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LDS Pioneers Provide Researchers New Insights On Land Settlement

Researchers from the University of Utah used a model originally for studying birds to see why pioneers settled certain areas within the state of Utah. The study could tell us more about human migration throughout history.

Peter Yaworsky is one of the researchers from the University of Utah. He says the study focused on pioneers, their settlement patterns, how they located places to live and how they used the landscape. The model used in the study comes from a model developed in the 70s. It was originally used to explain how birds in forests distributed themselves relative to the amount of resources available.

Yaworsky said Utah is an excellent case study for the bird model because the pioneers were great at keeping records.

“There’s excellent population data, there’s settlement dates and best of all we’ve got a time frame of 100 years,” Yaworsky said. “People have looked at this same question, human settlement, human colonization, how the used the land prehistorically. When you look at it prehistorically you’ve got that time depth, you can look at it through time. But you don’t necessarily have high quality data.”

The results of the study showed early settlers occupying parts of Utah most suitable for farming according to Yaworsky. As those areas became more densely populated, people moved to less suitable or lower ranked land.

“Our results actually deviate from our original predictions, but in a very interesting way,” Yaworsky said. “We see people moving into lower ranked areas more quickly than expected. This could mean a couple things. One, the quality of an area declines more quickly than we thought. This may be the result of the demands of agriculture. Second we could be seeing the effects of the LDS Church leaders directed settlement that was taking place during the 19th century. Overall the results provide an explanation for the historical settlement of Utah using the simple model of evolutionary ecology. Not only that, our results also explain the modern population distributions in the state.”

LDS Pioneers came to Utah in family units looking for farm land. Yaworsky said this makes them different from many of the other pioneers at that time, many of them single males coming west looking for mineral resources.