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Daniel Simberloff

Dan Simberloff

KNOXVILLE—A University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professor has received one of the highest honors to be bestowed upon an American scientist.

Daniel Simberloff, distinguished professor and the Gore-Hunger Professor of Environmental Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in research.

Simberloff is the third in UT history to receive the honor and joins eighty-three new members from US institutions, as well as twenty-one foreign associates from fifteen countries. He is in the company of new members from institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Duke and the University of North Carolina.

Simberloff is considered one of the world’s leading scientists on invasive species and a groundbreaking ecologist who once contradicted his own highly acclaimed theory, thereby strengthening the ecology field. Most recently, he is the editor of the new Encyclopedia of Biological Invasions, an 800-page opus that documents invasions worldwide. He’s described as a humble, caring mentor and has helped to build UT’s ecology and evolutionary biology department since it was formed.

“We are incredibly proud of Dr. Simberloff for this achievement,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “This is a tremendous accomplishment and an honor extended to very few of the world’s most esteemed scientists. His work helps us understand the world we live in and how better to care for it. His contributions to the field and the university illustrate how talented faculty are key drivers in our goal of becoming a Top 25 public research university.”

Simberloff founded and directs the Institute for Biological Invasions. He came to UT in 1997 from Florida State and was named to the Nancy Gore-Hunger Chair of Excellence, established by former Vice President Al Gore in honor of his late sister. In 2006, he was awarded the Eminent Ecologist Award, the most prestigious award an ecologist can win.

“This is a wonderful tribute to Dan’s history of excellence as a scientist,” said Theresa Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It is a terrific honor for him, for the college, and the university.”

Simberloff’s work is studied by most any undergraduate ecology student.

“Dan is the essential ecological iconoclast,” said Nathan Sanders, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who was a post-doctoral researcher mentored by Simberloff. “Skim through the roughly 45 conservation biology, ecology, biogeography and general biology textbooks on his shelf, and his work was cited in every single textbook.”

His body of work includes more than 500 peer-reviewed papers, popular articles, and book reviews. His research began assessing the theory of island biogeography, which proposes that the number of species found on an undisturbed island is determined by immigration and extinction. This research, conducted with Harvard’s E. O. Wilson, won the prestigious Mercer Award in 1971. However, in 1976 Simberloff courageously contradicted this widely accepted theory with research that showed most insect turnover in this assemblage was ephemeral and did not, therefore, confirm the theory.

His recent research has led him to become the world’s expert on the threats imposed by invasive species. He has written pointed and controversial critiques of the wisdom of biological control and raised the specter of invasional meltdown.

Daniel Simberloff and his wife, Mary Tebo, with former Vice President Al Gore
Daniel Simberloff, distinguished professor and the Gore-Hunger Professor of Environmental Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and his wife, Mary Tebo, with former Vice President Al Gore

“In the modern world, boundaries between continents and habitats have been shrunken and one of the biggest threats to biodiversity is the introduction to nonnative species,” said Gary McCracken, department head of ecology and evolutionary biology. “Dan is a leader in invasive species, their conservation implications, and their impact on the loss of biodiversity.

Simberloff credits his colleagues, graduate students, and funds from his Nancy Gore-Hunger Chair to support a post-doctoral fellow for this distinction.

“I guess all this is to say that I view the NAS election as more a recognition of a research program that it is truly a product of a team of people,” said Simberloff.  “I’ve just been a thread that has persisted through its changing composition over the years.”

Simberloff was elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993. He has been a member of the board of governors of the Nature Conservancy and of the species survival commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Simberloff has worked in the development of the international park system, management of endangered species, and creation of natural areas based on scientific principles.

“Dan arrived at UT during the beginning of the department,” said McCracken. “He has worked very hard to build this department, has served on practically every search committee, and regularly teaches classes to graduate and undergraduate students. He is a totally engaged faculty member and a wonderful person.”

“On top of Dan’s amazing record of accomplishments and accolades, it’s really hard to imagine a more kind and caring mentor for so many ecologists,” said Sanders. “Dan’s list of friends, colleagues and former students really is a who’s who of ecology.”

Upon learning the news, Simberloff was surprised to hear he is only the third NAS member elected from UT.

“Trust me, there are many really excellent scientists at UT,” he said. “We have a group of young and mid-level faculty who would compete with any department of EEB in the US, and we have several senior people who are widely known as leaders in their fields. I know this because I spend a lot of time visiting departments around the country giving talks and meeting with faculty and grad students. ”

Simberloff earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard University.

Simberloff joins a body of approximately 2,200 members and 420 foreign associates. Members are elected to the NAS in recognition of their distinguished research achievements.

To read the official announcement, visit the NAS website.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)