Colorado State University Names Ecologist as University Distinguished Professor, the Highest Recognition Given to Faculty

John Wiens, Colorado State University professor of biology and senior faculty member in the interdisciplinary Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, has been selected as a University Distinguished Professor, the highest recognition given by the university for outstanding accomplishments in research and scholarship.

"Professor Wiens represents the caring, dedication and professional expertise of our faculty at Colorado State," said President Albert Yates. "His work with students and scholars throughout the world has helped advance our understanding of the complexity and challenges of ecological systems, and his work will continue to provide a solid framework for research and academic studies in the years to come."

"John certainly is deserving of this recognition," said John Raich, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. "In addition to being known as the father of the discipline of landscape ecology through his work on spatial patterns in ecology, he is well known for his assessment of impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on marine bird populations. He is the senior scientific leader of the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology and teaches and advises students in that program as well as in the department of biology."

Wiens’ interests lie primarily in how ecological systems vary in time and space. His research recently has shifted toward landscape ecology, which provides a framework for integrating the effects of spatial heterogeneity on populations and communities. Much of his earlier work dealt with the structure of bird communities and focused on understanding what factors produced that structure and how environmental variations affected the linkages between processes and patterns.

Wiens’ active interest in bird communities most recently involved studies of the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on marine-oriented birds in Prince William Sound in Alaska.

"With my students, I’ve approached questions in landscape ecology using a combination of computer modeling and field studies using ‘experimental model systems,’" Wiens said. "These studies have employed insects – beetles, ants, and grasshoppers – to investigate how landscape structure influences individual movements and, as a consequence, the distribution of organisms across a landscape mosaic."

The Graduate Degree Program in Ecology is an interdisciplinary program for students with interests in a wide range of ecological subjects. The program, administered by the Colleges of Natural Resources and Natural Sciences, provides advanced training in current ecological methods, theories, concepts, controversies and applications.

Wiens teaches graduate courses in Community and Ecosystem Ecology, Landscape Ecology and Presenting Research in Biology.

"I strongly believe that students should select problems that interest them, not just things that interest me," Wiens said.

As a consequence, his students have conducted studies on a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate systems, ranging from scorpions and ants through lizards and birds to bighorn sheep. Their work has been conducted in a variety of areas, from deserts and grasslands in North America to Alaskan rainforests to the Argentine Chaco and the Western Australian wheatbelt.

"I am honored to be chosen to join the University Distinguished Professors," Wiens said. "One powerful and positive aspect that drew me to Colorado State was the opportunity to be involved in basic and applied science. The ecology program has evolved into a strong mix of basic, conceptual ecology and the rigorous, scientific application of those concepts."

Wiens’ wife, Beatrice Van Horne, is a professor of biology who began her career at Colorado State the same time as Wiens in 1986. The two soon will be conducting a joint research project with the EPA.

Wiens, who was born in Moscow, Idaho, received a bachelor’s in zoology in 1961 from the University of Oklahoma-Norman, and master’s and doctoral degrees in 1963 and 1966, respectively, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Wiens was the first-ever Visiting Research Scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Division of Wildlife and Ecology in Darwin in 1996. He also was Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver in 1993-94.

He received the Distinguished Landscape Ecologist Award from the International Association for Landscape Ecology in 1996. In 1995, he won the Faculty Graduate Teaching Award from the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State.

A major, two-volume publication, "The Ecology of Bird Communities," was published in 1989 and reviewed by "Science," "Nature," "Quarterly Review of Biology," the "London Times" and 22 other peer review journals.

He received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award for studies in Australia in 1984-85.

Prior to joining the Colorado State faculty as professor of ecology in 1986, he served as Distinguished Professor in the biology department at the University of New Mexico from 1978-86 and was chairman of the department of zoology at Oregon State University from 1975-78. Wiens also served appointments as professor, research associate and teaching assistant at Oregon State University, University of Wisconsin and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station.

He was visiting research professor at Colorado State’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory in 1973-74.