Two NAU researchers elected as ESA fellows

Ecological Society of America esa

Two NAU professors have been elected as fellows of the Ecological Society of America: Michelle Mack and Catherine “Kitty” Gehring.

“NAU is extremely honored to have two new Ecological Society of America Fellows in Kitty Gehring and Michelle Mack,” said Bill Grabe, vice president for Research. “Both have made outstanding contributions to ecosystems science and both have raised considerably the profile of NAU as a leading center for environmental research.”

Mack is a professor of ecosystem ecology in the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society. The fellowship is in recognition of her seminal research contributions in plant ecology, spanning population to ecosystem science, including invasions, nutrient cycling, disturbance, and climate forcing, with emphasis on plant ecology in the arctic and boreal regions. It also recognizes Mack’s leadership in climate change and fire ecology, training future ecologists, and outstanding science communication and outreach to the public.

Professor Michelle Mack
Michelle Mack

Her work has elucidated the ways in which the properties of individual plants influence the long-term dynamics of communities and ecosystems, particularly under circumstances of rapid change, due to climate change and to disturbances such as fire. Mack’s research is recognized for being highly mechanistic, employing both observations and experiments, and for embracing the importance of dynamic change to understand the impact of plants on ecosystems.

She has published more than 100 articles, many in the top journals, such as Science, Nature, Ecology and Ecosystems. She has garnered more than $30 million in collaborative funding since 2000, and has won numerous awards for her research, teaching and mentoring.

“Michelle Mack has a powerful intellect and is a natural synthesizer and leader and is a superb scientist, who contributes strongly to science, not only through her own research, but through her leadership in major scientific programs,” said F. Stuart Chapin III, professor with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “She is among the top ecologists in the country”, said Chapin, who is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and who supported Mack’s nomination.

Mack has held many leadership positions in the field, including co-principal investigator of the Bonanza Creek Long-term Ecological Research program in Alaska, member of the NASA science planning team for the ABoVE project, and board member of the Ecological Society of America as well as the Land Institute.

Gehring, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University and member of the Merriam-Powell Center executive committee, also was elected as a fellow by the Ecological Society of America.

Professor Kitty Gehring
Kitty Gehring

The fellowship is in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the field of community genetics and the role of plant genetics in defining microbial communities.

Gehring’s research explores how host plant genetics influences fungal abundance and diversity; the impact of climate change on interactions between host plants, fungi and insects; and the below ground mechanisms by which invasive plants may harm native plants. She has more than 90 publications in premier journals including, Science, Nature and Ecology.

“Kitty has been a pioneer in the field of community genetics, focusing on the role of plant genetics in defining microbial communities,” said Regents’ Professor Thomas Whitham, who jointly nominated Gehring for the fellowship with Regents’ Professor Nancy Johnson. “In short, she has clearly become a scientific leader in these areas and in the training of many graduate students, a whole new generation of scientists are building upon her advances.”

Gehring regularly teaches courses in ecology, mycology and biology. While at NAU, she has advised both graduate and undergraduate students, receiving the Outstanding Advisor Award from the Biology Graduate Student Association in 2012.

In addition to her research and teaching activities, Gehring served as the co-chair for the Eighth International Conference on Mycorrhiza in 2015 and the director of the Genes-to-Environment IGERT Program, which offers a yearlong fellowship involving research and coursework to doctoral students and recently concluded.