Professor Earl Werner, “a giant of ecology,” retires


Jan 23, 2014 Bookmark and Share

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Earl Werner

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Earl Werner

Professor Earl Werner retired January 1, 2014, after 28 years at the University of Michigan. 

"Earl has been a great friend and colleague for the past 40 years,” said EEB Professor and Chair John Vandermeer. “His research has been and still is exemplary for its use of basic ecological theory to drive critical experiments. His world-famous work on indirect interactions in ecological communities has become standard fare in the field.”

According to the U-M Regents communication about his retirement, Werner’s research focused on the nature of species interactions and the consequences of these interactions for the structure of ecological communities, using fish and larval amphibian communities as model systems to address these questions. A major focus of his work has been to understand how animals behave in the face of conflicting demands, in particular those associated with foraging gain/predation risk tradeoffs, and how these individual behaviors are manifest in community phenomena. He has published over 90 scientific papers on subjects ranging from the community ecology of amphibians to the philosophy of ecological research. He actively collaborated in published research with over 50 colleagues around the world.

“Earl has been an inspirational colleague since I first met him even before we were both faculty at Michigan,” said Professor Deborah Goldberg. “His incredibly thoughtful and rigorous, but always gentle, critiques of my ideas and approaches had a huge impact on my own science and teaching. Earl is a giant of ecology who played key roles in developing multiple areas of ecology, including linking foraging behavior and competition, predation effects on community structure, trait-mediated indirect effects, evolution of metamorphosis, and metacommunity dynamics. Perhaps most impressive is his mastery of the optimal balance between investigation of mechanism and of pattern. This balance allowed him to succeed in generalizing across systems when most others got stuck in ever-more reductionist investigations without getting back to the original pattern or documenting patterns without explaining. We are going to miss his quiet thoughtfulness very, very much.” 

Werner received his A.B. degree from Columbia University, New York City, N.Y. in 1966 and his Ph.D. degree in zoology-ecology from Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich., in 1972. After over a decade as a professor at Michigan State University, he joined the University of Michigan faculty as full professor in 1986.

In 1978 he was the recipient of the prestigious George Mercer Award of the Ecological Society of America, and between 1994 and 1997 served on the scientific advisory board of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. He was vice president of the Ecological Society of America from 1985 – 1986, and served as editor of Ecology and Ecological Monographs from 1980 – 1982. Werner was director of the E.S. George Reserve from 2004 – 2013.

"Earl Werner has had a great impact on the field of ecology through his publications and his students, and has been the leading scientist in our department almost since he arrived,” said Professor George Kling.  “Remarkably, he made this high mark with a refreshing lack of self-promotion and a warm abundance of self-sacrifice in the benefit of his colleagues."

We wish all the best to our newest Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Earl Werner.

Read more in previous EEB web news

Earl Werner sampling in a pond at the E.S. George Reserve

Earl Werner sampling in a pond at the E.S. George Reserve