Journal tabs University program for research productivity

4/28/2008 - By: Guia Del Prado

The peer-reviewed journal “Conservation Biology” has ranked the University’s Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) doctorate program 24th nationally for its quality and quantity of publications in conservation biology research.

The program was ranked in the journal’s 2007 article “Academic Institutions in the United States and Canada Ranked According to Research Productivity in the Field of Conservation Biology.”

Its multidisciplinary focus draws from the strengths of 32 doctorate students and 39 faculty members from biology, natural resources and environmental sciences, ecology, geography and the Desert Research Institute to cover a wide variety of issues in biology and ecology.

“The Ph.D. program is a training program for students interested in ecology and organismal biology among other things,” said Jim Sedinger, program director and a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science.

The program hones graduate students for success in scholarly work, employment with federal and state agencies and the private sector, as well as in consulting positions.

Although focus is primarily on biology and ecology, the program’s students have the ability to consult with faculty and students from other fields related to theirs. This collaboration contributes to the number of quality publications that faculty and students from EECB turn out every year.

“There is a lot of collaboration between faculty members and students with different interests,” said Steve Vander Wall, biology professor and director of the biology graduate program. “Graduate students can ask certain types of questions and do research they may not be able to do otherwise.”

EECB student Susan Mortenson consults with students and faculty from the other departments to aid her research on the invasive shrub tamarisk, which grows along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon region.

Mortenson works on the project with Peter Weisberg, a natural resources and environmental science professor. They have recently published a paper in the “Wetlands” journal and are looking to publish more papers in other journals.

“We’re a very productive program with a lot of hardworking graduates and faculty,” Mortenson said. “Another fun thing about the program is that it’s so diverse. There are people looking at population and conservation biology, evolution, animal behavior, ecosystem-level processes and plant ecology. It keeps it interesting.”

One unique characteristic of the program’s conservation biology group is a focus on researching wildlife and plants in the Great Basin region, said Peter Brussard, founding member of the program and biology professor.

“I think no other program focuses on the Great Basin quite like we do,” he said.

Beginning as a biology doctorate program with a focus on ecology, evolution and cellular and molecular biology, the program was reorganized in 1989. The study of cellular and molecular biology became the interdisciplinary Cell and Molecular Biology program and the biology doctorate program became EECB, incorporating the new field of conservation biology, Brussard said.

“Now conservation biology is not as rare as it was years ago,” he said. “Bigger institutions have it, too. But if we’re running with the big dogs, that’s great.”

In addition to the high rating from “Conservation Biology,” three University graduate programs were recently ranked in the top 50 of public institutions in the “U.S. News and World Report” 2008 ranking. Civil and environmental engineering, geological sciences as well as speech pathology and audiology were listed in the U.S. News report.


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