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Cary to host April 11 lecture on ecological success stories

In the leadup to Earth Day, discover how ecosystem science has led to a cleaner environment, and how lessons learned can be applied to today's challenges.

Photo by Sven Lachmann

With Earth Day approaching, join Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies on April 11 to discover inspiring examples of ecological success stories, where science has led to effective solutions and a cleaner environment for all.

In the hybrid event, Cary Institute senior research fellow Peter Groffman will discuss how ecosystem science spurred policy and management decisions that led to the return of the bald eagle, curbed acid rain, and reduced nutrient pollution to freshwaters. Groffman will discuss these success stories, and how lessons learned can be applied to current challenges, including climate change and science denial.

“Ecology has been very powerful in its ability to diagnose problems, propose solutions, have those solutions implemented by society, and then track the success,” says Groffman, who studies urban ecology and how climate change alters microbial processes that support plant growth and air and water quality.

The seeds of the April 11 talk were planted at a conference Groffman led on the successes, frontiers, and limitations of ecology. The idea resurfaced after he was recently elected the 2025 president of the Ecological Society of America, he says. “I'm very proud to be the ESA president-elect, because I think we've done really well as a scientific discipline.”

What makes ecology such a successful discipline? Groffman credits ecology’s collaborative nature, its ability to combine perspectives from different disciplines, and its genuine efforts to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, unlike in many branches of science, women have earned half of all ecology PhDs for the last 20 years.

“White men aren’t the only people who have good ideas,” says Groffman. “The more we can bring in people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, the stronger and more creative our science will be.”

Case in point: It was a female scientist — Rachel Carson — who revealed to the world that the pesticide DDT was killing off animals (including the emblematic bald eagle) and contaminating the world's food supply. As Groffman will detail in his talk, Carson’s book not only led to a nationwide DDT ban, but it also kicked off the modern environmental movement, the first Earth Day, and the passage of pivotal environmental legislation that has dramatically cleaned up America’s skies and waters.

“In order to figure out the effects on bald eagles, you had to have strong science about birds, and about pesticides, streams, and insects, and you had to put it all together,” says Groffman, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of this environmental success story.

These traits that ecology values so much — diversity and multidisciplinary collaboration — are also going to be key in helping to address climate change and other ongoing challenges, Groffman asserts. The impacts of climate change cut across nearly all parts of the living and nonliving world; as such, it is going to take people with a wide range of strengths and specialties to solve it.

Although he acknowledges the challenges ahead, Groffman has a positive outlook.

“I think we are already rising to the challenge of climate change,” he says. “We’ve done really good science. We have proposed the solutions, and the solutions are being implemented. Whether it's going to be fast enough, I don’t know. But I think in 2050 we’re going to look back and say, ‘Sometime around 2016, they really started to turn the ship around and get serious about decarbonizing the economy.’”

Register to watch the talk in-person or online on April 11 at 7pm ET.