SYMP 4-1 - Being clued in by RT Paine, and a path to meta-ecosystem ecology

Tuesday, August 8, 2017: 8:00 AM
Portland Blrm 251, Oregon Convention Center
Bruce A. Menge, Integrative Biology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

The “imposter” syndrome is common among new graduate students, and by expressing doubts to Bob Paine about what I was about to embark on when I first met him, I probably came close to being shown the door before I got started. I recovered from this blunder, but in my naiveté, I continued to flirt with ouster during my first year (1965-66). In fact, a “yellow” letter from the Department Chair in summer 1966 informed me that my graduate career was to be brief, ending with a terminal MS. In resignation, I went to Bob and asked for advice. He advised that if I managed to pass my remaining qualifying exams, get an interesting thesis project underway, and write a detailed report on this research, he would support my continuation in a PhD program. I then mentioned my interest in this little six-armed sea star, Leptasterias hexactis, and was thinking that studying its ecology might be a good project. He was enthusiastic about this idea, and, as they say, the rest is history. I finally figured out what research was, discovered I loved it, and with Bob’s unending support during and after my thesis, launched into a fun career.


During my PhD, I was impressed by Paul Dayton’s PhD research and used that inspiration to launch on a program incorporating increasing spatial and temporal scales into understanding how communities and eventually ecosystems were structured, while remaining grounded in a strong natural history and experimental approach. Along the way, I investigated and modeled how species interactions were modified by environmental stress, the role of recruitment in determining community structure, and how coastal oceanography influenced communities at local to regional to hemispheric scales. Conceptually, my research progressed from population ecology to species interactions to community ecology to meta-communities and most recently to meta-ecosystem ecology, investigating the role of ocean driven ecological subsidies in determining community structure and dynamics. Given Bob’s long-standing antipathy towards “big” science, I suspect he had mixed feelings about the latter focus, but also got signals from him suggesting grudging appreciation for what I was doing. I close by focusing on key findings from the meta-ecosystem work, and suggest that this research is the culmination of the scientific philosophy instilled in me in large part by Bob Paine.