ESA voices concern about proposed changes to EPA’s use of scientific data

Wednesday April 25, 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205,

The Ecological Society of America is concerned with reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a rule that would require all data from scientific studies be made public and be reproducible.

Over the past 50 years the EPA has worked to protect public health and welfare by enforcing the Clean Air Act, and by 2020, it will have prevented 230,000 early deaths. The EPA also enforces the Clean Water Act, authorized in the 1970s to keep pollution out of our water. Many EPA scientific studies, such as those that determine regulations for air and water quality, require that individuals’ data collected remain confidential to safeguard their privacy. The proposed change would jeopardize the ability of the EPA to use the best available science to make decisions affecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.

With respect to reproducibility of research, it is often impossible to repeat an experiment down to the last detail. Some scientific research is collected from real-time data such as the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill and not reproducible. Other scientific studies involve longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be repeated. It is unclear if data from studies like these would be permitted under the proposed rule. As a result, the EPA would be prevented from using the best available science and disseminating public information in a timely fashion.

“Regulations and agency actions need to be informed by the best available science and a rigorous scientific process. Undermining the ability of federal agencies to utilize scientific studies in establishing policies would have long-term negative consequences for public health and the environment,” said ESA President Richard Pouyat.

ESA intends to submit comments in the Federal Register about the proposed rule. The Society stands ready to work with the EPA and other members of the scientific community to evaluate the unintended consequences of this proposed rule.

The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Lizards, mice, bats and other vertebrates are important pollinators too

Study reviews the global importance of vertebrate pollinators for plant reproduction

Wednesday, 4 April 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,

Pollen dusts the nose of a Namaqua rock mouse (Aethomys namaquensis) as it samples nectar from a pagoda lily (Whiteheadia biflia) on the Sevilla Rock Art Trail in South Africa. The rock mice visit lilies in the night, sipping from, but not eating, the flowers, and carrying pollen from flower to flower. Beyond bats, which pollinate about 528 plant species, flightless mammals like lemurs, possums, squirrels, and marsupials are also known to visit at least 85 plant species. Photo courtesy of Petra Wester.

Bees are not the only animals that carry pollen from flower to flower. Species with backbones, among them bats, birds, mice, and even lizards, also serve as pollinators. Although less familiar as flower visitors than insect pollinators, vertebrate pollinators are more likely to have co-evolved tight relationships of high value to the plants they service, supplying essential reproductive aid for which few or no other species may substitute.

In plants known to receive flower visitations from vertebrates, fruit and seed production drops 63 percent, on average, when the larger animals, but not insects, are experimentally blocked from accessing the plants, ecologists report in the March cover study for the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

A bluetail day gecko (Phelsuma cepediana) dips into the nectar of a male-phase Roussea simplex flower, picking up a crown of pollen that it will transport to another flower. The gecko provides the only means of pollination for the critically endangered R. simplex, an unusual climbing shrub that is the only living species of its family, and, like the gecko, lives only on the island of Mauritius, 900 kilometers east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. A non-native, invasive species to Mauritius, the white-footed ant Technomyrmex albipes also dines on R. simplex nectar and fruit, sometimes blocking the opening of the flower with dirt to create a safe stable for mealybugs, which the ant tends in exchange for a sugary secretion of honeydew. The aggressively competitive ants chase off the geckos, resulting in greatly reduced seed set in ant-infested R. simplex plants. Photo courtesy of Dennis Hansen, Zoological Museum & Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich.

Fabrizia Ratto and colleagues reviewed 126 such animal exclusion experiments to get an idea of how dependent wild plants are on animals with backbones for reproduction. The researchers selected published studies that quantified pollination through the subsequent growth of fruit or seeds.

The exclusion of bat pollinators had a particularly strong effect on their plant consorts, reducing fruit production by 83 percent, on average. Bats pollinate about 528 plant species worldwide, including crops like dragon fruit, African locust beans, and durian, Southeast Asia’s “King of Fruits.” The authors speculate that chiropterophilous, or bat-pollinated, plants are unusually dependent on just a few, related species to carry their pollen.

Many bat species have coevolved intimate interdependencies with the plants that feed them in exchange for pollen transport. Among them, blue agave (Agave tequilana), the source of tequila, depends entirely on the greater (Leptonycteris nivalis) and lesser (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) long-nosed bats. The cacti open their long, narrow flowers only at night, luring in the bats with the fragrance of rotten fruit. Both bat species are endangered or near threatened.

Face down in a flower of an organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), a lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) extends its long, specialized tongue to dip up nectar, coating its face in pollen. Bats pollinate about 528 plant species worldwide. The loss of bats has a particularly strong effect on the plants these flying mammals pollinate, reducing fruit production by 83 percent, on average. The lesser long-nosed bat subsists on nectar and pollen from agave species, and also enjoys the fruit from several cacti. Each summer, long-nosed bats make a long migration from Central America to southern New Mexico, Arizona, and Sonora, where they provide essential pollination services for the saguaro (Cereus giganteus), the tall, iconic cactus of the southwestern United States. The bat, in turn, depends on the choreographed timing of flowering and fruiting to fuel its migration. Destruction of roosts and shrinking habitat have put the lesser long-nosed bat on the Endangered Species List. Photo courtesy of C. Guzmán.

Loss of pollination by vertebrates had a higher impact in the tropics, where the study found a 71 percent decline in fruit or seed production. This higher impact may reflect the higher degree of customization for specific pollinators, the authors say. Like the agave cacti, specialized plants that rely on a small number of species of animal helpers for their reproductive success are more vulnerable to disruption.

Non-flying mammals are also pollinators, visiting at least 85 plant species worldwide. Ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) may be the largest pollinators, known to pry open the tough flowers of the traveler’s tree (Ravenala madagascariensis)  for a nectar treat on their native island of Madagascar. The lemurs, which rely on the nectar for many of their calories, leave the flowers intact and carry pollen on their fur. Possums and squirrels also pollinate plants. Because empirical studies have only been conducted with species of mice, Ratto and colleagues’ analysis cannot give a picture of the importance of non-flying mammal species for plant reproduction.

Over 920 bird species pollinate plants, forming the largest contingent of the vertebrate pollinators and pollinating about 5 percent of plant species in most regions. The reliance of plants on birds tends to be higher on islands, where birds typically pollinate 10 percent of the local flora. Perhaps most surprisingly, some lizard species are also pollinators, especially on islands.

The distribution and health of vertebrate pollinators is well documented compared to insect species, allowing, the authors argue, for targeted conservation efforts. As pollinating bird and mammal species fall under increasing pressure from habitat conversion to agriculture needs, fire, hunting, and invasions of non-native species, their plant companions and other species that feed on fruits and seeds are also at risk.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) approaches a bee balm flower (Monarda didyma) in Lake Placid, New York. Although less familiar than insect pollinators, some species with backbones, among them birds, bats, mice, and even lizards, also carry pollen between plants as they visit flowers for a high energy snack. As vertebrate species decline worldwide under pressure from human development, the plants they serve are also impacted. Over 920 species of birds are pollinators, serving about 5 percent of the plants in most regions.
Photo courtesy of Larry Master

Journal Article:

Fabrizia Ratto et al (2018) Global importance of vertebrate pollinators for plant reproductive success: a meta-analysis. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment doi: 10.1002/fee.1763


Author Contact:

Fabrizia Ratto



Fabrizia Ratto                  University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

Benno I Simmons           University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Rebecca Spake                University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez        University of Southampton, UK; Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Durango, Mexico

Michael A MacDonald   Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Sandy, UK

Jennifer C Merriman      BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK

Constance J Tremlett     University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

Guy M Poppy                   University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

KelvinS-H Peh                  University of Southampton, Southampton, UK; University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Lynn V Dicks                     University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

ESA Selects 2018 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

RELEASE DATE: Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Contact: Alison Mize,, (202) 833-8773 ext. 205



The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for policy experience and training. Ten recipients were selected for this year’s award: Aaron W. Baumgardner (California State University, Bakersfield), Stephen R. Elser (Arizona State University), Ann Marie Gawel (Iowa State University), Emily E. Graves (University of California, Davis), Chelsea L. Merriman (Boise State University), Steffanie M. Munguía (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey), Vera W. Pfeiffer (University of Wisconsin – Madison), Johnny J. Quispe (Rutgers University), Urooj S. Raja (University of Colorado Boulder), and Jenna M. Sullivan (Oregon State University).

These students will travel to D.C. in April to learn about the legislative process and federal science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visits Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.

“Now more than ever, we need scientists who can meaningfully share their science with policymakers,” said Rich Pouyat, president of ESA. “The Katherine S. McCarter policy award is an exciting opportunity for the next generation of ecologists to explore science policy in our Nation’s capital. It gives them the opportunity to develop the skills that will make them effective communicators of the ecological and environmental sciences and in so doing help lawmakers to make informed, science-based decisions.”  

ESA’s policy award was renamed this year in honor of Katherine McCarter, who served as executive director of the Society for 20 years until her retirement in January of 2018.


2018 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients 


Aaron W. Baumgardner

Aaron Baumgardner is an M.S. candidate in biology at California State University, Bakersfield. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, his current research focuses on the climate extremes of drought and their influences on vegetation health in Southern California’s chaparral shrublands. Future plans include pursuing a Ph.D. and expanding his research beyond shrublands to other plant community types. Baumgardner’s interest is in bridging ecological research with the policymaking process to help craft and shape environmental policy. He received a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Akron.


Stephen R. Elser

Stephen Elser is interested in the ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure and how local practitioners use it to strengthen cities’ resilience to extreme weather events. Elser is pursuing a Ph.D. in the environmental life sciences at Arizona State University and is a graduate fellow in the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network. For the past nine months, he has researched the ecosystem services of urban wetlands in Valdivia, Chile. Before beginning his Ph.D. studies, he worked for two years as a research technician in a stream ecology lab at Baylor University to establish the phosphorus threshold in Oklahoma’s scenic rivers to prevent undesirable algal blooms. Elser received a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and a minor in sustainability from the University of Notre Dame.


Ann Marie Gawel

Ann Marie Gawel is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Program at Iowa State University. She studies the roles of non-native species in the novel ecosystems of the island of Guam, where native seed-dispersers (birds) are functionally absent due to predation by the invasive brown tree snake. Her focus is on non-native mammals and how they shape plant communities through seed dispersal, seed predation, and herbivory. How the public perceives the management of these species is also part of her research. Gawel is of Micronesian heritage and has spent most of her life living in the Micronesian islands of Pohnpei and Guam. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, and a master’s from the University of Guam studying the effects of non-native ungulates in limestone karst forests. While there, she founded the Green Army environmental service organization and served on the University President’s Green Initiative board. She also worked for four years as an endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Guam and Hawaii. Although an ecologist by training, Gawel is also interested in the human dimensions of conservation and environmental policy, especially in the context of culture and history in the U.S. territories.


Emily E. Graves

Emily Graves is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in ecology at the University of California (UC), Davis. Her research investigates the intersections of movement ecology and conservation physiology to understand the potential role that agricultural pesticides play in the population dynamics of bird species of conservation concern. She is currently utilizing animal tracking technology to discover how differences in tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) foraging behavior affect colony health and reproductive success in natural and working landscapes, and how these differences are impacted by agricultural pesticides. Graves is a co-founder of Science-Informed Leadership, a graduate student-led effort to promote evidence-based governance and decision-making in the executive branch, and served as National Volunteer Coordinator during their advocacy campaign in 2017. She is currently a co-chair of the Policy Committee in the Society for Conservation Biology – Davis Chapter. Graves holds a Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degree in avian sciences from UC Davis.


Chelsea L. Merriman

Chelsea Merriman is a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University. Her research focuses on using interdisciplinary methods to understand the larger impacts of landscape and chemical diversity on the reproduction of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), as well as the impacts on sagebrush in the steppe. Utilizing geospatial, biological, and econometric tools and analyses, she hopes to tell a holistic story about the temporal and physiological trade-offs both plants and animals make to survive and reproduce in a changing environment. Merriman received her Bachelor of Science in environmental science and anthropology from the University of Notre Dame in 2014. A Boise native, she spends every waking moment that she is not working outdoors, hiking, and fishing with her friends, family, and dog Rosie.


Steffanie M. Munguía

Steffanie Munguía is completing her Master of Arts in international environmental policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at Monterey. She is specifically interested in researching the ecological impacts of natural resource management decisions in the human contexts in which they are made. Before coming to MIIS, she received two Bachelor of Science degrees in integrative animal biology and environmental science and policy from the University of South Florida. While there, Munguía conducted ecological research on house sparrow invasion expansion in Africa, native amphibian populations in central Florida, grassland songbird breeding behavior in Kansas, and invasive iguanas in South Florida. She attended an ESA Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Success (SEEDS) workshop in Puerto Rico in April 2017. Munguía is committed to enhancing access to scientific research for diverse communities and believes that government support of science is necessary for resource management and continued growth, discovery, and innovation for generations to come.


Vera W. Pfeiffer

Vera Pfeiffer is a Ph.D. candidate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Plants and pollinators hold a fascination for her and motivate her to study plant and pollinator diversity, pollinator foraging and plant-pollinator network structure, and resilience from a broader ecological network perspective. Pfeiffer has worked with Long-term Ecological Research scientists in the Oregon Cascades Mountains; landscape ecologists and geneticists at the University of Wisconsin – Madison; and math and physics faculty at the Evolution and Ecology program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria. She recently returned from Europe, where she spent a year as a visiting ecology Ph.D. student at Mendel University through a U.S. student Fulbright research fellowship. While there, she conducted a project focused on ecological boundaries, specifically bumble bee foraging practices across agricultural-urban and agricultural-forest edge landscapes. Pfeiffer is now finishing her Ph.D. and working to communicate what she has learned about the influence of landscape on our native pollinators and plant-pollinator interactions and hoping to provide a stronger, more informed context for effective and productive policy development.


Johnny J. Quispe

Johnny Quispe is a doctoral student at Rutgers University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution investigating the effects of sea-level rise to coastal wetlands and the vulnerabilities of coastal areas prone to flooding, identifying areas for restoration and flooding mitigation, and quantifying damage from future flooding. He aims to connect and reconnect communities with their shorelines while learning from locals about their coasts’ past; especially in low-income inner cities where communities might not have access to waterfronts and do not have the opportunity to interact with the surrounding waterways. Quispe plans to expand his research into disadvantaged coastal communities by working to preserve cultural identity, fostering sustainable relationships, and inspiring minorities to pursue science careers. His previous work experience encompassed conservation, restoration, and environmental remediation projects in New Jersey in the nonprofit, public, and academic sectors. Quispe earned a Bachelor of Science in international environmental policy, institutions, and behaviors at Rutgers University.


Urooj S. Raja

Urooj Raja is a doctoral student in environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where her dissertation research examines innovative media technologies with a focus on virtual reality and augmented reality mediums to devise innovative solutions to ‘wicked’ problems like climate change. Before this, she worked as a humanitarian adviser at the United Nations and did a stint at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Other work experience for Raja is noteworthy. She served as an instructor in Columbia University’s Community Impact initiative, the Harlem Children’s Zone and also as a staffer for a New York State Assembly member. Raja graduated from Princeton University with honors, and she is the recipient of a 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the 2016 Environmental Fellowship from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment. The New York Times and The Washington Post published articles featuring Raja’s research.

Jenna M. Sullivan

Jenna Sullivan is a Ph.D. candidate in Drs. Bruce Menge and Jane Lubchenco’s marine community ecology lab in the Integrative Biology Department at Oregon State University. In her research, she utilizes the diverse, well-studied system of the Oregon coast rocky intertidal to gain insights into how human-induced changes, including ocean acidification and top predator loss, will affect individual species and their interactions. Sullivan’s research focuses on the keystone sea star (Pisaster ochraceus), and she is currently characterizing the community effects of the decline in this top predator as a result of sea star wasting disease. Following Lubchenco’s lead, she delves into the role of science in policy and management and on ways to successfully communicate with and engage diverse audiences. Sullivan received an undergraduate degree in biology from Dartmouth College.



Click here to see a Flickr album with more photos of this year’s award winners.



The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Ecological Society of America announces 2018 award recipients

ESA LogoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, 16 March 2018
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,



The Ecological Society of America (ESA) will present the 2018 awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology in new discoveries, teaching, sustainability, diversity, and lifelong commitment to the profession during the Society’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, La. The awards ceremony will take place during the Scientific Plenary on Monday, August 6, at 8 AM in the La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Learn more about ESA awards on our home website.


Eminent Ecologist Award: F. Stuart Chapin III

The Eminent Ecologist Award honors a senior ecologist for an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.

F. Stuart Chapin III, professor emeritus of ecology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, transformed our understanding of terrestrial ecosystems over his 50-year career. He has been an intellectual leader in tackling questions about how humans shape ecosystems and how human well-being depends on those ecosystems, driving projects on sustainability for communities in Alaska, and engaging these communities to seek solutions to declining livelihoods caused by climate change. He has also been an international leader in developing solutions to our many environmental challenges.

His early work linked plant physiology to nutrient limitation and allocation in plants, demonstrating how these processes affect nutrient cycling in ecosystems and shape the types of plant defenses deployed against herbivores. He synthesized diverse ideas into a working model for the feedbacks between ecosystem functioning and plant growth and defense strategies, showing how these physiological processes can drive broad ecosystem processes at both local and global scales. Through a lifetime of study in tundra ecosystems, he broke ground in research into the influence of elevated carbon dioxide on boreal ecosystems, demonstrating critical feedbacks between vegetation changes and climate dynamics. His work on the dynamics of plant succession at Glacier Bay, Alaska, is a classic of the ecological literature.

Chapin has served the scientific community as a past president of the Ecological Society of America and on many editorial boards. He directed the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research site and the Resilience and Adaptation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, and served on advisory boards for numerous government and scientific organizations, particularly on issues of climate policy. He has been praised as strong mentor and advisor to students, friends, and colleagues throughout his career—generous with his time, ideas, and encouragement in support of great science.


MacArthur Award: Katharine N. Suding

The Robert H. MacArthur Award honors an established ecologist in mid-career for meritorious contributions to ecology, in the expectation of continued outstanding ecological research. Award winners generally are within 25 years from the completion of their PhD.

Katharine Suding, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, is a leader in community ecology. She applies empirical and theoretical approaches to address fundamental and applied problems faced by ecological communities in today’s changing world. She has impacted the field of ecology not only through her numerous publications, but also through the students and postdocs she has mentored, and through her leadership in interdisciplinary collaborations.

Suding’s work in grassland ecosystems demonstrated how species’ traits affect the persistence and abundance of species in response to environmental stressors, many of which are related to human activities such as nitrogen deposition, grazing, and changes in rainfall. Her work in alpine systems has revealed the mechanisms by which alpine communities respond to climate change, particularly the role of plant-soil feedbacks. Her research focuses on community assembly and response to environmental perturbations, and the implications for restoration and management. She has taken many leadership roles in interdisciplinary collaborations to investigate patterns and processes within and among ecosystems. She addresses both fundamental and applied problems in ecology, using empirical and theoretical approaches to understand how communities work.

Suding received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 1999. She has since mentored many graduate students and postdocs who now have successful careers in academic institutions, and in agencies and NGOs doing practical work in restoration and landscape management. She has contributed to over 120 articles and co-edited two books, and has been an active leader in the National Science Foundation’s-Long Term Ecological Research network. She has spread the curiosity that feeds her own research to students and collaborators, emphasizing the need to combine basic and applied research in our changing world.


Distinguished Service Citation: Scott L. Collins

The Distinguished Service Citation recognizes long and distinguished volunteer service to ESA, the scientific community, and the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare.

Scott Collins, distinguished professor of biology at the University of New Mexico, has brought extraordinary vision and leadership to advancing the science of ecology, to developing and communicating the need for long-term and broad-scale research infrastructure that enables advancement of ecological knowledge, to the education of young ecologists, and to the Ecological Society of America. He has long recognized the importance of scientists’ active participation in their professional communities, which is well illustrated by decades of service to the ESA and the broader scientific community.

Collins has served in nearly all possible roles within the Society, including vice president of Public Affairs and ESA president in 2013. He served on the editorial boards of two of the Society’s journals, Ecosphere and Ecology, and has chaired or has been a member of eight committees and sections. During his tenure as chair of the Publications Committee, he led two intensive editor-in-chief reviews. He cares deeply about training the next generation of ecologists and has been very active in ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program for undergraduates.

Scott has served the broader ecological community for more than 25 years as a faculty member, educator and mentor, and leader within the scientific community. He teaches both undergrad and graduate student classes at the University of New Mexico and actively promotes research activities for students through his leadership role in a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program and in SEEDS. While a program officer at the National Science Foundation, he was instrumental in developing and supporting many large-scale ecological initiatives, including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), the Long Term Ecological Research program, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and the Integrated Research Challenges.

As a researcher, Collins helped transform the field of community ecology by identifying the mechanisms that control species diversity in grasslands. The framework he developed to explain the effects of disturbance on plant communities is a significant contribution to ecological theory.

Collins has dedicated significant amounts of time to engaging with national policy makers and federal agency personnel. In his briefings to Congress, he has emphasized the importance of long-term and broad-scale ecological research, long-term data sets, and research infrastructure needs for the biological and environmental sciences.


Eugene P. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecology Education: Diane Ebert-May

Odum Award recipients demonstrate their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs through teaching, outreach, and mentoring activities. 

Diane Ebert-May is a true pioneer in ecology education. For decades, she has encouraged ecologists to develop their teaching based on the principles developed through pedagogical research that reveal the best practices to facilitate student learning of complex ideas in science. Her development program, Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST), introduces young faculty and postdoctoral fellows to evidence-based teaching practices early in their careers, while collecting data on the effectiveness of these practices as they are implemented. This innovative faculty development program has received multiple rounds of funding from the National Science Foundation and trained hundreds of today’s ecology faculty. Many of the techniques promoted by FIRST are now routine in ecological classrooms.

Ebert-May’s substantial body of published work on teaching and assessment methods helped legitimize educational research as a valid pursuit in the discipline of ecology. She has inspired ecological educators through her publications on science pedagogy, her leadership of the Education Section of the ESA, and her energetic and passionate presentations. Ebert-May practices what she preaches, teaching with engaging, inquiry-based, active-learning techniques that inspire students to think, ask questions of the material, form hypotheses, make connections, and become scientists.


Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award: Zakiya Holmes Leggett

ESA’s Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

Zakiya Holmes Leggett, assistant professor of forestry and environment at North Carolina State University, has been proactive throughout her career in mentoring and recruiting students from diverse ethnic backgrounds into the field of ecology. As a vanguard for African American women in soil and forest ecology and sustainability studies, she is a notable mentor for student populations that are significantly underrepresented in the field.

Leggett participated in one of the first cohorts of ESA’s SEEDS program as a student at Tuskegee University. She has remained actively involved with SEEDS as a mentor and member of the Advisory Board, helping to grow this diversity program at ESA in the last 16 years, and is active on the Advisory Board of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee.

She serves as NCSU’s campus director for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars (DDCS) Program,  which trains undergraduate students that are interested in research experiences in conservation issues as well as encouraging human diversity in those fields. She has been equally as involved in helping career development programs for minority students in the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) professional society. In a short time, her ability to recruit minority students into the workforce, in non-academic research positions and for academic graduate programs, has made an impact in enhancing human diversity of ecologists throughout the United States.

During her decade as a sustainability scientist at the Weyerhaeuser Company, she involved students from diverse ethnic backgrounds in her work designing and executing multidisciplinary research studies to address environmental sustainability for a global forest products company. She continues this mentoring work as an invited speaker at schools, national conferences, and universities, sharing her passion for environmental education and stewardship.


Robert H. Whittaker Distinguished Ecologist Award: David B. Lindenmayer

The Whittaker Award recognizes an ecologist with an earned doctorate and an outstanding record of contributions in ecology who is not a U.S. citizen and who resides outside the United States.

David Lindenmayer, Australian Research Council Laureate Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, is a world leader in landscape-scale conservation ecology, contributing significantly to the understanding of biodiversity both within Australia and around the world. He specializes in establishing large-scale, long-term research programs that are underpinned by rigorous experimental design, detailed sampling, and innovative statistical analyses. He is a prodigious author of more than 650 scientific, peer-reviewed publications, 111 book chapters, and 44 scholarly books, including 5 well-known textbooks. His work has been influential in developing ways to conserve biodiversity across a range of wild and urban landscapes, including reserves, national parks, wood production forests, and farmland.


W.S. Cooper Award: Jonas J. Lembrechts, Aníbal Pauchard, Jonathan Lenoir, Martin A. Nuñez, Charly Géron, Arne Ven, Pablo Bravo-Monasterio, Ernesto Teneb, Ivan  Nijs, and Ann Milbau.

The Cooper Award honors the authors of an outstanding publication in the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients. William S. Cooper was a pioneer of physiographic ecology and geobotany, with a particular interest in the influence of historical factors, such as glaciations and climate history, on the pattern of contemporary plant communities across landforms.

Cold places are notable for their comparative lack of non-native plants. But figuring out why this is the case is difficult given that high-elevation and high-latitude habitats tend to be not only cold, but also relatively undisturbed, remote, and nutrient-poor. In an ambitious set of experiments, Jonas Lembrechts and colleagues experimentally manipulated disturbance, nutrients, and seed input along elevational gradients in southern South America and northern Scandinavia. They found that disturbance had the strongest effect at all sites, allowing non-native species to establish well above their current elevational limits. The results have clear implications for the future of cold-climate ecosystems affected by warming and increased rates of disturbance.


George Mercer Award: Rachel M. Germain, Sharon Y. Strauss and Benjamin Gilbert

The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding, recently-published, ecological research paper by young scientists.

Rachel Germain, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues evaluated how dispersal limitation and environmental filtering influence local-scale diversity across a range of spatial scales. Using a clever experimental approach adopted from restoration ecology, they vacuumed seeds off field plots and used the collected seeds to create homogenous propagule pools across a range of scales. They found a striking effect of dispersal limitation: local communities harbored roughly half as many species as they could in the absence of dispersal limitation. Their findings advance the understanding of a fundamental ecological problem and give insight into how to better manage biodiversity in a global biodiversity hotspot.


Sustainability Science Award: Seema Jayachandran, Joost de Laat, Eric F. Lambin, Charlotte Y. Stanton, Robin Audy, Nancy E. Thomas

The Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of the scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

Many international programs seek to motivate landowners to change their behavior and take up practices that would reduce land degradation and offset carbon emissions. The award-winning study by Seema Jayachandran and colleagues is notable for its methodology, which avoided several of the pitfalls that have limited the reliability of prior efforts to assess the value of payments for ecosystem services (PES) to motivate landowners.

The authors applied the ‘gold standard’ of experimental research to sustainability science by randomly assigning 121 Ugandan villages to groups that did or did not receive PES to motivate changing forestry practice. They monitored results using high-quality remote sensing data, and demonstrated that PES groups reduced deforestation to half that of the control group. The research demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in evaluating questions in sustainability science. It relies on the expertise of economists, remote sensing specialists, and a local NGO, which led the project. The government of Uganda and international organizations also played important roles in identifying participating villages and assuring compliance. The study represents a major step forward in the evaluation of PES for global conservation interventions.

  • Jayachandran, S., J. de Laat, E. Lambin, C. Stanton, R. Audy and N. Thomas. Cash for Carbon: A randomized trial of payments for ecosystem services to reduce deforestation. Science 357: 267-273.


Innovation in Sustainability Science Award: Laura E. Dee, Michel De Lara, Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines

The Innovation in Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the past five years exemplifying leading-edge work on solution pathways to sustainability challenges.

Many conservation organizations have shifted their stated objectives from preserving biodiversity to protecting nature for the benefits it provides to society—known as ecosystem services. Laura Dee and colleagues addressed the question, if conservation decisions were based solely on optimizing ecosystem services, how much protection of biodiversity could arise? Although biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, the details of which species are critical, and whether they will be lost in the future, are fraught with uncertainty. Explicitly considering this uncertainty, they integrated ecology and economics to develop a new theoretical framework that addresses this question. They found that protecting more species than are presumed critical is optimal due to uncertainty, and define conditions when the optimal protection strategy is to protect all species, no species, and cases in between. Their analysis provides criteria to evaluate when managing for particular ecosystem services could warrant protecting all species, given uncertainty. Evaluating this criterion with empirical estimates from different ecosystems suggests that optimizing some services will be more likely to protect most species than others. Therefore, these results also define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected, and other strategies will be needed to also preserve biodiversity.


Learn more about the August 7–12, 2017 ESA Annual Meeting on the meeting website:


ESA welcomes attendance from members of the press and waives registration fees for reporters and public information officers. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Ecological Society of America announces 2018 Fellows

ESA LogoRELEASE DATE: Thursday, 1 March 2018
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,


WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce its 2018 Fellows. The Society’s fellowship program recognizes the many ways in which its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and management and policy.

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.

Early Career Fellows are members within 8 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.

ESA 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.


Fellows elected in 2018 in recognition of their contributions to the science of ecology:

Fredrick R. Adler,  Professor, Mathematics and Biology, University of Utah
Elected for his theoretical contributions to the areas of physiological, disease, evolutionary, population, community, behavioral and most recently urban ecology. His work exemplifies the power of theoretical thinking to simultaneously clarify specific questions and link across disparate fields of ecology.

Craig D. Allen, Research Ecologist & Station Leader, New Mexico Landscapes Field Station, U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center
Elected for advancing core understanding of forest disturbance ecology, particularly through leadership that uncovered emerging patterns of forest die-off around the globe in response to drought and heat with associated pests and pathogens, and associated patterns in wildfire, demonstrating the value of place-based ecology in a global perspective.

Emily S. Bernhardt,  Professor, Biology, Duke University
Elected for excellent contributions to watershed biogeochemistry and the impacts of global environmental change and human activities on aquatic ecosystems, as well as the applications of ecology to management and policy.

James E. (Jeb) Byers,  Josiah Meigs Professor of Ecology, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia
Elected for major contributions to invasion biology, ecosystem engineering, ecological parasitology, and the biogeography of range boundaries, along with excellence in educating and mentoring students and in service to the national and international ecological community.

Zoe G. Cardon,  Senior Scientist, The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory
Elected for outstanding research contributions in ecosystem science, understanding of the rhizosphere as the nexus of commodity exchange in the terrestrial biosphere, for engineering developments in microbio-sensing, and for broad and fearless exploration of connections in ecology, from stomata to soil to hydrology to nutrients to microbiomes to biodiversity.

Cory C. Cleveland,  Professor, Department  of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, University of Montana
Elected for substantial contributions to our understanding of carbon and nutrient cycling across multiple scales in terrestrial ecosystems.

Phyllis D. Coley,  Distinguished Professor, Department of Biology, University of Utah
Elected for advancing our fundamental ecological knowledge of plant-animal
interactions and of tropical ecology, as well as a lifetime commitment to training generations of students from Central and South America.

Jana E. Compton,  Ecologist, Western Ecology Division, US Environmental Protection Agency
Elected for her innovative and tireless efforts to better understand and develop societal solutions to the problem of nitrogen pollution. Her assessments of the social and environmental costs of excess nitrogen, her outstanding mentorship of students, and her applications of ecology to management and policy make her an inspiration to us all.

Todd E. Dawson, Professor, Integrative Biology, University of California – Berkeley
Elected for pioneering research on sources and pathways of plant water uptake with fundamental contributions at the interface among geosphere, biosphere and atmosphere.

Jeffrey S. Dukes,  Professor, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, and Director, Purdue Climate Change Research Center
Elected for insightful and creative research highlighting important interactions among plant communities, ecosystem processes, and global environmental change and for impressive leadership in synthesis and research coordination in global change ecology. 

Brian J. Enquist,  Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona
Elected for seminal discoveries on the origin and diversity of organismal form and function, the natural constraints controlling the organization of ecological systems, and the application of ecological scaling laws to ecosystem function.

Nelson G. Hairston Jr.,  Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science, Department of Ecology ane Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
Elected for influential experimental, conceptual, methodological, and synthetic contributions to our understanding of the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes, for penetrating studies of freshwater populations and communities, and for pioneering “resurrection ecology” by using zooplankton diapausing eggs to reconstruct evolutionary history.

Stephen C. Hart,  Professor of Ecology, Life and Environmental Sciences & Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California Merced
Elected for groundbreaking contributions in terrestrial ecosystem ecology and forest management. His pioneering use of stable isotopes transformed understanding of forest nitrogen cycling and soil microbial structure and function.

Janneke Hille Ris Lambers,  Professor, Biology Department, University of Washington, Seattle
Elected for research linking models and data to test theories of community assembly and hypotheses about the role of climate and competition in setting species range limits, and for outstanding public outreach through an innovative citizen science program in Mt. Ranier National Park.

Nancy J. Huntly,  Professor, Biology Department and Director, Ecology Center, Utah State University
Elected for foundational research on herbivory, coexistence, and human ecology, and for commitment to and innovation in both science communication and the application of ecological principles to the management of natural resources.

Douglas J. Levey,  Program Officer, Division of Environmental Biology, National Science Foundation
Elected for his pioneering research on landscape corridors, seed dispersal, avian ecology, and evolutionary ecology of chilies; excellence in mentoring; commitment to broadening participation; and service to the field as an NSF Program

Jianguo (Jack) Liu,  Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and University Distinguished Professor, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University
Elected for outstanding contributions to the integration of ecology with social sciences and policy, for understanding and promoting ecological sustainability, and for his exceptional contributions to mentorship and capacity-building in the area of sustainability.

Yiqi Luo, Professor,  Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University
Elected for his fundamental contributions to our understanding of ecosystem dynamics in response to global change, theory development in terrestrial carbon and nitrogen cycles, and his pioneering approaches and applications of data assimilation techniques in ecological research.

Michael G. Neubert,  Senior Scientist, Biology Department and Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Elected for fundamental contributions to theoretical ecology, biological oceanography, and resource management through his outstanding ability to formulate the mathematical structures that capture the essentials of the ecological problem, and avoid the inessential.

Amy Daum Rosemond,  Professor, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia
Elected for creative and influential experimental research on the food web, microbial, and biogeochemical dynamics of aquatic ecosystems.

Nathan J. Sanders,  Professor and Director of the Environmental Program, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont
Elected for increasing understanding about causes and consequences of biodiversity change in terrestrial ecosystems by linking community, ecosystem, and macroecological approaches using observations and experiments from local to global scales.

Mark W. Schwartz,  Professor, Environmental Science & Policy, University of California, Davis
Elected for influential research on responses to climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem function, and translational ecology, as well development of innovative ecology-in-practice graduate curricula. 

Eric W. Seabloom,  Professor, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota
Elected for major contributions to theoretical understanding of biological invasions, leadership in global network science, interdisciplinary collaboration, and mentorship of junior scientists.

Emily H. Stanley,  Professor, Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin
Elected for the quality and importance of her contributions to ecology, for her ability to identify and lead new ecological frontiers, and for making connections across boundaries that continue to push our field forward.

Michael J. Vanni,  Professor, Biology, Miami University
Elected for outstanding experimental work that has created new insights into the roles of nutrients and fish in controlling primary productivity and trophic interactions in pelagic ecosystems in freshwater reservoirs.

Kirk O. Winemiller,  Regents Professor, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences & Program of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Texas A&M University
Elected for his outstanding research on rivers, estuaries and fish ecology and evolution, involving field sites throughout the Americas, Africa and Asia and for his advice to agencies on freshwater resource science and policy.

Erika Zavaleta,  Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Elected for high impact research in basic plant community ecology, the interface of community dynamics and ecosystem function, comprehensive analyses of major conservation challenges for islands and boreal ecosystems, and integration of sociological factors into assessments of agricultural ecosystems. 

Jizhong Zhou,  Chaired Professor, School of Microbiology and Plant Biology, and Director, Institute for Environmental Genomics, University of Oklahoma
Elected for substantial contributions to the advancement and maturation of microbial ecology in the United States and China, including developing the interface between theoretical ecology and microbiology.


Early Career Fellows (2018 – 2022) elected for advancing the science of ecology and showing promise for continuing contributions:

William Anderegg,  Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Utah
Elected for advancing our fundamental ecological knowledge of how trees respond to drought and how we might expect the interactions of water stress and climate change to impact our nation’s forests.

Sarah E. Diamond,  George B. Mayer Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Studies, Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University
Elected for far-reaching contributions in the areas of urban ecology, climate change impacts, and introduced species using ecophysiology, macroecology, and evolutionary ecology, and statistical modeling.

Tyler Kartzinel,  Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University
Elected for outstanding contributions at the interface of ecology and molecular biology, and for his pioneering use of DNA metabarcoding to elucidate the structure of complex terrestrial food webs.

Douglas McCauley,  Assistant Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara
Elected for helping advance understanding of the complex ecological functions of large vertebrates in marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and for furthering the use of this information in conservation and environmental policy.

Allison K. Shaw,  Assistant Professor, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota
Elected for innovative contributions to the fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior through the development of cutting-edge modeling approaches to answer general questions about dispersal, animal migration, disease ecology, conservation, and invasion biology.

Marjorie G. Weber,  Assistant Professor, Plant Biology Department and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Program, Michigan State University
Elected for outstanding research linking the ecology and macroevolution of plant-arthropod interactions, integrating diverse tools from comparative phylogenetics, community and chemical ecology, and manipulative field experiments.

Wendy H. Yang,  Assistant Professor, Plant Biology and Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Elected for outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and outreach in the fields of biogeochemistry and global change biology.

The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

103rd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America convenes in New Orleans, La.

Extreme events, ecosystem resilience, and human wellbeing
5–10 August 2018

Environmental scientists, educators, and policy makers will gather at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana this August 5th through 10th, 2018, for the 103rd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Ecologists from around the world attend the 5-day conference, which is expected to host over 3,000 scientific presentations this year.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free (see credential policy below). To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.

Meeting plenaries and symposia will delve into recent events as they explore the meeting theme “Extreme events, ecosystem resilience, and human wellbeing.” In the past year, record hurricanes, flooding, heat waves, and wildfire impacted ecosystems and communities in the United States and around the world. Shortly after Category 5 Hurricane Irma clipped Puerto Rico and pummeled several Caribbean Islands, a second Category 5 storm, Maria, made direct landfall on the US territory, to devastating effect.

Puerto Rican native Ariel Lugo, director of the USDA Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry in San Juan, will deliver a plenary lecture on Monday, August 4th, on the adaptions and resilience of social-ecological systems in the Caribbean to extreme events.

Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program will open the main program on the evening of Sunday, August 4th at 5:00 pm, with a plenary lecture on ecosystem design approaches in the highly-engineered landscape of the Mississippi River Delta, where water, energy, materials, and money flow together in a complex system of natural and social infrastructure.

Meeting field trips will explore the meeting’s theme outside the convention center, with a particular focus on wetlands, which harbor wildlife, improve water quality, and buffer coastal communities from wind and storm surge. Louisiana holds more than 40 percent of the wetlands in the continental United States. The Pelican State is also the site of the greatest wetlands losses. With the disappearance of swamps and marshes, the state is losing its coastline to erosion at a rate of 43 square kilometers per year, or about a football field every hour, according to the US Geological Survey.

Local ESA members will lead visiting colleagues to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to find carnivorous plants, and guide a canoe outing under the moss-hung bald cypress canopy in the freshwater wetlands of Bayou Manchac. A service trip led by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation will pick up litter in the urban marsh at the mouth of Bayou St. John. On a crosstown walk down Washington Avenue, visitors will explore environmental and socioeconomic change in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans neighborhood.

Plenary Sessions
*Plenaries are open to the public

A pitcher plant in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit: Jennifer Hinkley/ USFWS CC BY 2.0

  • Opening Plenary Ecosystem design approaches in a highly engineered landscape of the Mississippi River Delta”:
    Robert R. Twilley is executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program and professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science at Louisiana State University. For the past two years, he has served as president of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, an international organization of scientists and managers who focus on coastal issues. He has published extensively on mangrove ecology, and has been involved in developing engineering designs to rebuild coastal and wetland ecosystems.
  • Scientific PlenaryAdaptations and Resilience of Social-Ecological Systems to Extreme Events: Examples from the Caribbean”:
    Puerto Rican native Ariel Lugo directs the USDA Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, based in San Juan. In his research into the cycles of nutrients in the functioning of ecosystems, he has studied mangroves; freshwater wetlands; dry, moist, wet, and rain forests; and tropical tree plantations. Currently, Lugo is dedicated to the study of tropical cities and novel forests. 
  • Recent Advances LectureMosquitoes in the Arctic: Indicators of rapid change in coupled human and natural ecosystems”:
    With temperatures rising about twice as fast as the global average, the Arctic is a showcase for the interplay of ecology and society in a rapidly changing world. Lauren E. Culler, a research assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College, studies Arctic insect communities. As outreach coordinator at Dartmouth’s Institute of Arctic Studies, she leads NSF-funded student science expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica.


ESA Policy on Press Credentials

ESA’s press office provides complimentary registration for professional journalists attending to gather news and information to produce media coverage of the Annual Meeting. Credentials considered for press eligibility include a recognized press card or current membership in the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association, and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Freelancers must be currently active in journalism and able to present recent bylined news stories in the natural sciences.

We do not offer press registration for editors of peer-reviewed journals, ad sales representatives, publishers, program officers, or marketing professionals.

Members of the press may attend all research presentations, but some events, workshops, and field trips may not be open to reporters without prior arrangement.


Institutional Press Officers

We offer complimentary registration for press officers and public information officers. Press officers who cannot attend, but would like to promote presenters from their institutions, are welcome to prearrange distribution of press releases and other author materials on the meeting website and in the on-site Press Room. Press officers may request copies of all abstracts related to their institution. For registration, more information, or help finding scientists in our meeting program, please contact Liza Lester at or (202) 833-8773 x211.


On-site Press Room

Pre-registered press may pick up their credentials in the Press Room and enjoy coffee, tea, internet access, a printer, telephones, and an interview area. Journalists may also register on site in the Press Room.

Location: Morial Convention Center, room 256

Press Room hours:

  • Sunday, 4 August: 1:00 pm-5:00 pm
  • Monday, 5 August –
    Thursday, 9 August: 7:30 am-5:30 pm
  • Friday, 10 August: 7:30 am-Noon


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

“Socio-ecological network” finds space for cattle, fish, and people in the big mountain west

A special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment looks for new solutions to old problems by pooling the knowledge of scientists, ranchers, feds, community groups, and tribes

Thursday, 8 February 2018
For Immediate Release

Ecological Socitey of America Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,
University of Idaho Contact: Phillip Bogdan, 208-885-4155,

Cattle graze open public rangeland in Malheur County, Oregon, east of Steens Mountain. Credit, Greg Shine/BLM.

Cattle graze open public range in Malheur County, Oregon, east of Steens Mountain. Credit, Greg Shine/BLM.

Tension between the needs of cattle and fish is a source decades of controversy in northeast Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Endangered bull trout, steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and sockeye salmon require cold, clear water in mountain streams to thrive and reproduce. Cattle need these same streams for water, heat relief, and valuable streamside browse. But grazing cattle can muddy the water and trample eggs. Divisive, sometimes acrimonious, contention over livestock grazing on public lands has smoldered since the listing of salmon and trout species under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s.

To tackle complex problems like improving the compatibility of cattle and fish, the social and ecological systems of mountains and their river basins must be approached holistically, say ecologists working with the Mountain Social Ecological Observatory Network (MntSEON), a National Science Foundation funded initiative designed to build knowledge networks and foster resiliency in vulnerable mountain communities. Even defining problems to be solved, they argue, requires perspectives from ranching, community, and tribal groups, as well as insight from ecological research.

The Blue Mountains case study is part of an open access special issue on “Social–ecological systems in mountain landscapes” published online in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“Socioecological Systems Science is the understanding and perspective of people on the landscape. Traditional ecology is focused on everything in the environment except for people—but that’s changing. Landscape ecology is one sub-discipline that has seen the need to change. We need to look at relationships and the dynamic interplay between people, the environment, and ecosystems,” said Andrew Kliskey, a professor at the University of Idaho.

Kliskey co-edited the special issue with his co-director at the University of Idaho’s Center for Resilient Communities, Lilian Alessa, and Jim Gosz, emeritus professor at the University of Idaho.

“When you talk about people and the environment, it gets contentious. You have polarized views. We try to bring together different perspectives. Sometimes that leads you to having to do conflict resolution,” Kliskey said. MtnSEON responded to the need to cope with discord by developing a curriculum for conflict management, which has grown into a popular course for middle managers within federal land management agencies.

The mountain landscapes of the American West are rich in fossil fuels, timber, fish, wildlife, and natural beauty, and host some the largest and most famous national parks, monuments, and protected wilderness. They are home to sizeable communities of Native Americans. Federal agencies govern large tracts of land in a part of the country where human inhabitants have long been few and far apart.

But change is coming with rapidly growing populations and increasing conversions of agricultural land to residential areas. In recent years, popularity with wealthy home buyers from outside these communities has shaken local economies. Booming energy sector speculation, combined with rising demands from growing urban centers and diversions to the Southwest, has put pressure on water sources. Wildfires are larger and more frequent, and warm winters have brought dramatic outbreaks of bark beetles.

Current strategies to protect fish habitat are imposed top-down by the government and present some serious disadvantages for ranchers, while benefits for fish are unclear. To break the deadlock, the MntSEON Blue Mountains working group talked in depth with stakeholders to develop new approaches, outlining potential benefits and barriers. They held meetings and interviews with with permit holders for the Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Malheur National Forests, where 70 percent of the land is allocated to grazing allotments, and with the US Forest Service personnel who manage the land, as well as community representatives and university extension agents. From these conversations, ideas like the use of range riders, flexible on and off dates for livestock, and redrawing or sharing across allotment boundaries emerged.

Upland watershed management decisions and economic activity can have outsized consequences for communities and ecosystems downstream. The Blue Mountains are part of the extensive Columbia River Basin, and the survival of salmon and trout is of great concern to the people who make their living from recreation centered on popular fish.

The Columbia is one of the most heavily managed river basins in the world. Its 668,000 square kilometers sprawl over state and international borders between British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. Fifty-six hydroelectric dams span the Columbia, Snake, and other major tributaries in the basin. These barriers, combined with fishing, logging, and the effects of development have pushed several formerly abundant salmon and steelhead stocks to severe decline or disappearance. The US spends more than $1 billion annually on habitat restoration, primarily concentrated on fish.

Though grazing has been a focus for decades, habitat may not be the critical factor currently limiting recovery of these commercially valuable species. Release of hatchery fish, overfishing, and natural migrations stymied by dams may be undermining restoration efforts. The authors discuss the social and economic factors that complicate changes to management practices in the river basin. They revisit past successes, such as a controversial end to trout stocking in Montana in 1974 that succeeded in boosting trout abundance by 213 percent within four years.

“You really can bring together people with polarized views if you do it carefully,” Kliskey said. “But it takes time. You have to listen.”


Special Issue contents:

Guest Editorial: Applying social–ecological systems science to complex mountain landscapes
TL Hunt, A Kliskey, and L Alessa

doi: 10.1002/fee.1757


MtnSEON and social–ecological systems science in complex mountain landscapes
L Alessa, A Kliskey, J Gosz, D Griffith, and A Ziegler

doi: 10.1002/fee.1753

Author contact: Andrew Kliskey
Center for Resilient Communities and Mountain Social Ecological Observatory Network, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID


Cattle grazing and fish recovery on US federal lands: can social–ecological systems science help?
S Charnley, H Gosnell, KL Wendel, MM Rowland, and MJ Wisdom

doi: 10.1002/fee.1751

Author contact: Susan Charnley,
US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, OR


A social–ecological perspective for riverscape management in the Columbia River Basin
BK Hand, CG Flint, CA Frissell, CC Muhlfeld, SP Devlin, BP Kennedy, RL Crabtree, WA McKee, G Luikart, and JA Stanford

doi: 10.1002/fee.1752

Author contact: Brian Hand,
Flathead Lake Biological Station, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Polson, MT

Bark beetles as agents of change in social–ecological systems
JL Morris, S Cottrell, CJ Fettig, RJ DeRose, KM Mattor, VA Carter, J Clear, J Clement, WD Hansen, JA Hicke, PE Higuera, AWR Seddon, H Seppä, RL Sherriff, JD Stednick, and SJ Seybold

doi: 10.1002/fee.1754

Author contact: Jesse Morris
Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT and Weber State University, Ogden, UT


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Catherine O’Riordan named executive director of the Ecological Society of America

Thursday, 8 February 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205,


Washington D.C.—The ESA Governing Board announced today that Dr. Catherine O’Riordan, interim co-CEO and chief operating officer of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), will join the Society’s staff as its new executive director on April 16. O’Riordan, an ocean scientist and highly accomplished association executive, will be only the third executive director in ESA’s 100+ year history.

“I am excited about this opportunity to lead ESA in furthering its important mission: disseminating knowledge, building strong communities of ecologists, and increasing the understanding among policy makers and the public of the role ecology plays in solving pressing global challenges,” O’Riordan said. “The science of ecology is becoming even more interdisciplinary, and ESA members connect all of the facets of the field.”

O’Riordan has deep roots in the ecological research community, as well as in interdisciplinary science. Originally trained as an engineer, she developed physical and numerical models of ecological and biological systems to better understand river and estuary ecosystems.

Following an extensive search, ESA’s Governing Board unanimously selected O’Riordan from an outstanding field of candidates because of her rare combination of leadership experience with scientific associations, excellent program management and business skills, knowledge of public policy, and background with research.

ESA President Richard Pouyat remarked, “I am very excited by the energy and leadership experience Cathy brings to ESA. Given the many societal challenges we face today, she is well poised to lead ESA in identifying science-based solutions for the environment that also provide benefits for human well-being.”

In her role as AIP’s Interim co-CEO, O’Riordan oversees AIP’s programs and activities including services to its ten Member Societies, Physics Today magazine, and other news, education, awards, advocacy, and history programs. She came to AIP from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C., where she directed ocean research and education programs including U.S. participation in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international program of basic research in marine geosciences. Prior to that, she led public affairs and other programs at the American Geophysical Union.

“O’Riordan is uniquely qualified to bring scientists and policy makers together. She also prioritizes expanding inclusivity and diversity within the science of ecology,” Pouyat commented.

For O’Riordan, the opportunity to lead at ESA continues a lifetime commitment to scientific achievement, advancing scientific policy, and broadening opportunities for participation. “I look forward to working with the ecological community to raise ecology’s profile and cultivate a diverse group of students to become the next generation of ecologists,” O’Riordan said.

Following her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, O’Riordan collaborated with ecologists and biologists to study the impact of pollution on water quality and the ecosystem in Massachusetts before attending graduate school in water resources and civil engineering. She studied the concentration boundary layers that form above benthic bivalves, in the turbulent flow regimes found in estuaries. While conducting research in France for six years, she investigated the transport of organic material and sediments in the Seine River and estuary. She also has experience in numerical modeling of geochemical cycles in Mediterranean coastal waters as part of a multi-nation collaboration in the European Union.

O’Riordan holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Water Resources, and Environmental Fluid Mechanics from Stanford University.

She succeeds Katherine S. McCarter, who served with distinction as ESA’s executive director from 1997 until the beginning of this year. Upon her retirement in January, ESA’s Board bestowed McCarter with the title of executive director emeritus.

The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Tiny red animals dart in the dark under the ice of a frozen Quebec lake

Tuesday, 19 December 2017
For Immediate Release

Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,



In a frozen lake in Quebec, tiny red creatures zip about under the ice. Guillaume Grosbois and Milla Rautio, researchers at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Saguenay, Québec, Canada report the discovery of active life in a winter lake today in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology.

Grosbois and Rautio did not expect to find bright red zooplankton buzzing in the dark water under the frozen surface when they visited snowy Lake Simoncouche in winter.

Lake Simoncouche, Québec, Canada. Credit, Guillaume Grosbois

“Most ecological work is done in the summer, because it’s easier to go into the field at that time of year, but also because everybody thought that nothing is happening in winter,” said Grosbois. “Aquatic ecologists thought that everything is either dying or entering dormancy, and that life is on hold during the entire season.”

Although winter research is gaining interest, ecological field work slows down when the weather turns snowy. The researchers expected to find the lake’s zooplankton, the nearly microscopic animals that feed fish and other larger lake inhabitants, resting nearly immobile on the lake bottom, waiting out the cold hungry months until sunlight and food return.

But when they looked at water samples under the microscope, they saw the copepod species Leptodiaptomus minutus and Cyclops scutifer swimming vigorously about. The tiny crustaceans, which resemble very small shrimp, accounted for 63 and 22 percent of the winter biomass in the lake.

“We saw that they were very active! They were not dormant at all. I was very surprised, because in winter there is no light, there is no algae to eat,” Grosbois said.

Copepods (Leptodiaptomus minutus) from Lake Simoncouche, (a) under the ice in winter (27 January 2017) and (b) in summer (18 September 2017). Photos were obtained from an inverted microscope with phase-contrast. Credit, Guillaume Grosbois. From figure 2 of the paper.

Returning to sample the lake every few weeks throughout the year, Grosbois and Rautio were further surprised to find that zooplankton biomass actually peaked in December. But the most startling discovery was the copepods’ vivid color.

Rautio and Grosbois wanted to know how the small animals managed to remain active as their primary food sources died, but also why they were so brightly colored. In summer, zooplankton are nearly transparent. Bright red coloration would be a beacon, like Rudolph’s red nose, calling to predatory fish. In the dark, the bright red coloration does not attract dangerous attention. The red color, however, is expensive for the small animals to make. It costs them energy they need to survive. So the researchers believed it must be serving a purpose.

Color often provides protection against damage from UV radiation, like natural sunblock. But very little sunlight filters through the thick cover of ice. High energy ultraviolet light reflects off the ice surface. Instead, Grosbois and Rautio think the red pigment may be acting as a preservative for the extra body fat the zooplankton piled on for the winter.

“The link was the lipids, the fats.” Grosbois said.

As the surface ices over, the waters below grow dark. Phytoplankton—algae that, like plants, make energy from sunlight—begin to die. Copepods get most of their calories from algae. L. minutus and C. scutifer are able to stay active for the entire winter, Rautio and Grosbois concluded, because they accumulate fats as temperatures drop during the autumn, eating everything they can find and feasting on dying algae as the ice closes. But stored fats, especially fatty acids, are vulnerable to damage through peroxidation caused by free radicals.

Free radicals are a consequence of respiration. All animals that breathe oxygen must cope with their generation and the damage they can inflict. Like carotenes and other vivid pigments in fruits and vegetables, the red pigment in the copepods is an antioxidant. It protects the copepods’ cells by tying up free radicals and keeping them away from important cellular equipment. Grosbois and Rautio believe that, in the gloom under the ice, the copepods can safely take advantage of protection from oxidative stress that bright pigments offer. The little copepods, like people, need omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to be healthy.

“We can only get essential fatty acids from food. One of the best sources is fish, because fish accumulate them from the copepods, that accumulate them from the algae, that are the main producers,” Grosbois said. Fatty acid biochemistry, and its effects on the food web, is a topic that interests him for future research.

“We are a lot of humans on the planet. We all need to be in health, so we need a lot of fatty acids. As the climate changes we are seeing that the time of ice cover is becoming shorter and shorter. That’s a really important period for the aquatic organism to accumulate fatty acids.”

Grosbois wonders if the shorter freezing periods predicted in coming decades as the climate warms will give the copepods enough time to accumulate the fatty acids they need to reproduce successfully in spring. When copepods run low on fatty acids, there are, in turn, less fatty acids for the fish that eat copepods, and so on up the food web.

“Winter is important, especially in the boreal zone. We here are in a very northern city in Canada, where the winter can be very long,” Grosbois said. “We need to study this time more. Everything that happens in the winter will have an impact on spring, summer, and fall. So if we want to understand what is happening in the ecosystem, we need to know more about the winter.”


Journal Article:

Guillaume Grosbois and Milla Rautio (2017) Active and colorful life under ice. Ecology (Early View) doi:10.1002/ecy.2074

Free access


Author Contact:

Guillaume Grosbois +1-418-545-5011 ext. 2336,
Department of Fundamental Sciences and Group for Interuniversity Research in Limnology and Aquatic Environment (GRIL), Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Saguenay, Québec, Canada

An ecologist drills under the ices to sample the water of Lake Simoncouche. Guillaume Grosbois


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

Born under an inauspicious moon, baby fish delay settlement on coral reefs

Dark nights offer best chance of survival for sixbar wrasse leaving the open ocean for the reef, but risky moonlit swims may grant a fitness edge to survivors

Monday, 18 December 2017
For Immediate Release

Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211,

Author Suzanne Alonzo observes spawning sixbar wrasse (Thalassoma hardwicke) off Moorea Island in French Polynesia (17°30′ S, 149°50′ W), 17 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of Tahiti. Credit, Jeffrey Shima.

Author Suzanne Alonzo observes spawning sixbar wrasse (Thalassoma hardwicke) off Moorea Island in French Polynesia (17°30′ S, 149°50′ W), 17 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of Tahiti. Credit, Jeffrey Shima.

Parents’ choices about when to breed have lifelong consequences for offspring. For the sixbar wrasse, the flexibility of babies to delay their critical swim towards adulthood frees adults to spawn more often, say ecologists in a new research report in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology.

A delay of a few days sets up differences in experience that could have far reaching consequences for fishes’ lifetime success. In a species that can choose its sex, consequences could include which fish grows large enough to compete as a male and produce the most offspring.

Sixbar wrasse hatch at sea and spend about seven weeks in open water before they must make a dangerous dash for their adult home on a coral reef. The first to arrive can avoid the crowds and are more likely to survive.

“Presumably, the early arrivers can get the lay of the land and select the best hiding spots,” said first author Jeff Shima, a professor at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Moonlit nights, full of watchful predators, are not safe for small reef fish. Baby sixbars that arrived on the reef during the full moon or as it waxed past the first quarter were more likely to disappear. Fish that settled in the last quarter had the best chance of survival, Shima and his coathors found.

“Baby fish making their way back to the reef must traverse a dangerous wall of mouths. Most will attempt this journey at night, during the new moon, under the cover of darkness,” Shima said.

Babies that arrived on the reef during the moon’s last quarter, the researchers discovered, were 10 percent larger than other new arrivals. The researchers concluded that that these fish were larger because they were older. These babies may have delayed departure for up to 8 days to avoid travel on bright full moon nights.

Sixbar wrasse (Thalassoma hardwicke). Credit, Jeffrey Shima.

The sixbar wrasse (Thalassoma hardwicke) is a common inhabitant of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly the shallow lagoons of Moorea Island in French Polynesia (17°30′ S, 149°50′ W), 17 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of Tahiti. A 60-kilometer barrier reef encloses a beautiful, bright blue lagoon around the steep, green slopes of the old volcano. Sixbars settle in the lagoon on small reef patches, surrounded by sand, rock, or cobble, that have grown from the lagoon bottom.

“We are interested how the timing of spawning and the developmental decisions of offspring sets some individuals on a pathway to greater reproductive success. Are the most successful fish born at just the right time or did they make decisions that made them a winner?” Shima said.

To give both their eggs and themselves the best chance of avoiding predators that hunt by sight, sixbars meet to mate at the edge of the reef, on outgoing tides. They court on reef promontories where their fertilized eggs will be swiftly swept out to sea. Sixbars might be expected to avoid courting at times of the month that place their babies on a schedule to settle back to the reef during a full moon, but that does not appear to be their strategy. Nor do they always time their courtships to bring their babies back to the reef when the moon is dark. In the twenty-odd years Shima has studied sixbar wrasse and coral reef ecosystems, he has seen fish spawning across all periods of the lunar cycle. Baby fish, however, seemed to return to take up residence on the reef in higher numbers at the new moon, when the night is darkest.

“If there really is a good time for babies to come back onto the reef, why are adults spawning all the time?” To investigate this question, Shima and his colleagues dug into old data collected in 2004 and 2005. The researchers had measured the size of young sixbars, which could give a good approximation of the fishes’ ages, because juveniles grow at a steady rate.

A hawkfish waits to ambush unwary little fish as author Craig Osenberg surveys young sixbars on a reef in the background. Hawkfish are an important predator of sixbar wrasse. Credit, Jeffrey Shima.

A hawkfish waits to ambush unwary little fish as author Craig Osenberg surveys young sixbars on a reef in the background. Hawkfish are an important predator of sixbar wrasse. Credit, Jeffrey Shima.

The data tracked the fates of 1038 sixbar wrasse dwelling in 192 small patches of reef. For six lunar cycles in January through July of 2004 and five lunars cycles from February to June of 2005, researchers returned every few days to observe the number and size of juvenile sixbars in residence. They could identify new arrivals as the smallest fish on the reef (9-13 millimeters), with colorless bodies, and a characteristic tendency to hunker down under coral or seaweed during their first days on the reef.

Baby sixbars spend an average 47 days at sea before surfing over Moorea’s barrier reef and dashing 100 to 1000 meters through the lagoon to find a safe coral nook. More than half arrived during the new moon. A quarter made the trip during the moon’s first quarter. But arrivals during the last quarter and full moon were much lower than would be expected by chance, averaging less than a sixth and eighth of arrivals during the lunar cycle.

The simplest explanation was that few migrating baby sixbars evaded predators on moonlit nights. But the larger size of babies arriving to settle on the reef during the moon’s last quarter suggested unlucky babies that turned 47-days-old at the full moon could choose to wait until a waning moon, or opportune cloudy night, gave them a better chance of reaching the reef uneaten.

Shima and his team are now working on refining the age estimates for young sixbar reef settlers by examining tiny structures in the inner ear called otoliths. Built, like shells, from calcium carbonate, otoliths grow a visible ring of new material every day, serving as tiny chronometers in the heads of every fish.

There might be advantages to spawning under an inauspicious moon. Fewer babies may survive a journey over the barrier reef during the full moon, but those that do face less competition from rivals of the same age. This could give them a fitness edge.

“It’s possible that some parents are positioning their offspring to settle early, and beat the rush,” Shima said. He and his students have some preliminary results suggesting that larger females spawn at different times of the lunar month.

Switching sex seems fairly easy for wrasses, which have relatively simple internal plumbing, Shima says. As baby fishes grow, most will become female because they can be assured of mating opportunities with males who are always ready and willing. If a good opportunity presents itself, the largest females can switch to male. For males, mating is highly competitive. Male wrasses are territorial, protecting either a harem of females or a prime mating promontory, depending on the species. Successful males get to breed many more times per day, with many different females—giving a greatly increased reproductive success.

Unlike salmon, which die after they spawn, wrasse breed many times during their lifetimes, giving them opportunity to employ a portfolio of reproductive strategies. By spreading the birth of their offspring throughout the lunar cycle, parents could be hedging their reproductive bets, putting some money on safety and some on high stakes winners.

Shima says his results may not surprise other ecologists working on coral reefs. He and his coauthors have quantified behaviors that other scientists have observed in reef fishes for years. But he thinks the implications of these differing developmental histories may be underestimated.

“It suggests that there is a lot of variation in the players, the individual fish that arrive at the reef and interact and compete and try to avoid being eaten. Each individual carries the ‘baggage’ of its own birthdate and developmental history. Some of these factors could explain the demographic variation among individuals and the social dominance hierarchies that play out in these systems.”

Shima is a parent of four children himself, and says he can’t resist drawing analogies to parenting strategies.

“I think parents naturally worry about many decisions they make, and how these may be detrimental to their own children.  It is reassuring to know that offspring are resilient, and have real capacity to improve their lot in life.”


Journal Article:

Shima, J. S., Noonburg, E. G., Swearer, S. E., Alonzo, S. H. and Osenberg, C. W. (2017), Born at the right time? A conceptual framework linking reproduction, development, and settlement in reef fish. Ecology. (Early View online ahead of print) doi:10.1002/ecy.2048


Author Contact:

Jeff Shima           *New Zealand Daylight Time = UTC+13 hours



JS Shima, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

EG Noonburg, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Davie, Florida, USA

SE Swearer, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

SH Alonzo, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, California, USA

CW Osenberg: Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA



The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at