Two U-M faculty members named Ecological Society of America Fellows

by Jim Erickson, University of Michigan
April 05, 2023

Two University of Michigan faculty members have been chosen as 2023 Fellows of the Ecological Society of America, the world’s largest community of professional ecologists.

The society’s fellowship program recognizes the many ways its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, teaching, and management and policy.

The program recognizes both Fellows and Early Career Fellows. This year’s honorees include seven Fellows and 10 Early Career Fellows. U-M’s new ESA Fellows and Early Career Fellows are:

Meghan Duffy, the Susan S. Kilham Collegiate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, ESA Fellow. Duffy is an aquatic and disease ecologist studying the causes and consequences of infectious disease outbreaks. Her research has focused on understanding how factors outside of a single host-parasite pairing—such as predators, resources and abiotic factors—influence patterns of disease in nature.

She received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a doctorate from Michigan State University and the Kellogg Biological Station, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to her work on host-parasite interactions, she has led efforts to better support the mental health and well-being of graduate students and others in academia.

“Being selected as a fellow is very exciting and a reflection of the great people with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work,” Duffy said. “My research has always been very collaborative, benefiting immensely from the wonderful people in my lab and the excellent collaborators I’ve had throughout my career.”

María Natalia Umaña, assistant professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Early Career Fellow.

Umaña is a forest community ecologist interested in understanding underlying mechanisms that foster and maintain diversity. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and a doctorate from the University of Maryland.

Her research emphasizes the role of intraspecific trait variation for addressing questions about community diversity, composition and dynamics. Her current projects focus on developing trait-based demographic frameworks that inform mechanisms underlying patterns of species diversity and dynamics, testing implicit assumptions about trait variation to obtain a general characterization of patterns across scales, and studying dynamic functional responses of trees to climatic fluctuations.

“I am grateful for this recognition and excited to continue contributing to the field,” Umaña said. “It is particularly meaningful to receive this award early in my career, as it provides a boost of motivation to continue pursuing my research goals. This award also serves as a reminder of the importance of community ecology research and the potential impact it can have on understanding and addressing issues related to biodiversity.”

ESA Fellows are society members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields including, but not restricted to, those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, nonprofit organizations and the broader society. They are elected for life.

ESA Early Career Fellows are members within eight years of completing their doctoral training (or other terminal degree) who have advanced ecological knowledge and applications and show promise of continuing to make outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA. They are elected for five years.

“We are lucky to have such outstanding scholars and colleagues as Meghan Duffy and Natalia Umaña in EEB and at U-M,” said Patricia Wittkopp, chair of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“Duffy’s internationally renowned research program is advancing our understanding of how aquatic parasites and their hosts interact with each other and other living and nonliving elements of their ecosystem to predict how disease spreads. Impressively, she is doing this work while improving our undergraduate and graduate programs through her innovative teaching in Introductory Biology and leadership on graduate student mental health.

“Umaña is a rising star in ecology, studying forests to understand how variations in key traits control interactions among plants and their environments. This work helps us understand why we see the patterns of biodiversity that we see across the globe. In addition to her research excellence, Umaña has enriched the education of our undergraduate students by overhauling our introductory plant biology course and plays a critical role in departmental governance as a member of EEB’s executive committee.”

The Ecological Society of America established its fellows program in 2012 with the goal of honoring its members and supporting their competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions in the society, at their institutions and in broader society. Past ESA Fellows and Early Career Fellows are listed on the ESA Fellows page.

The society will formally acknowledge and celebrate its new fellows during a ceremony at ESA’s 2023 annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.

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