Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
Special issue:
Biographical contribution
05 Sep 2012
Biographical contribution |  | 05 Sep 2012

Christian Theodor Vaupell, a Danish 19th century naturalist and a pioneering developer of the Quaternary geoscience

J. K. Nielsen and S. Helama

Abstract. Christian Theodor Vaupell (1821–1862) was a Danish scholar with pioneering investigations particularly on the late Quaternary development of bog forests, but also microscopy of plant anatomy and vegetative reproduction. His studies contributed to the early scientific thinking of the Quaternary environmental changes. Before his academic efforts, he had already survived the war between Prussia and Denmark albeit he became severely wounded and his left arm was amputated. The drama of his academic efforts, on the other hand, lies in the more or less suspicious dispute of his first doctoral thesis and his dismissal from the academic world during the following years. At the same time, he earned praise for his first thesis (never accepted as thesis but published as a regular book) from abroad; he was also able to attract private foundations for financial support of his scientific work. Following the enthusiasm of his time, Vaupell became attracted to the pine megafossils known to have been preserved in the bogs in north-west Europe. The megafossils led him to study not only the life systems of the ancient and modern bog forests but also their associations with Earth processes. As an interesting detail of his research, Vaupell made compound interpretations on the occurrence of megafossil stumps and their tree-ring growth patterns. In the course of the 20th century, Vaupell's studies have been cited as a general reference of post-glacial vegetation change and plant succession rather than clearly pioneering investigations of palaeoecology, an angle that we would like put into a contrasting perspective. To do so, we provide a brief portrait of Christian Vaupell and his research career. In conclusion, we wish to emphasize the comprehensiveness of Vaupell's views on the late Quaternary vegetation changes and the role of plant succession in that development.