Three cheers to Professors Deborah Goldberg, Mark Hunter and John Vandermeer who have been named 2014 Ecological Society of America Fellows. This prestigious designation honors ESA members who have made outstanding contributions to the wide range of fields served by ESA including contributions to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and to management and policy.

Their nominations were extensive, detailed, and impressive. Following are a few excerpts about each of the newly honored fellows who make up three of the 12 new fellows:

Deborah GoldbergDeborah Goldberg
“Deborah is an absolutely first rate and highly respected plant ecologist,” wrote U-M EEB Professor Emeritus Earl Werner. “Any discussion of prominent plant ecologists internationally would not pass without mention of Deborah. Her research explores the processes that control the structure and function of ecological communities over a variety of spatial and temporal scales and how these processes are affected by environmental change.

“She is especially recognized for her work on separating the components of competition and thereby resolving a long-standing controversy in the plant ecology literature. Her work on the community wide consequences of competition (especially to biodiveristy), and her proposal of experimental methods to address these issues, is equally influential. Current foci of her research include the integration of community and ecosystem processes in plant invasions, the role of clonality in species interactions and community dynamics, effects of climate change on alpine plant communities, and integrating niche and neutral perspectives on communities. Although most of her work has been on plant communities, she also explores the community ecology of the human microbiome in collaborations with epidemiologists and microbiologists and is the co-author of a textbook on population ecology. She is a clear leader in the field, and her papers have had a large impact.

“The esteem that her colleagues hold for her work is reflected in the large number of international symposia and workshops to which she is invited. Moreover, these invitations increasingly are to present a plenary talk. Her recognition internationally is reflected perhaps most succinctly in the fact that she has been asked by several European universities to serve on selection committees for important positions in plant ecology at these institutions. She has been asked to serve as an editor on a very wide range of ecological journals, from the applied to highly theoretical,” continued Werner.

“Deborah also is a distinguished leader in service to the field of ecology, at all levels from the local to international. Locally, she made enormous contributions in instituting and leading the new Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Michigan, and just recently stepped down from 10 years as chair of the department. She did an absolutely superior job of uniting a faculty, providing a sense of direction, and putting the new department on solid ground. She consistently takes the initiative on issues that need addressing though it inevitably involves much more work on her part. These attributes have been evident in regard to leadership roles with the Ecological Society of America as well,” Werner wrote.

Emily Farrer, a former graduate student who Goldberg mentored, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, wrote, “Deborah is an exceptional teacher and mentor. Her research has far-ranging applicability and scope and thus attracts a diversity of graduate students who have worked in systems from tropical rainforests to deserts. She has mentored over 30 graduate students, postdocs, and visiting scholars. She strikes a perfect balance between fostering independence in her students and giving them the guidance they need, which makes her truly one of the best graduate advisors. Making time for her students is a top priority, a Herculean feat considering her administrative responsibilities like being department chair for over 10 years. She is a quick and critical thinker and can immediately put her finger on any flaws in a student’s experimental design or put their ideas into a larger, more general ecological framework. For these reasons she is a much sought-after member of dissertation committees.”

Mark HunterMark Hunter
“Mark’s research focuses on the consequences of insect consumption of plants for insect population dynamics and the food webs and ecosystems in which they are embedded,” wrote Goldberg. “He has been extraordinarily productive throughout his 26-year professional career to date, as the author of over 120 scientific articles and book chapters and five books written or edited. He has also been very successful in obtaining grant funding to support his research, including a recent OPUS award from the National Science Foundation to synthesize his research.”

“Much of his research during the 1990s focused on whether insects were regulated primarily by their predators (“top down regulation”) or their food plants (“bottom up regulation”), and he played a central role in showing that neither view was adequate and, more important, how these views could be integrated for terrestrial systems. In particular, he developed very creative analytical approaches to actually quantify top down vs. bottom up forces acting on population dynamics in real systems. Dr. Hunter’s original paper on this approach, in a special feature in the journal Ecology, is a citation classic, and a number of subsequent papers are also very well cited. This work has had important implications for managing pest populations in managed systems (e.g., agriculture, forestry) because it is impossible to control pests on a sustainable basis without understanding the mechanisms driving their dynamics.

“A third important theme of Mark’s research, especially during the first decade of this century concerns the integration of population dynamics and ecosystem ecology – the part of ecology concerned with nutrient cycling (e.g., of carbon or nitrogen) and energy flow through ecological systems. As with all of Mark’s other work, these results have important practical implications (this time for understanding the consequences of global climate change), as well as considerably advancing the basic science,” continued Goldberg.

“It is also worth mentioning here that Mark is equally exceptional as a teacher. He has received an NSF Career Award (awarded to integrate research with teaching) and was a Lilly Teaching Fellow at the University of Georgia . . . When he first taught the ecology and evolution half of the introductory biology course at UM, the students gave him a 4.94 out of 5 for excellent teacher – a frankly astonishing and almost unbelievable rating for a course of 400 students full of premeds.

“I could also go on and on about Mark’s important contributions in service to ecology as well but will only mention one key role: he was the founding director of the Frontiers Master’s Program in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. This program was founded to foster graduate student diversity and has been a major reason behind our department’s success in raising the proportion of underrepresented minorities in our department to over 20 percent.

“In sum, Mark Hunter is one of the most distinguished ecologists of his generation,” concluded Goldberg.

John VandermeerJohn Vandermeer
“John is a brilliant and highly productive and influential scholar, a dedicated and effective educator, and a superb speaker,” wrote Goldberg. “He has a passionate commitment to social justice and diversity that pervades his choice of science and drives his extraordinary level of service, and he is an exemplar of interdisciplinarity. I really cannot think of anyone who has contributed so substantially in so many different ways to the profession of ecology.

“John is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, as well as an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor (for devotion to undergraduate teaching and learning). Over the course of his more than 30-year career to date, he has been extraordinarily productive, with 15 books (both popular and academic), over 200 scholarly articles and book chapters, and numerous other articles communicating scientific concerns to the public. He has been well-funded throughout his career, trained 31 Ph.D. students (plus five current students) and taught many thousands of undergraduate students. He has served on editorial boards or as a consulting editor for seven journals, the advisory boards of nine national and international organizations, and given literally hundreds of seminars at conferences and workshops around the world.

“John’s scholarship has been primarily in three major areas of ecology: theoretical ecology, tropical rain forest ecology, and agricultural ecology. It is remarkable enough that he has pursued these three quite disparate areas on a steady basis throughout his career and made seminal contributions in all three of them. However, he has also been almost unique in his ability to integrate between them, especially in his central role in the development of the rigorous ecological theory that now underpins our understanding of complex cropping systems and weed management. He has also been unique in his bridging of his scholarship, teaching, and research – his research and service has stimulated his development of new courses (e.g., on agroecology, social implications of biology, nonlinear dynamics, women in science), which in turn stimulate him to write scholarly monographs, textbooks, and popular books that in turn stimulate his teaching still further.

“As put by Steve Hubbell of UCLA, John has a ‘conviction that science should serve humanity, particularly the less fortunate of the world.’ This conviction means that John believes passionately that the science we do is important to society and therefore we need to make every effort to widen its impact by teaching more, training more, and especially more diverse, students, increasing the visibility of our field, generating more ties across disciplines, and speaking out in public about science-related issues,” wrote Goldberg.

Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including, but not restricted to those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations and the broader society. They are elected for life. ESA established its fellows program in 2012. 

ESA is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives.