The Gambel oak was named by Thomas Nuttall who named the oak after William Gambel. Gambel's samples were valuable and well prepared even after his death. Many other plants and animals were named after Gambel as well.
Gambel oak is found in many of the same areas as bigtooth maple. It is found from New Mexico, Arizona, southwestern Nevada, Utah, Colorado to southeastern Wyoming. In Utah Gambel oak is found in the mountain-brush zone between 6500 and 7800 feet. It is found on southern exposures, usually by itself, and on northern exposures with bigtooth maple. The distribution map below shows where in Utah the oak is found.
The Gambel oak is used by deer and elk as browse. Use by deer and elk is more common in the summer and fall, though it is still used in winter and spring. Gambel oak only provides 5.4% of the protein that deer need in the winter. This would explain why it is not used as much in the winter. Gambel oak also provides good shelter in the winter for mule deer.
The Gambel oak hybridizes with many other oaks creating new species of oaks. Evolution of the oaks is greatly influenced by their Hybridization.
In Utah Gambel oak, Quercus gambelli, has hybridized with live oak, Quercus sp.. The Gambel oak is found mainly along the Wasatch Front and live oak is found in southern Utah. Their hybrid gives rise to evidence of a climate change around 5000 years ago.
This climate change means that 5000 years ago the Wasatch Front wasprobably much warmer, like the area around St. George. This would mean that the live oak could live in the same areas as the Gambel oak. When the climate got cooler the live oak receded southward, but by this time the two oaks had hybridized and formed a new species of oak.