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Leading conservation biologist and naturalist Reed Noss to visit Virginia Tech

October 2, 2016

Reed Noss in canyon
Reed Noss. Photo by Clay Noss.

Editor's note: Noss' visit was canceled on Oct. 5.

When a group of Virginia Tech graduate students were nominating potential guest speakers, the choice was unanimous.

The students in the Interfaces of Global Change (IGC) Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program decided on Reed Noss, a leading researcher in conservation biology and the natural sciences, for a special visit to campus next week.

During his visit, he will give a lecture on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the New Classroom Building, Room 160, entitled “Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Ecological History and Future.”

His talk will review the history and biogeography of grassland ecosystems, including savannas, glades, and barrens, of the southeastern United States. He also plans to discuss factors that have favored the development and maintenance of these ecosystems, their global significance, and their future prospects in light of land use and climate change.

Noss' lecture is part of the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior seminar series, which runs Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. and is sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science. All lectures in the seminar series are open to the university community.

Noss is a naturalist, ecologist, and conservation biologist who has worked in academia and in consulting. Currently, he is a Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Central Florida, where he directs the Science and Planning in Conservation Ecology (SPICE) Laboratory. He also serves as president of the Florida Institute of Conservation Science as chief scientist at Conservation Science Inc. and as an international consultant in areas related to conservation biology and ecology.

Noss has more than 300 publications, including eight books, and has been highly cited throughout his career. His most recent book, “Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Natural History and Conservation,” was published in 2013 by Island Press, and he is currently working on a new book, “Evolutionary Ecology of Fire in Florida and the Southeastern Coastal Plain,” due out in 2017.

In addition, Noss served as editor-in-chief of Conservation Biology from 1993 to 1997, as president of the Society for Conservation Biology from 1999 to 2001, and as president of the North American Section of the Society from 2006 to 2008. In 2001, he became an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has served on various boards and advisory panels, including as vice-chair of the Adaptation for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources Advisory Committee as part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program from 2007 to 2009.

His current and recent research has focused on the vulnerability of species and ecosystems to sea-level rise, climate adaptation strategies, disturbance ecology, road ecology, and ecosystem conservation and restoration.

“I admire Dr. Noss for contributing his insights from ecological research to conversations on how we can conserve communities and adjust land-management strategies to deal with rapidly changing climates and habitats,” said Zach Martin, an Interfaces of Global Change doctoral fellow who studies fish and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Martin, along with other members of the Interfaces of Global Change Graduate Student Association, will serve as the host for Noss during his campus visit.

In addition to the university lecture, Noss will meet with the 32 students in the graduate program who have spent hours discussing the role of advocacy in conservation science.

For Noss, effective advocacy is rooted in scientists recognizing their own biases and subjectivities in relation to objective science. In a 2007 article published in Conservation Biology, he argues, “[a] conservation biologist can be an objective scientist and an advocate for the diversity of life and other normative values at the same time, with no contradiction. We have a responsibility to be both.” This idea, and this article, has served as a vital starting point for the students in their conversations about the role of conservation science in public policy.

“One thing I have taken away from the IGC program is that we have chance to make a choice in whether or not we want to engage in policy advocacy,” said Maya Wilson, a doctoral fellow in the Interfaces of Global Change Program and student of biological sciences in the College of Science.

“This choice can influence our career track, what we decide to study, and how we conduct ourselves within various communities. For example, I study the ecology of the Bahama swallow, an endangered bird species in the Bahamas. As someone who cares about the species and its habitat, I hope that my work will influence policy in a way that will benefit them. Does my role in the development of this policy stop with being the scientist that provides information? Should I be an advocate for what I think is the best policy? I’m looking forward to having these discussions with Dr. Noss,” Wilson said.

“Reed is a great resource for us because he played an important role as one of the founders of conservation biology in the 1980s and because he’s a strong advocate in the field,” said Jeff Walters, the Harold Bailey Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Science and director of the IGC graduate program.

“One of the goals of our program is that students understand that policy should be based on the best available science as part of the decision-making process in policymaking. How people get scientific information in order to make these decisions is something we talk a lot about in our graduate program’s seminar,” Walters said.

Chartered in 2015, the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech houses the Interfaces of Global Change graduate program and each year sponsors several visiting speakers for the seminar series, one of whom is nominated by the students.

For more information on the event, email Gloria Schoenholtz, Global Change Center coordinator.

Written by Cassandra Hockman.

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