Distinguished Ecosystem Scientists

NREL Award of Excellence in Ecosystem Science

The NREL Award of Excellence in Ecosystem Science was established by the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, NREL, in 1997. It is presented to an individual whose independent and interdisciplinary research has contributed to sustained, innovative syntheses and new insights in the study of ecosystems.

2017 Dr. Mary Firestone
Department of Environmental
Science, Policy & Management
Univeristy of California

Dr. Mary Firestone

Mary K. Firestone is a professor of soil microbiology in the Department of Environmental Studies, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mary became a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America in 1995. Since then, she has received numerous honours and awards throughout her career, including the Emil Truog Soil Science Award, and most recently, the Berkeley College of Natural Resources Career Achievement Award in 2013, In addition to these awards, she was named Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2002.

Mary Firestone has published over 85 peer-reviewed articles which have been cited almost 4,000 times. In addition, she has authored, co-authored and contributed to numerous book chapters, including “Root Interactions with Soil Microbial Communities and Processes” in The Rhizosphere: An Ecological Perspective (Z.G. Cardon and J.L. Whitbeck, Academic Press, 2007) and “Mechanisms Determining Patterns of Nutrient Dynamics” (with Valerie T. Eviner) in California Grasslands: Ecology and Management (M.R. Stromberg, J.D. Corbin, and C. M. D’Antonion).

2014 Dr. William H. Schlesinger
Cary Institute
of Ecosystem Science

Dr. William H. Schesinger

William H. Schlesinger is President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a private ecological research institute on the grounds of the Cary Arboretum in Millbrook, NY.  Completing his A.B. at Dartmouth (1972), and Ph.D. at Cornell (1976), he moved to Duke University in 1980, where he was Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and James B. Duke Professor of Biogeochemistry. 

Schlesinger is the author or coauthor of over 200 scientific papers on subjects of environmental chemistry and global change and the widely-adopted textbook Biogeochemistry: An analysis of global change (3rd edition with Emily S. Bernhardt, Elsevier, 2013). He was among the first to quantify the amount of carbon held in soil organic matter globally, providing subsequent estimates of the role of soils and human impacts on forests and soils in global climate change. He was elected a member of The National Academy of Sciences in 2003, and was President of the Ecological Society of America for 2003-2004.  He is also a fellow in the American Geophysical Union, and the Soil Science Society of America.

His past work has taken him to diverse habitats, ranging from Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to the Mojave Desert of California, and three times as a Duke alumni tour guide to Antarctica. His research has been featured on NOVA, CNN, NPR, and on the pages of Discover, National Geographic, the New York Times, and Scientific American.  Schlesinger has testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees on a variety of environmental issues, including preservation of desert habitats, global climate change and carbon sequestration.  

Schlesinger currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (New York), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC; New York), and the Southern Environmental Law Center (Charlottesville).

2014 Dr. Eldor A Paul
Natural Resource
Ecology Laboratory
Colorado State University

Dr. Eldor A Paul

Eldor A. Paul is a Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and a Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Eldor has had a lifelong interest in teaching and research in both grassland ecology and agroecosystems, ranging from wheat fields in Canada, through corn-belt rotations in the Great Lakes region of the US, into the afforested systems in California and Colorado. Prior to coming to Colorado State University, Dr. Paul was Professor of Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry and Departmental Chair in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Michigan State University. He has also served as Departmental Chair and Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Biology at UC Berkeley, and was a faculty member of Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan. He earned his M.Sc. at the University of Alberta and his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.

Eldor’s research focuses on the dynamics of soil organic matter and the microbial ecology of soil organisms. His research has involved the use of tracers, such as 14C, 13C, and 15N, as well as molecular techniques for soil organic matter characterization and microbial growth-diversity studies. He has had three editions of Soil Microbiology, Ecology, and Biochemistry published with the fourth edition now in preparation as Managing Editor. The book has been widely read and translated into both Chinese and Korean.

Eldor continues his lifelong interest in nature, people, and knowledge fed by an intense curiosity that started during his first eight years in a one room, log schoolhouse, with all years being taught by the same teacher. This teacher recognized his ever-inquisitive mind and made available to him a large, private library including books written by authors ranging from Dickens and Zane Gray to Mark Twain, in addition to a rich assortment of historical and geographical volumes. Growing up under the clear skies of Alberta with a profusion of stars, northern lights, and a diverse range of bird and animal species, where a cold climate was ever-present, led him to ask, “How does nature work?” This life-long interest and ever quizzical mind about the field of soil science and natural resource ecology drove him to increasing his knowledge and devoting his career to acquiring answers to questions about basic and applied applications in agronomic, ecological, microbiological, biochemical, and biogeochemical, which are still of great importance to the human race today. Eldor also continues to foster his mental and physical capabilities by working at a grassland–forested ranch in the foothills above Ft. Collins.

Among Eldor’s awards and honors received, he is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, Canadian Society of Soil Science, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received the Soil Ecological Society Professional Award, the SSSA Soil Research Award, and SSSA F.E. Clark Lectureship Award in Soil Biology.

2011 Dr. F. Stuart Chapin III
Institute of Artic Biology
University Of Alaska, Fairbanks

Dr. F. Stuart Chapin III

F. Stuart Chapin, III (Terry) is an ecosystem ecologist whose research addresses the sustainability of ecosystems and human communities in a rapidly changing planet. This work emphasizes the impacts of climate change on Alaskan ecology, subsistence resources, and indigenous communities, as a basis for developing climate-change adaptation plans. In August 2010, he became President of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Chapin also serves as principal investigator of the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, and has a background in plant physiological ecology and ecosystem ecology. His current research interests focus on the resilience of social-ecological systems. As director of the graduate educational program in Resilience and Adaptation at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Chapin studies human-fire interactions in the boreal forest. A professor of ecology in the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK), Chapin was the first Alaskan elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

His initial research concentrated on the adaptation of plants to changing environmental conditions and has evolved to investigating the dynamics of socio-ecological systems under changing conditions. Among the honors Chapin has received are the Kempe Award for Distinguished Ecologist in 1996, the Usabelli Award for the top researcher in all fields from the University of Alaska in 2000, and the ESA Sustainability Science Award in 2008. As President of ESA, he plans to address the "critical issue" of planetary stewardship. With Mary Power and Steward Pickett, Chapin is leading a Planetary Stewardship initiative “whose goal is to reorient society toward a more sustainable relationship with the biosphere.”

2007 Dr. Pamela A. Matson
Woods Institute
Stanrford University, CA

Dr. Pamela A Matson

Pamela Matson is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, the Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, and McMurtry Fellow for Undergraduate Education. She is also a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Woods Institute for the Environment, both at Stanford University. Her research interests include ecological and biogeochemical responses to agricultural intensification, climate change, and nitrogen deposition, and the interactions among decision-making and environmental issues in developing regions. She was an early contributor to the international global change research program, serving in leadership positions in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program and Projects, and on the National Academy Board on Global Change. She has more recently been a leader in efforts to harness science and technology for sustainable development, serving as a member of the National Academies Board on Sustainable Development and as the founding chair of the National Academies Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability. Her contributions have been recognized through election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and as a recipient of a MacArthur Prize. She served as president of the Ecological Society of America and currently serves as the founding editor of the Annual Review of Environment and Resources. She is a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (US) and the National Park Conservation Association.

2004 Dr. Samuel J. McNaughton
Department of Biology
Syracuse University, NY

Dr. Samul J. McNaughton

Professor McNaughton is internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of grazing ecosystem ecology. He is the William Rand Keenan Jr. Professor of Biology at Syracuse University, where he has been since 1966. His professional interests and work include ecosystem and plant ecology, grassland ecosystems, ecology of large mammalian herbivores, and conservation biology. He has conducted definitive research in the world’s premier grazing ecosystem, the Serengeti, for three decades. He is the author of a widely used textbook in ecology, and over 130 papers.

2002 Dr. Thomas Rosswall
International Council for Science
Paris, France

Dr. Thomas Rosswall

Rosswall has been instrumental in the development of microbial ecology, both nationally and internationally. His leadership in three major ecosystem projects has been important not only for ecosystem sciences in Sweden, but also for the development of international networks, which have fostered intensive collaboration between scientists in many countries. His efforts to link scientists in the North to those in the South as well as South-South networks should also be noted.

His work on carbon and nitrogen cycling has ranged from microcosm studies to the globe and has been able to link deep process understanding to modelling efforts of entire systems at all scales. He has played a pivotal role in the SCOPE and IGBP efforts to understand the functioning of the global ecosystem. Work on linking biological, chemical and physical processes has later also included considerations of the human aspects and Mankind as a crucial forcing function.

He is currently the Executive Director of the International Council for Science, Paris, France. Formerly he has been Director of the International Foundation for Science (IFS), President of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Director of the International START Secretariat, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and Professor of Water in Nature and Society at the Universities of Stockholm and Linköping, Sweden. He has also served on numerous international and national committees and boards. He is an elected member of four learned societies.

1999 Dr. David C. Coleman
Institute of Ecology
University of Georia
Athens, GA

Dr. David C. Coleman

The 1999 recipient of the Excellence in Ecosystem Science award is David Coleman, Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Dr. David Coleman, professor and research scientist at Colorado State University from 1972-85, has become the second recipient of NREL's Award for Excellence in Ecosystem Science. Coleman, recognized for his pioneering studies in plant roots, microbes, soil fauna and soil physical properties, was presented with this distinguished honor in conjunction with NREL's External Advisory Committee meeting.
During his tenure here, Coleman was a senior research scientist at NREL and professor of entomology and zoology. Dr. Coleman has written more than 230 journal publications. His contributions to soil ecology have been recognized by a Professional Achievement Award from the Soil Ecology Society and his election as Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America. Dave is now at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens.

1997  Dr. Jerry M. Melillo
Marine Biological Laboratory
Woods Hole, MA

Dr. Jerry M. Melillo

The 1997 recipient of the Excellence in Ecosystem Science award is Jerry M. Melillo, Co-Director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Dr. Melillo’s research on biogeochemistry includes work on global change, the ecological consequences of tropical deforestation, and sustainable management of forest ecosystems. He was a covening lead author on the 1990 and 1995 IPCC assessments of climate change. He has served as a vice-chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and is currently President of ICSU’s Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). He is also a member of the SSC of START (System for Analysis, Research and Training), a joint activity of IGBP, IHDP and WCRP.

Dr. Melillo founded the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Semester in Environmental Science, an education program for undergraduates from small liberal arts colleges and universities in which students spend a term learning and doing environmental science in Woods Hole. Dr. Melillo also has a strong interest in science policy. He served as the Associate Director for Environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President for 15 months in 1996 and 1997.

Dr. Melillo has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and two textbooks.