Training Grants

GAANN Training for Bio-Environmental Change

Program Directors: Michael Coates and Susan Kidwell
Administrator: Melissa Williams
Openings: 6 Predoctoral, 0 Postdoctoral, 0 Short-term

Within the biological sciences, the responses of natural and managed systems to environmental change are among the most scientifically challenging and socially important issues confronting the nation. The global acceleration of direct and indirect human pressures on biodiversity and the ecosystem services critical to human well-being is well-known, with huge increases since World War II in habitat conversion, wild species exploitation, species introductions, biodiversity loss, and disruption of biogeochemical cycles, superimposed on multiple dimensions of climate change. We apply the insights gained from our long-running integrative evolutionary biology program to build a new program in evolutionary environmental biology that will bring a critical longer-term perspective to the challenges facing biodiversity in the modern world, where human activities affect natural systems at a global scale. The University of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology (CEB) is an inter-departmental, inter-institutional training program that engages professionals across an exceptionally broad spectrum of ecological, evolutionary, and earth sciences, including the applied sides of conservation biology and climate science. The need for a new generation of biologists with broad temporal perspectives on biological response to environmental change is both clear and increasingly urgent. Ecologists and conservation biologists are recognizing that unexpected relationships emerge as study durations exceed a decade, that directional change in climate and other factors can undermine experimental controls, and that field experiments often suffer from legacy effects, such as species depletion or habitat modification. Longer-term perspectives, including young disciplines such as conservation paleobiology and ancient DNA, provide unique means to (1) discriminate natural versus anthropogenic changes, (2) recognize processes and links that operate only on multi-year to -millennial time-frames, and (3) test for general rules of species and ecosystem behavior, including under conditions absent today but relevant to the future. The next generation of biologists needs integrated training in the methods and theory of evolutionary and historical sciences (biogeography, systematics, phylogeny, paleobiology, etc.) and of relevant earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences and data sciences, along with the ability to interact and communicate with diverse audiences including policy makers. Our program offers the essential educational breadth for a unique training program for GAANN fellows, taking advantage of the exceptional concentration of biological and earth scientists in the Chicago area. CEB already draws upon departments, facilities, and collections at the University and the nearby Field Museum, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Morton Arboretum, combining strengths across a remarkable range of disciplines.