Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 4:25 PM

SYMP 14-11: Tropical conservation and education outreach, as influenced by Connell's legacy

Margaret Lowman, North Carolina State University


Joseph Connell, distinguished professor of biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, came to Australia to ask questions about species diversity, a topic of strong theoretical and applied interest to both biologists and conservationists. His long-term plots in rain forest and coral reefs generated new theories about species diversity in complex ecosystems, as well as proposing hypotheses to explain why some areas in the tropics have relatively low diversity. Amidst the excitement of theoretical advances in ecology, Connell's indirect impacts on ecology -- as an effective teacher, as a pioneer in long-term data collection and analyses, and as a proponent of public education outreach leading to activities such as rain forest canopy walkways in Australia -- provide a unique opportunity for the ecological community to appreciate how this distinguished ecologist managed to integrate both ecology and education into his career. As ESA prepares to host a national Ecology Education Summit in October 2010, Connell emerges as a role model for the next generation of ecologists. Both his science and his education outreach are world-class, and it is befitting for ESA to honor him in this way.


Although Connell is most widely acclaimed for his work on species diversity, he remains equally important for his impacts on education. Joe inspired an enormous diversity of biology students -- ranging from undergraduates to graduate to postdocs -- over his many years of teaching at the University of California. His long-term field work always attracted a diverse global group of students who enjoyed "groveling on the rain forest floor" while engaging in critical discussion of ecological concepts as they tagged seedlings. Joe was the ideal educator, mentor, and field ecologist, and left a legacy of students in the next generation of ecologists. In addition to his direct impacts as an educator, Joe's long-term sites generated some of the first education outreach programs in Australia. His long-term seedling sites in Lamington National Park, Queensland, led to the creation of the world's first canopy walkway as well as some of the country's first rain forest education programs for the  public. This trickle-down model of research integrating into public education, ecotourism, and ultimately shaping Australia's policies of rain forest conservation can be linked to the Connell legacy.