Dr. Robert Van Pelt

Dr. Robert Van Pelt climbing.

Department of Forestry & Wildland Resources
Adjunt Professor, Institute for Redwood Ecology


Research Interests

  • Development of structure in forest canopies
  • Crown development in individual trees
  • Forests of the Sierra Nevada
  • Long-term changes on forest ecosystems
  • Conifer distribution and autecology
  • World's largest and tallest trees

I am very excited about the new Institute for Redwood Ecology and the Redwood Climate Change Initiative sponsored by the Save-the-Redwoods League. My work with professor Sillett began in the mid-1990s, when we realized we had a common interest in how structural complexity develops in old trees and forests. Since then, we have expanded our research to include many other collaborators and have made great strides in the understanding of above-ground, whole-tree growth and physiology. Our new research thrust will seek to understand both California redwood species over their entire geographic distribution in the face of rapidly changing environmental conditions.


1995 - Ph.D. University of Washington, Forest Ecology.
Understory Tree Response to Canopy Gaps in Old-growth Douglas-fir Forests of the Pacific Northwest.

1991 - M.S. University of Washington, Forest Ecology.
Colonization of Alluvium along Two Rivers in Western Washington

1981 - B.S. Northern Illinois University, Physics with Geology Minor.

Selected Books

Van Pelt, R. 2008. Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington. Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA. 178 p.

Van Pelt, R. 2007. Identifying Mature and Old Forests in Western Washington. Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA 104 p.

Van Pelt, R. 2001. Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast. Univ. Washington Press. 200 p.

Selected Publications

Van Pelt, R., and S.C. Sillett. 2008. Crown development of coastal Pseudotsuga menziesii, including a conceptual model for tall conifers. Ecological Monographs 78: 283-311.

Franklin, J.F., M. Hemstrom, and R. Van Pelt. 2008. Sustaining old forest functions on Eastside Washington State Department of Natural Resources-managed lands. Wash. State Dept. Nat. Res. Olympia, WA.

Sillett, S.C., and R. Van Pelt. 2007. Trunk reiteration promotes epiphytes and water storage in an old-growth redwood forest canopy. Ecological Monographs 77: 335-359

Van Pelt, R., T.C. O'Keefe, J.J. Latterell, and R.J. Naiman. 2006. Riparian forest stand development along the Queets River in Olympic National Park, Washington. Ecological Monographs 76: 277-298.

Latterell, J.J., J.S. Bechtold, T.C. O'Keefe, R. Van Pelt, and R.J. Naiman. 2006. Dynamic patch mosaics and channel movement in an unconfined river valley of the Olympic Mountains. Freshwater Biology 51: 523-544.

Van Pelt, R. and N.M. Nadkarni. 2004. Development of canopy structure in Pseudotsuga menziesii forests in the southern Washington Cascades. Forest Science 50: 326-341.

Van Pelt, R., S.C. Sillett, and N.M. Nadkarni. 2004. Quantifying and visualizing canopy structure in tall forests: methods and a case study. Pages 49-72 in Lowman, M. and B. Rinker, eds. Forest Canopies, 2nd edition. Elsevier, Boston, MA.

Franklin, J.F., and R. Van Pelt. 2004. Spatial aspects of complexity in old-growth forests. Journal of Forestry 102: 22-28.

Franklin, J.F., T.A. Spies, R. Van Pelt, A.B. Carey, D.A. Thornburgh, D.R. Berg, D.B. Lindenmayer, W.S. Keeton, D.C. Shaw, K. Bible, and J. Chen. 2002. Disturbances and structural development of natural forest ecosystems with silvicultural implications, using Douglas-fir forests as an example. Forest Ecology and Management 155: 399-423.

Sillett, S.C., J.C. Spickler, and R. Van Pelt. 2001. Crown structure of the world's second largest tree. MadroƱo 47: 127-133.

Sillett, S.C., and R. Van Pelt. 2001. A redwood tree whose crown may be the most complex on earth. Pages 11-18 in M. Labrecque, ed., L'Arbre 2000. Isabelle Quentin, Montréal, Québec.

Van Pelt, R., and J.F. Franklin. 2000. Influence of canopy structure on the understory environment in tall, old-growth, conifer forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 30: 1231-1245.

Sillett, S.C., and R. Van Pelt. 2000. A redwood tree whose crown is a forest canopy. Northwest Science 74: 34-43.

Van Pelt, R., and J.F. Franklin. 1999. Response of understory trees to experimental gaps in old-growth Douglas-fir forests. Ecological Applications 9: 504-512.