Laura Huenneke, an ecologist and conservation scientist who has also served in university and nonprofit leadership positions, became President of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) during the Society’s annual meeting in New Orleans, LA. Elected by the members of ESA for a one-year term, Huenneke presides over the world’s largest professional society of ecologists. Its membership is composed of 9,000 researchers, educators, natural resource managers, and students, reflecting the diverse interests and activities of the Society. As President, Huenneke now chairs ESA’s governing board that establishes the Society’s vision, goals, and objectives.
“We live in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world that requires sound ecological science to improve management of the human and natural environment. ESA’s members provide that scientific understanding of the world around us, and we need their expertise more than ever to understand how changes in nature are affecting all of us,” said Huenneke.
ESA publishes a membership bulletin and five journals of leading-edge ecological research, which often lead to discoveries to address societal challenges. Every year, ecologists gather in August to present research results at the Society’s annual meeting. In addition to research, the Society is committed to diversity and inclusiveness among its membership and to fostering ecologists’ career development in academia, government, and the private sector. Increasingly, ecologists are needed to apply their knowledge outside of the lab to inform sound ecological decisions made by local, state, and federally elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, and the business sector. For the past six months, Huenneke has been chairing a task force of ESA members charged with exploring ways of expanding and better supporting membership in the Society.
“Huenneke’s prestigious career achievements encompass a rare combination of scientific expertise and organizational experience. Under her leadership, ESA is poised to continue and expand its influence in the ecological field and other sectors,” said Catherine O’Riordan, ESA executive director.
Dr. Huenneke currently is Professor Emeritus on the faculty at Northern Arizona University’s’ (NAU) School of Earth and Sustainability. At NAU she also served as dean, vice president for research, and vice president for academic affairs (provost). As its founding dean, she led the formation and successful early years of a new interdisciplinary College of Engineering & Natural Sciences. For 10 years she served as lead investigator for the NIH-funded Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention, a program of research and training aimed at reducing the cancer burden for Arizona tribal communities while increasing the number of Native Americans in health-related professions. She also guided the development of several interdisciplinary research programs and centers while sustaining the university’s commitment to collaborations such as the Biennial Conference for Research and Management on the Colorado Plateau.
Prior to her positions with NAU, Huenneke spent 16 years at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, where she became Regents’ Professor and department chair in Biology. While at NMSU she directed research focused on both rare and invasive plants, and on plant community dynamics in semi-arid ecosystems. She served as a principal investigator and as Project Director for the National Science Foundation-funded Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research site.
“Even in the largest cities, people are fully embedded in – and affected by – the ecosystems around them. Ecologists work to understand the impacts we are having on natural and managed systems, and they are helping craft solutions that will allow both people and nature to thrive,” said Huenneke.
After a distinguished career in academia, Huenneke recently joined the board of directors of SWCA, Inc., a large environmental consulting firm; she is a member of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund board, the board of trustees for the Museum of Northern Arizona, and the Board of Flagstaff STEM City. ESA members have elected her three times to its governing board, and she is also a certified Senior Ecologist recognized by the Society’s Board of Professional Certification.
“ESA has long been my professional home, and being elected as President is a tremendous honor. I’m looking forward to working with the Governing Board, the members, and the staff to advance ecology and to make the Society an even more welcoming and supportive organization,” said Huenneke.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from the Univerity of Missouri, Huenneke earned her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. She has numerous professional honors and recognition, has published more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, and has served on the editorial boards and as a reviewer for numerous scientific journals.