March 20, 2008

Plant biologist Gibson wins top scholar honor

by Tim Crosby

Gibson David

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A plant biologist and researcher is this academic year's Outstanding Scholar at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

David J. Gibson, professor in the Department of Plant Biology in the College of Science at SIUC, is the winner of the award, which is part of the annual Excellence Through Commitment honors. Established in 2004, the awards program recognizes ongoing contributions by tenured and term faculty, staff and graduate assistants throughout the University.

The honor includes a $7,500 monetary award, $7,500 in other-than-salaries support, a certificate, the title of Distinguished Scholar, a reserved parking space for one year and a wristwatch provided by the SIU Alumni Association.

The University will honor this year's winners at a dinner set for Tuesday, April 22, in the SIUC Student Center.

During his 12 years at SIUC, Gibson has helped push the University into the international limelight with his research and leadership, officials said.

"He is truly one of SIUC's stars," said Dale H. Vitt, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Biology.

During his 25 years as a researcher, Gibson has published a critically acclaimed book, "Methods in Comparative Plant Population," and 94 papers in peer-reviewed journals and books, Vitt said. His papers have appeared in 42 different journals including some of the most prestigious in the science community — Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Journal of Applied Ecology and Global Change Biology, among others.

As a faculty member, Gibson has shepherded 22 master's and doctoral students through their degree programs while garnering more than $1.5 million in research funds from local, state and federal sources, including the National Science Foundation. Much of his research has involved international collaborations, Vitt said.

"David Gibson is truly an outstanding scientist who has an international reputation," Vitt said. "His research in plant interactions and his book … represent outstanding contributions."

Gibson earned his doctorate in 1985 at the University of Wales, Bangor, United Kingdom, where he studied with P. Greig-Smith, an international authority on ecological theory. He earned his master's degree in botany in 1981 at the University of Oklahoma and his Bachelor of Science degree in 1979 at the University of Reading, United Kingdom.

Gibson did post-doctoral work as fellow at the Division of Pinelands Research in 1985 at Rutgers University. He was a research associate at Kansas State University in 1986 and staff scientist for the International Satellite Land Surface Climatology Project examining the Konza Prairie in 1987.

He became an assistant scientist in 1987 at Kansas State University and became an assistant professor in 1988 at the University of West Florida. He joined the faculty at SIUC as an assistant professor in 1992, becoming a full professor in 2000.

Gibson's focuses his work in the area of grasses and grasslands ecology. His work on the Konza Prairie in Kansas revealed the long-term effects of fire on grasslands and is widely cited by other researchers, Vitt said. Gibson later showed the research held ramifications for the overall management of tall-grass prairie, and in Illinois he has shown how the effects of fire are important for grasslands restoration and management. He also focuses on interactions among plant and other organisms, Vitt said. In his latest research, Gibson focuses on the contrasting ecology of rare and invasive species.

In 2006, the College of Science named Gibson as its Outstanding Researcher. He also is an elected fellow of the Institute of Biology in the United Kingdom, the highest rank within the professional organization representing biologists in the U.K.

Gibson is one of three principle editors for the Journal of Ecology, serving in that position at the oldest international plant ecology journal since 1998. He is an editorial board member for the Journal of Vegetation Science and from 1991 to 1996 served as a subject matter editor for the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society.

International critics have favorably reviewed Gibson's 2001 book, which explains how to design and explore research questions in population ecology.

"David is one of the primary reasons why the plant biology department is internationally known," Vitt said.