Genetics Solutions to Global Change in Wildlands and Urban Environments
Tom Whitham is Regents’ Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Co-Director of the Merriam - Powell Center for Environmental Research. In 2011, Whitham received the prestigious Eminent Ecologist Award by the Ecological Society of America — the group’s highest honor — for his outstanding body of work and his training of a new generation of scientists. Whitham served as the primary scientific advisor of an award-winning PBS documentary, A Thousand Invisible Cords: Connecting Genes to Ecosystems, which has aired more than 1000 times in the U.S. and abroad. Whitham has authored or co-authored more than 260 papers in scientific journals, including Science and Nature.
With the simultaneous challenges of invasive species, climate change, and altered stream flows, restoration for current and future conditions has become a daunting proposition. In a relatively stable environment, planting with local stock is scientifically sound, but with a rapidly changing environment, the use of local stock will become an increasingly bad practice. Because of high genetic variation in most plants, using field trials of the National Science Foundation funded Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA), we can identify the plant species, genotypes and source populations that are best suited to survive future conditions. This approach needs to be applied at the landscape level in wildlands and in cities experiencing “heat island” effects that make them even more susceptible to global changes. With the success of restoration projects costing millions of dollars at stake, we need the most advanced science available to minimize project risk and obtain effective long-term restoration.