2013 Highlights from NCEAS Directors

Dear NCEAS Community,

Happy New Year from Santa Barbara!  We hope to connect with many of you in the coming year – whether through a submission to an upcoming Call for Proposals, as a participant in a new Working Group, or hosting your own collaboration workshop at NCEAS. As we head into 2014, we would like to take a moment to share with you some of NCEAS' 2013 highlights


NCEAS hosted around 600 visiting scientists and other professionals in 2013 and nearly 6,000 over the lifetime of the Center. We had 19 active working group projects, totaling more than 500 projects since 1995!

In July, we announced a new scientific collaboration launched with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) establishing SNAP: Science for Nature and People. The collaboration seeks to answer the question: "How can protecting nature help ensure food, energy, water, and security for 9 billion or more people?" SNAP is generously funded through founding grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Two SNAP projects are underway: Conserving western Amazonia’s freshwater ecosystems & services (PIs: Michael Goulding, Craig Groves, and Mariana Varese) and Integrating natural defenses into coastal disaster risk reduction (PIs: Michael Beck and Jane Carter Ingram). We also issued the first SNAP Call for Proposals and received more than thirty proposals.  Stay tuned, NCEAS will be kicking off several new SNAP Working Group projects shortly. The next SNAP RFP will be issued in March 2014.

In September, NCEAS began a three-year collaborative project led by UCSB researcher Paul Berkman titled Arctic Options: Holistic Integration for Arctic Coastal-Marine Sustainability. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Arctic Options will analyze scenarios of Arctic change to develop a set governance and infrastructure options that address national interests and common interests, environmental protection, social equity, and economic prosperity.

In October, NCEAS was asked by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the scientific peer review process for the status of the gray wolf as an endangered species. While not a typical NCEAS activity, the assembled panel and scientific review process conducted by NCEAS past resident, Steven Courtney, were well received by the Service.

Throughout the year, NCEAS continued to host our final cohort of NSF-funded Working Groups. From kelp forests to tropical forests, climate change response modeling to analysis tools for animal tracking using miniature geologgers, these Working Groups will be publishing their findings in the years to come. A full list of active projects are listed on the NCEAS website.

Well beyond the lifespan of the traditional NCEAS funding cycle, NCEAS groups continue to produce a steady stream of influential publications. Check out a few examples below selected from a long list of 2013 peer-reviews research publications.


  • In Nature Climate Change, Elvira Poloczanska and co-authors reported that warming oceans are causing marine species to change breeding, feeding, and migration timing, as well as shift where they live - on a scale comparable to or greater than those observed on land. The study was cited in more than 100 publications worldwide including ABC Australia (Australia), ANI News (Asia), Die Welt (Germany), Le Monde (France), and MSNBC.
  • Kevin Lafferty and co-authors published six high-quality food webs complete with parasites, like tapeworms and flukes, alongside free-living species, like birds, crabs, and clams. Their findings on the role of parasites in these food webs (PLoS Biology) were picked up by Science Magazine, PhysOrg, and several others.
  • Lesley Lancaster and co-authors reported evidence that California’s current biodiversity primarily results from low extinction rates, as opposed to elevated specialization or immigration rates, as previously believed (Evolution). This study was covered by Discovery, Futurity, LA Times, Science Daily, and many other international newspapers.
  • Ecology Letters published Erin Mordecai’s and co-authors’ findings that the optimal temperature for malaria transmission is 25 °C, 6 °C lower than previous models, altering predictions about how climate change will affect malaria. New Scientist, Health Medicine Network, and other outlets also covered up this study.
  • MORE


Matt Jones, Mark Schildhauer, and their teams are creating and advancing technologies and methods in informatics that enable robust, reproducible science at NCEAS and beyond. Building on the strengths of KNB, Kepler, and DataONE, the Informatics Team and collaborators won two significant NSF grants: 1) the ISEES project which is a large collaboration of scientists and programmers to help shape a vision for a new software institute for environmental science; and 2) the Community Dynamics Toolbox for the analysis of long-term ecological dynamics providing a new set of tools for quantifying how communities change over time.

GulfWatch Alaska: To facilitate a thorough understanding of the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, NCEAS has been collating and documenting 25 years of historical data in preparation for two cross-cutting synthesis Working Groups. A 2014 Call for Proposals will seek proposals for full-systems analyses of the effects of the 1989 oil spill on Prince William Sound and the state of recovery of the affected ecosystems.


In June, NCEAS conducted the first Summer Institute, a three-week intensive training workshop in ecological analysis and synthesis for early-career researchers.  Response was overwhelming with nearly 400 international applicants for only 22 seats in the workshop. Participants received hands-on guided experience using best practices in the technical aspects that underlie successful synthesis – from data discovery and integration to analysis and visualization, and special techniques for collaborative scientific research. Our thanks to Ben Bolker (McMaster University), who co-led the course and provided the students with superb instruction in computational and statistical ecology. The Summer Institute 2013 was generously funded by The David and Lucille Packard Foundation.

In August, NCEAS signed a Collaboration Agreement with the School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-Sen University, to collaborate in training postdoctoral research fellows and to jointly host Working Groups. Thanks to Professor Fangliang He for initiating this partnership between NCEAS and a major Chinese university.

Staff comings and goings

NCEAS added an Associate Director of Communications and Outreach to our Leadership team. LeeAnne French comes to NCEAS with a strategic communications consulting background and recently graduated from UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Management & Science. Everyone’s favorite scientific programmer, Jim Regetz, was lured away by industry and we are still searching for the right person to fill his shoes. Help us with our search by circulating this opportunity.

We closed out 2013 saying goodbye to NCEAS Deputy Director, Stephanie Hampton who has served NCEAS since 2006. She was recruited by Washington State University to direct WSU's system-wide Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach (CEREO). While we will miss Stephanie’s professionalism, intelligence, and passion, the move to WSU is a richly deserved opportunity.


NCEAS Residents

Last year we had nine postdocs in residence at NCEAS, increasing the total number of outstanding postdocs at NCEAS since our inception to a total of 120. The 2013 postdoc cohort included: Ben Adams (now at University of Auckland), Mark Browne (fate and transport of plastics in the marine environment), Mariah Carbone (synthesis of soil respiration across multiple spatial and temporal scales), Derek Gray (now at California University of Pennsylvania), Stacy Rebich Hespanha (effectiveness of scientific data practices), Mary Hunsicker (new in 2013, working on the Ocean Tipping Points project), Katie Longo (Ocean Health Index), Benoit Parmentier (global geospatial data for climate change ecological research), and Josephine Rodriguez (now at University of Virginia’s College at Wise).

Congratulations to former postdocs Marissa L.Baskett and Duncan N.L. Menge, who were named Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 2013 Early Career Fellows! In addition, Duncan Menge and his co-authors, Lars Hedin and Stephen Pacala, received the ESA Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award for "Nitrogen and phosphorus limitation over long-term ecosystem development in terrestrial ecosystems," which was one of the important outcomes of Duncan’s work during his tenure at NCEAS.

Ben Halpern and his team issued updated Ocean Health Index (OHI) scores for 2013.  OHI rates the world’s ocean health on a scale of 0 – 100 based on measures of ecological health and human benefits.  In June, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans endorsed OHI, (OHI funded by Conservation International). Join us in congratulating Ben on his appointment as Professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Management & Science.

Center Associates Carrie Kappel and Kim Selkoe and their team have made major headway on the Ocean Tipping Points project analysis and will be implementing ideas and test results in two case study locations: Haida Gwaii (in British Columbia) and Hawaii.

NCEAS Associate and Science Outreach Director for COMPASS, Nancy Baron, was honored and awarded the Benchley Award for Excellence in Media. Congratulations Nancy!

Stay in touch! We will have a couple Calls for Proposals this year and look forward to your submissions. If you are interested in hosting a collaboration workshop at NCEAS, please send your request to nceas [at] nceas.ucsb.edu.

Frank Davis, Director
Mark Schildhauer, Director of Computing
Matt Jones, Director of Informatics Research
LeeAnne French, Associate Director Communications and Outreach


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Posted on January 27, 2014