Building an Ark for the Anthropocene

Editorial by Jim Robbins from the New York Times: September 28, 2014

WE are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch — on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out.

As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out.

The questions are complex. What species do you save? The ones most at risk? Charismatic animals, such as lions or bears or elephants? The ones most likely to survive? The species that hold the most value for us?

One initiative, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services formed in 2012 by the governments of 121 countries, aims to protect and restore species in wild areas and to protect species like bees that carry out valuable ecosystem service functions in the places people live. Some three-quarters of the world’s food production depends primarily on bees.

“We still know very little about what could or should be included in the ark and where,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist at Yale involved with the project. Species are being wiped out even before we know what they are.

Continue Reading…


Audio: Too few university jobs for America’s young scientists

Here is a story about the saturation of the academic job market and the bottleneck at the postdoc stage. The story is about biomedicine, but the same applies to most biological fields. Depressing statistics, but important reality.

Or listen at NPR:

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Seminar Series

Fall Semester 2014

Download the Fall Seminar Series 2014 PDF

All seminars except dates labeled with * will be on Thursdays from 3:30-4:45 pm in Derring 4069

Date Speaker Title Host
Sep. 4th Mark McPeek “Climate Change & How We Got Some of Today’s Fauna” James Skelton
Sep. 11th Brad Cohen “From the brain and outward: Understanding perception to influence the behavior and management of wild animals” Dana Morin
Sep. 18th Allen Moore “Genetics and evolution of parenting” Joel McGlothlin
Sep. 25th Randy Bernot “Parasites that modify ecosystem dynamics: complex interactions among worms, snails, and their contaminated water supply” Skylar Hopkins
Oct. 2nd Andrea Berardi “The role of the plant flavonoid pathway in adaptation to the Alps and the Andes” Joel McGlothlin
Oct. 9th Fall Break – No Speaker
Oct. 16th Amy Welsh “The Use of Population Genetics to Inform Management: A Case Study of Lake Sturgeon in the Great Lakes” Eric Hallerman
Oct. 23rd Thursday Football – No Speaker
Oct. 30th Collin Saldanha “Spatial and temporal precision of hormone delivery: estrogens on demand in the vertebrate brain” Kendra Sewall
Nov. 6th Chelse Prather ” A food web approach to ecosystems using invertebrate communities” Mike Strickland
Nov. 13th Sterling Nesbitt “The beginning of the Age of Reptiles: the rise of archosaurs (the group that includes birds and crocodylians) and their relatives after the end Permian extinction” Mike Strickland
Nov. 20th Kathy Cottingham “Wearing an ecologist’s hat and facing a world of change” Carey/Brown
Nov. 27th Thanksgiving – No Seminar
Dec. 4th Ignacio Moore “Hormones and social behavior in birds” Bryan Brown
Dec. 11th Sharon Bewick “Phenology and Species Interactions in a Changing World” Sara Zeigler




Reflections on the Future as the new Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education

Credit:  rosipaw No modifications made.
Credit: rosipaw No modifications made.

As is true with most students I have known, I have long struggled to define myself and where I can best contribute something positive to the world while also deriving  a sense of personal satisfaction.  Honestly, I still struggle with the question, “what is your area of expertise?”  Because my B.S. is in Biology- does that make me a biologist?  My Ph.D. is in Environmental Science, but earned from a Civil & Environmental Engineering department and now I am a professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering.  I understand the need for humans to organize, label, and classify information to make sense of the world- I certainly do this all the time myself.  At the same time, I can’t help but relate to the concept of the square peg trying to fit in the round hole.

But then, the world changed- or did it?  Whether it is the world that has changed, or our perception of it, suddenly the need for square pegs seems to have become abundantly clear!  What are some of the major challenges in the world today? Global climate change! Up to 25% obesity rates in the U.S.! New designs for our infrastructure to secure a sustainable future in water and energy! Rapidly moving technological development in nanotechnology, molecular biology, and human medicine!  None of these challenges can be met within the confines of one single academic department, rather, they can only be addressed through an interdisciplinary framework.

I am very fortunate to count myself among the faculty at Virginia Tech, a true pioneer in interdisciplinary education and research.  As the new Associate Dean and Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education, have I finally found my calling and come to roost in my own personal square hole? I think so- but in any case, what will be motivating me from this point forward is to help reveal the holes of all dimensions to maximize the talent and satisfaction of our graduate students, while also addressing the world’s greatest needs.

Toxic algae problem likely to get worse before it gets better

NPR’s Morning Edition

September 15, 2014

“The issue of blue-green algae in lakes took the spotlight in August after the Ohio city of Toledo banned its drinking water for two days. Toledo could be a wake-up call for people around Lake Erie.”

Listen to the story:

Trouble listening?  Go here:

Need statistical help on campus?


LISA (Virginia Tech’s Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis) provides research infrastructure for Virginia Tech by collaborating with faculty, staff, and students to use statistics to answer research questions. LISA statisticians can help you or your grad students apply statistics to advance your research in Global Change.

Complete the LISA Request Form ( and a team of statistical collaborators will be assigned to work with you. LISA also offers walk-in consulting for quick questions or projects less than 30 minutes. See for times and locations. LISA also offers a series of two-hour short courses on statistical topics through NLI. See for topics and dates.

Eric Vance, PhD
Director of LISA (Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis),
Assistant Research Professor, Virginia Tech Department of Statistics
403G Hutcheson Hall (0439), 250 Drillfield Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24061,