Art Medeiros

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Position                     Research Biologist

amedeiros_profileArt Medeiros is a reluctant expert. He came to ecology gradually, first as a non-scientific plant enthusiast, interested only in local Hawaiian flora, wanting to know only the Hawaiian names of the plants around him. As he learned more and more about the islands’ natural history, he grew worried about the spread of weeds through his favorite places. “I saw things going extinct, which triggered my interest in finding out why that was happening. I wanted to know what was going on, and that was the beginning of the journey.”

Art began with a volunteer project, putting up fencing to keep non-native animals out of Haleakala National Park, one of the premier rain forest areas in the Hawaiian Islands. He established a reputation among the local park rangers as someone knowledgeable about the area and eventually was offered a job working for the park’s research biologist. First, Art declined  the offer. “I had always considered botany my hobby. I was skeptical about taking it on as my job. Could doing something I love be a valid career option?”

The park biologist told him that based on what people had said about Art, he would not regret taking the job. “So, I said okay, there’s a time in life when you need to try something. It’s time to take a chance. And I took it.”

Although Art didn’t have a degree in science, he became friends with an eminent professor who became his mentor. “He reminded me that many of the great biologists didn’t have degrees. Many had gifts, and he thought I did too. It was through conversations with him about Hawaiian plants that my confidence grew. He let me know that I was on course and that I was challenging the limits of what was known. Most biologists can point to a handful of people who profoundly influenced them, who gave them the feeling that they could do it.”

From there, Art worked on a tremendous variety of projects for the Biological Resources Division of the US Geological Survey in Hawaii. He is currently program field leader at Haleakala National Park Field Station and is also a graduate student working on his doctoral degree in botany. He studies the mechanisms of weed invasions, the role of disturbances on natural ecosystems, and investigates how fruit-eating birds aid in the spread of non-native plants throughout the islands.

Art thrives on applying ecological knowledge to local-level management concerns. His day-to-day work ranges from rain forest field trips to “boring, but ultimately constructive meetings,” and he is particularly pleased to be involved with community education projects designed to bring scientific understanding and information to local Hawaiians. “Empowering Hawaiians with science is going to be very good. I am extremely pleased that I can play a role in that.”

When advising students interested in biology, Art says, “If your heart is really in it, if you’re really committed, if you really feel strongly, try it. You have to love what you do if you want to be among the best in a growing field.”

“I get to work every day in the kinds of places people spend thousands of dollars to see on ‘ecovacations.’ This is worth zillions of dollars to me. For me, there would be no other way to live.”

“Ultimately, I’m proud of what we’re doing. I wonder how future generations will judge the quality of  our stewardship. I hope they think we did our best. I know I’m going to look back when I retire and say, ‘Well, we worked hard.’ It’s better to try something, because we know what’s going to happen if we do nothing.”

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