director, 2014-2016

  • National Science Foundation (NIH), Division of Environmental Biology, LTER panel, 2013

  • NIH Social Sciences and Population Studies, Study Section (proposal panel), 2005, 2006, 2007-2011

  • National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry, research proposals panel, 2004

  • National Science Foundation, Biocomplexity: Coupled Human & Natural Systems panel, 2002

  • National Academies/National Research Council Committee on Geography at USGS, 2000-02

  • National Science Foundation Geography & Regional Science Program panel, 1998-1999

Editorial service

  • North American Editor, Progress in Physical Geography, 2010-2014
  • Associate Editor: Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 2005-2013
  • Associate Editor for Biogeography, Physical Geography, 2006-2014



Graduate Advisees: 


MA Theses:

  • Rex, K.D. 1990. Fractal Analysis of Woodland Patches Along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.
  • Kupfer, J.A. 1991. Structure, Composition, and Successional Dynamics of a Riparian Edge Community
  • Craig, M.R. 1992. Colonization on Point Bars by Woody Riparian Species.
  • Finley, S.D. 1993. Investigation of Factors Influencing Species Diversity of Remnant Forest Patches in Northeast Iowa.
  • Hougen, D. 1994. Effects of Accessibility and Isolation on the Structure and Composition of Lakeshore Forest Sites in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota.
  • Williams, Thomas. 2014. Estimating organic carbon on avalanche paths, Glacier National Park, Montana.

PhD Dissertations:

  • Kupfer, J.A. 1995. The Effects of Edge Vegetation on Interior Gap-Successional Processes.
  • Liu, Z.J. 1995. Impact of Climate and Management Practices on Nitrate Contamination in Groundwater: Spatial and Temporal Analyses in the Big Spring Basin, Iowa.
  • Cairns, D.M. 1995. Carbon Balance Modeling at the Alpine Treeline Ecotone in Glacier National Park, Montana.
  • Chen, G. 2001. Relating Landscape Patterns to Hydrological Processes in a Watershed Hierarchy
  • Alftine, K.J. 2002. The Relationship Between Tree Establishment Patterns and Positive Feedback at Alpine Treeline.
  • Bekker, M. F. 2002. Effects of Biotic Feedback on the Pattern and Rate of Subalpine Forest Advancement.
  • Wang, Q. 2007. Effects of the Representation of Landscape Pattern on Species Dynamics in Colonization-Competition Models.
  • Yadav, V. 2008. Soil Carbon Dynamics in the Big Creek Basin in Southern Illinois, USA
  • Goshit, S. 2009. Synoptic Influence on Winter Temperature and Precipitation in Western Montana.
  • Zeng, Y. 2010. Modeling complex dynamics at alpine treeline ecotones.
  • Grafius, D.R. 2011. Distribution and biomass dynamics of the alpine treeline ecotone across the western United States.
Grants & Funding: 

nsf logousgs logo .


  • 2012-2014 NSF Geography & Spatial Sciences, Multiscale Context for Change in Alpine Tundra, lead PI with D. Fagre and D. Zimmerman, $219,719
  • 2009-2012 NSF Geography & Spatial Sciences, Implications of an Invasive Forest Pathogen for Alpine Treeline Dynamics co-PI with L. Resler and D. Tomback, $439,006
    2004-2009 USGS, Response of Western Mountain Ecosystems to Climatic Variability and Change: The Western Mountain Initiative, with D.R. Butler and S.J. Walsh; $345,000.
  • 2006-2008 Modeling Dynamism of Human Settlement Frontiers: Synthesizing Discordant Pattern-Process Relations and LCLUC Trajectories in Coupled Natural-Human Systems, NASA, co-I, with S.J. Walsh, $42,000 of $178,756
  • 2004-2007 NSF Biocomplexity, Coupled Human and Natural Systems: Feedbacks Among Patterns and Processes of Land Use and Land Cover Dynamics in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon, with S.J. Walsh; $120,000 of $320,000
  • 2004-07 NSF Biocomplexity, Coupled Human and Natural Systems: Virtual Watershed: Agricultural Landscape Evolution in an Adaptive Management Framework, subcontract with Jerry Schnoor on grant to Chris Lant; $130,000 of $450,000


Selected Publications: 

Malanson GP, Fagre DB, Zimmerman DL. 2018. Scale dependence of diversity in alpine tundra, Rocky Mountains, USA.  Plant Ecology 219: 999-1008.

Malanson GP. 2018. Intraspecific variability may not compensate for increasing climatic volatility. Population Ecology 60: 287–295.

Malanson GP, Rodriguez N. 2018. Traveling waves and spatial patterns from dispersal on homogeneous and gradient habitats. Ecological Complexity 33: 57-65.

Malanson GP, Zimmerman DL, Fagre DB. 2017. Distance and environmental difference in alpine plant communities. Physical Geography 38: 489-505.

Malanson GP. 2017. Interactions and constraints in model species response to environmental heteroscedasticity. Journal of Theoretical Biology 419: 343-349.

Malanson GP, Resler, LM, Tomback, D. 2017. Ecotone response to climatic variability depends on stress gradient interactions. Climate Change Responses 4:1 DOI: 10.1186/s40665-017-0029-4

Malanson GP, Zimmerman DL, Kinney M, Fagre DB. 2017. Relations of alpine plant communities across environmental gradients: Multilevel versus multiscale analyses. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 107: 41-53.

Malanson GP, Resler LM. 2016. A size gradient hypothesis for alpine treeline ecotones.  Journal of Mountain Science 13: 1154-1161.

Malanson GP, Zimmerman DL, Fagre DB. 2015. Floristic similarity, diversity, and endemism as indicators of refugia characteristics and needs in the West. Biodiversity 16: 237-246.

Malanson GP. 2015. Diversity differs among three variations of the stress gradients hypothesis in two representations of niche space. Journal of Theoretical Biology 384: 121-130.

Malanson GP, Cheney AB, Kinney M. 2015. Climatic and geographic relations of alpine tundra floras in western North America. Alpine Botany 125: 21-29.

Malanson GP, Walsh SJ. 2015. Agent-based models: Individuals interacting in space. Applied Geography 56: 95-98.

Malanson GP, Resler LM. 2015. Neighborhood functions alter unbalanced facilitation on a stress gradient. Journal of Theoretical Biology 365: 76-83.

Malanson GP, Fagre DB. 2013. Spatial contexts for temporal variability in alpine vegetation under ongoing climate change. Plant Ecology 214: 1309-1319.

Malanson GP, Bengtson LE, Fagre DB. 2012. Geomorphic determinants of species composition of alpine tundra, Glacier National Park, USA. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 44: 197-209.

Malanson GP, Rose JP, Schroeder PJ, Fagre DB. 2011. Contexts for change in alpine tundra. Physical Geography 32: 97-113.

Malanson GP, Resler LM, Bader MY, Holtmeier F-K, Weiss DJ, Butler DR, Fagre DB, Daniels LD. 2011. Mountain treelines: a roadmap for research orientation. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 43: 167-177.