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Ecological Society of America Honors UW Professor Bill Reiners

June 24, 2013
UW Professor Bill Reiners received the Ecological Society of America’s Eminent Ecologist Award. (UW Photo)

In recognition of his groundbreaking accomplishments in a career spanning five decades, the world’s largest professional organization of ecologists has presented its top award to William Reiners, professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Botany.

Reiners received the Ecological Society of America’s Eminent Ecologist Award, recognizing a senior ecologist for an “outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.”

“Reiners’ career in ecology spans 50 years and has deepened the philosophical and conceptual foundations of ecology,” according to the ESA citation. “Among his influential papers are a series on nitrogen dynamics in New England forests and pioneering long-term studies at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest.”

“It is an honor to be listed among the great ecologists who have received this award stretching back to 1953, including my Ph.D. adviser, Murray Buell,” Reiners says. “I recognize that my career is, in a very real way, a product of the influences of many others: teachers, mentors, students and colleagues, as well as the institutions that fostered my growth.”

Even if Reiners' career had ended before he came from Dartmouth to head UW’s Department of Botany in 1983, he would still have been recognized among his generation’s leading ecologists. After all, by 1983 he already had published pioneering research on carbon dioxide, scaling up from local studies of CO2 evolution from decomposition to global studies.

This was followed in the mid-1970s with benchmark work on pollutants and heavy metals, long before the scientific community launched its major thrust involving acid rain. Additionally, Reiners pioneered research on disturbance regime effects on ecosystem properties, especially fire.

When he came to UW from Dartmouth University, he refocused his research on his new locale -- the regional ecosystems of Wyoming, especially sagebrush steppe. His research in Wyoming has focused on the potential effects of climate change, the effects of acid deposition on forest soil characteristics and the use of satellite imagery to study landscape patterns. His satellite research has led to a detailed vegetation map for Wyoming and Colorado.

Reiners is perhaps best known as an ecosystem ecologist, where his contributions place him in the top rank of ecologists.

“Many of the contours of terrestrial ecosystem ecology in 2013 are shaped by Bill’s contributions, which have ranged from ecosystem energetics to biogeochemistry to canopy-exchange processes to transport of energy and materials across heterogeneous landscapes,” wrote Stephen T. Jackson, UW professor emeritus who now directs the Department of the Interior Southwest Climate Science Center and is a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona.

Such praise for Reiners’ work comes from renowned ecologists such as Peter Vitousek, who holds an endowed chair in biological sciences at Stanford and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS); and Bill Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, and also an NAS member. They and others praise Reiners’ pioneering integration of physical and chemical processes in ecosystem context; his early recognition of the importance of canopy processes; and his mentoring of many of the current leaders in the field.

He continued working in terrestrial ecosystem ecology through and beyond the 1990s, with his most notable contributions emerging in a series of rigorous papers on nitrogen dynamics in tropical forests and agricultural lands. Those papers broke new ground by integrating terrestrial biogeochemistry and succession in a spatial framework, scaling processes from plot to landscape.

Additionally, Reiners made fundamental contributions to other areas of ecology, notably vegetation and landscape ecology and, most recently, the philosophical and conceptual foundations of ecology.

“I am deeply grateful to Steve Jackson and others who magnanimously made a case for me to receive the Eminent Ecologist Award from my primary professional organization -- the Ecological Society of America,” Reiners says. “This would not have been possible without my wife, Norma, whose support permitted and encouraged me throughout my career.”

Reiners has received numerous awards for his work. At UW, he served as J.E. Warren Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment, which recognizes UW faculty members who excel in research or activities related to energy or environmental disciplines. He also directed the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database and, in 1993, he received the UW Presidential Award for significant contributions to the university through research or other creative activity.

Established in 1915, the 10,000-member Ecological Society of America conducts research, teaches, and uses ecological science to address environmental issues including natural resource management, ecological restoration, ozone depletion and global climate change, ecosystem management, species extinction, loss of biological diversity and habitat alteration and destruction.

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