November 04, 2008

Gibson to present Outstanding Scholar Lecture

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Illinois may be known as “The Prairie State,” but there isn’t a whole lot of it left here.

A faculty member recently honored for his work at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, however, will discuss ways to remedy that, as well as describe how the prairie’s dominant plant species form the matrix of those dense, organic areas, during this year’s Outstanding Scholar Lecture at the University.

David J. Gibson will give a lecture titled “The Role of Foundation Species in the North American Prairie: Genetic Diversity and Community Assembly.” The event is set for 3 p.m. Friday,

Nov. 7, in room 1059, Life Science III. A reception will follow the event.

Gibson said he is excited about the event.

“It’s a tremendous honor, and an opportunity to let people know what my research is all about,” Gibson said. “It’s helped me think about what I’ve been doing in the bigger picture as a researcher. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Gibson, a plant biologist and researcher, is the Outstanding Scholar for this academic year. He is a professor in the Department of Plant Biology in the College of Science. The award is part of the annual Excellence Through Commitment honors program, established in 2004 to recognize ongoing contributions by tenured and term faculty, staff and graduate assistants throughout the University

During his 16 years at SIUC, Gibson has helped push the University into the international limelight with his research and leadership. Throughout his quarter-century career, Gibson has published a critically acclaimed book, "Methods in Comparative Plant Population," and nearly100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and books. 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. In 2006, the College of Science named Gibson as its Outstanding Researcher.

Gibson said his lecture on Friday will cover the plants most often associated with the prairie, such as Indian grass and big bluestem.

“They are the charismatic species, the ones that really characterize the prairie,” he said. “I’ll discuss how they form the glue for the whole system and how it works as a system.”

Despite Illinois’ nickname, Gibson said there remains less than .01 percent of high-quality prairie land in the state.

“It’s a big challenge to manage what we have got left, and there’s a lot of public interest in restorations,” he said. Gibson also will discuss different methods for prairie restoration during his lecture.

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 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. 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.

In some of his latest research, Gibson focuses on the contrasting ecology of rare and invasive species.

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 principal 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.