Science Program

Our Science Office staff carry out a broad range of activities in support of the ESA membership, the scientific community, and public agency scientists and decision makers.

Advancing Ecological Science

For the past 22 years, ESA’s Science Program has provided support for the ESA Panel on Vegetation Classification. During this time, the Panel has developed the complete scientific content of the US National Vegetation Classification (USNVC). The Panel maintains VegBank, the USNVC open-access vegetation plot database. The USNVC  promotes standardized assessment of vegetation, facilitates collaboration on inventory, mapping, and management across jurisdictional boundaries, and provides a common system to which users contribute and improve. The Panel also leads outreach activities to engage USNVC users. This February, members of the ESA Panel organized a field trip-based USNVC workshop at the Society for Range Management meeting in Sacramento, California. The successful workshop provided 22 participants with an introduction to the USNVC and a demonstration of its value for range management.

Ecology for Community


Sustaining Biological Infrastructure

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2014 ESA’s Science Program launched the Sustaining Biological Infrastructure (SBI) training initiative with NSF support to give scientists skills in business planning, marketing, and communication skills necessary to innovate and sustain research infrastructure. From June 9-11, ESA held its second “Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: Strategies for Success” course. Twenty-two leaders of biological infrastructure projects (including digital data resources, field stations, labs, and collections) spent three days growing their skills in financial management, planning, and communication. The course was a resounding success with participants reporting increased confidence levels in skills such as understanding and communicating financial information, putting together a business plan, communicating with stakeholders, and approaching private funding sources. More SBI courses are planned in 2016.

Issues in Ecology

Produced by the Science Office, Issues in Ecology uses commonly-understood language to report the consensus of a panel of scientific experts on issues related to the environment. The audience for Issues in Ecology includes decision-makers at all levels.


Science Program staff participate in the scientific community to highlight ESA capabilities and those of our members. Staff  also serves on the National Research Council’s Board on Research Data and Information, the Steering Committee for the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable, Stewardship Action Council, AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, the Sustainable Water Resources Roundtable, and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

Solutions for Sustainability

ESA IPBES Poster for AGU15 FINALThe Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), created by the United Nations and other international partners, strengthens the role of science in policy and public decision-making on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This year, the Science Office assisted the U.S. government by identifying expert nominees for a thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration; a set of regional and sub-regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services; and, a scoping report for a global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services. ESA also recruited young scientists for IPBES’s pilot fellowship program, which allows early career scientists to participate. Over 500 experts and young fellows from around the world were chosen.The United States was represented by ten American experts and one young fellow.


Centennial Essay Contest, “The Future of Ecology 2065,”

To honor the first hundred years of the society, ESA invited ecologists to imagine the state of ecology in the middle of our next century. In a writing contest organized by the Science Office, participants projected themselves fifty years into the future to describe a day in the life of an ecologist in the year 2065. The contest stipulated that entries be 800 words or less, but was otherwise flexible in format. The selection committee received personal narratives, essays, field journal entries, departmental emails, and artwork, among other creative submissions. Grant Paton’s winning entry was printed with honorable mentions by Grace Wilkinson, and Elizabeth Perkin in the June issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Grant Paton’s winning entry “A letter from the Dean” offers a glimpse of the future of the field through an a departmental email welcoming seven new faculty members, with areas of expertise in invasive species spread through arctic shipping lanes, ecological responses to the disruptive presence of large protective seawalls, and patterns of wildflower range expansion in “post-tundra” northern Canada to fall semester 2065.Grant Patton

To: University College Ecology Department listserv   Greetings all, With the fall semester only days away (where did summer go?), I wanted to take a moment to introduce the newest members of the Biological Sciences team… …Dr Barnard’s research has focused on the environmental ramifications of recent transpolar commercial shipping through the former Arctic ice cap. Recently, her work has focused on the impact of ship-facilitated mussel and barnacle transfer between the Northern Pacific and North Sea ecosystems… Dr Buttrick-Sarratt is a joint hire with the College’s Economics Department. Her research focuses on quantifying biospheric and ecosystem value for use in conservation strategies and resource harvesting… Dr Furman is the world’s authority on neo-tidal communities of the Caribbean. His latest research has focused on behavioral changes of the green sea turtle to loss of nesting beaches from rising ocean levels…

Grace Wilkinson gives the president’s opening remarks at the 150th Annual Meeting of the ESA in “The President’s speech.”  Grace Wilkinson

…The role of the ecologist has evolved with the environmental issues we are facing. In many ways, we as a discipline have moved away from being “problem generators” who focus on fundamental ecological questions to become “problem solvers” who work on applied issues. This decade, for the first time, more ecologists are employed by the private sector than by government or academic institutions… …A byproduct of the proliferation of sensor-based research is the removal of the ecologist from the ecosystem. Approximately 25 years ago, graduate training programs in the environmental sciences began trading out field courses for computer science and data management courses. However, it is becoming abundantly clear that the knowledge that we gain from sensors and monitoring networks is only useful when we have an understanding of the context in which the measurements are taken. To that end, I am excited to announce that ESA is partnering with several universities across the United States to begin developing a graduate training curriculum that combines sensor science with place-based research…

In “A day in the life,” Elizabeth Perkin imagines a tough, but optimistic future carving out living as a freelance ecologist teaching students in a rented lab.Liz Perkin

“Sorry, everyone”, I called out as I entered the lab. “First, I’d like to discuss the paper we read on how management of in-stream flow regimes can be used to create optimal conditions for novel ecosystems, then I’d like you to develop some simulation models to see how flow can alter various food-web structures, depending on the species present.” I love the teaching component of my work. Students pay just to take my course and they’re always engaged with the material. I come out of class feeling tired but hopeful for the future of ecology. After class, it was off to a meeting with Mark. Teaching and doing research don’t pay all the bills, so Mark and I also write mobile apps that help other scientists collect the data they need.

Centennial Member Surveys

The Science Committee conducted separate surveys of environmental researchers, managers, and policy makers to explore their views on a variety of topics, including key opportunities and obstacles in integrating ecological research, management, and policy.

Science Office Staff

Director: Clifford Duke
Program Manager: Jill Parsons
Science Programs Coordinator: Jennifer Riem
Science Programs Assistant: Kimberly Quach

Science Committee (August 2014-August 2015)

Valerie Eviner: Vice President for Science
Elena Bennett
Brandon Bestelmeyer
Jim Boyd
Jana Compton
Brock Couch
Stephanie Hampton
Jessica Hellmann
Lori Hidinger
Andrew Latimer
Dan Scholes