Celebrating Connection: Applied Ecology Turns 10

a man stands at a podium

Faculty, staff and students from the Department of Applied Ecology recently celebrated a milestone moment, marking 10 years as a department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University.

Created in 2013 by combining several departments in the College of Sciences, the Department of Applied Ecology came together as a home for professors in natural resource ecology and management who specialize in fields such as wildlife biology, biostatistics and water quality and focus on applied research and Extension work.

“We fit nicely under this broad umbrella and it kind of fell into place because we were a unique niche,” said Greg Cope, who was among the original faculty within the department.

Applied Ecology offers graduate and doctoral degrees in biology and fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology. The department also offers undergraduate courses and an applied ecology minor. Plans are in the works to create an undergraduate major in applied ecology in the next few years.

Over the past decade, the department has expanded its scope, adding faculty specializing in areas such as urban ecology and pollinator ecology.

“I think we’ve morphed and evolved into a much broader, stronger department,” Cope said.

David Tarpy with honey bees
David Tarpy, who specializes in apiculture, is among the faculty to have joined the Department of Applied Ecology in the last 10 years.
Graduate student Emily Nastase holding a sparrow in the field
Doctoral student Emily Nastase holding a Henslow’s Sparrow.
An applied ecology student uses a drone to survey a shoreline.
An applied ecology student uses a drone to survey a shoreline.

In addition to the department’s diverse expertise, several faculty support multimillion-dollar research projects and initiatives.

  • Professor Rebecca Irwin serves as the director of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, which works with regional partners to identify global change-related information for natural and cultural resource managers.
  • Catherine LePrevost, a professor and agromedicine Extension specialist, is collaborating on a National Institutes of Health grant to improve digital health services to farm workers, specifically in rural North Carolina. 
  • Professor JoAnn Burkholder leads the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology. Supported by local, state and federal funding as well as private donors, the center focuses on research, outreach and education on water quality and pollution in several North Carolina watersheds.
  • Professor Greg Cope, who specializes in aquatic toxicology and mollusk and fish biology and physiology, has received funding from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to recover the diversity of freshwater mussels, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered, by introducing them into North Carolina rivers and streams.

Other faculty making a difference in their fields:

  • David Tarpy’s critical research in apiculture and honey bee populations led to a North Carolina State Beekeepers Association funding initiative for an endowed professorship in apiculture at NC State and state support for a new Apiculture Field Lab, which will break ground later this year.
  • Alonzo Ramirez serves as a lead scientist for the National Science Foundation-funded STREAMS project in Costa Rica, which studies the chemistry of groundwater emerging from a gradient break at the La Selva Biological Station in the tropical country’s northeastern Caribbean lowlands.
two men talk in front of a poster
Applied Ecology faculty member Ben Reading with Steven Lommel, associate dean and director of the NC Agricultural Research Service, at the 10-year celebration.

“In a short period of time — only 10 years — there have been just some amazing, amazing accomplishments in the department,” said CALS Dean Garey Fox at an anniversary celebration for the department held at the NC State University Club. “This is a night to celebrate 10 years and a night to celebrate the future.”

The event also marked the 60th anniversary of the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, part of the U.S. Geological Survey housed in Applied Ecology.

Department Head David Andow noted that the broad spectrum of applied research in the department provides students with a continuum of experiences, so that “somebody interested in environmental restoration also has interaction with someone interested in policy issues.”

The interconnected disciplines of ecology also uniquely positions the department for interdisciplinary studies and courses.

“We think we can take advantage of that and become a hub for interdisciplinary collaboration in the college and the university,” Andow said.

That interdisciplinary experience and  a welcoming community led doctoral students Erin Eichenberger and Vamery Gonzalez-Hernandez to pursue degrees with Applied Ecology.

“One of the things which really drew me to the department was sort of the nature of the Department of Applied Ecology being so integrated with other North Carolina government departments, not just university resources, but also state resources, which really allows for great partnerships across institutions,” says Eichenberger, whose research focuses on a remnant grassland area here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

“It expands your ideas for your research, and it’s really good for interdisciplinary collaboration,” adds Gonzalez-Hernandez, whose advisor Alonzo Ramirez also manages ongoing research projects in Puerto Rico. “I’m from Puerto Rico, so having the opportunity to be a part of an amazing institution like NC State, but still being able to contribute back home, that to me is a big, big plus.”

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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