Carnegie Museum of Natural History launches second of its new Centers: Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems
Renowned researcher and educator John Wenzel hired to direct Center’s research and public programming
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania … Carnegie Museum of Natural History announces the launch of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems, the second of five new strategic Centers created to re-frame how the museum leverages its world-renowned research, its exhibitions, and its public programming to meet the challenges and issues of today. The purpose of the new Center is to create interdisciplinary research and educational projects that address some of the most pressing scientific questions of our time: questions regarding changes to the environment—past, present, and future—and how these changes affect life on Earth. The museum launched its first new Center, the Center for Lifelong Science Learning, in November 2010.
The new Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems will focus on interdisciplinary projects that draw upon and enhance the museum’s existing diverse scientific specialties by encouraging collaborations with many other partnering institutions. A particular motivation for the new Center comes from the museum’s strategic decision to more closely integrate the work at its field station, Powdermill Nature Reserve, with ongoing research and education initiatives at the museum.
“The museum’s traditional research strengths in paleontology, evolution, and biodiversity studies will all be enhanced by the ecological perspectives that our Powdermill researchers bring to the table,” stated former Carnegie Museum of Natural History Director Sam Taylor. “The new Center will also enable us to attract new resources and talents to Powdermill to study the biodiversity crisis and further our mission of science literacy.
“The major scientific challenges of today don’t come labeled by academic fields,” says Taylor, “and our new multidisciplinary Centers create the flexibility and creativity to address these contemporary issues. With the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems, the museum now has a framework for projects that focus on understanding the dynamics of biodiversity in our mid-Appalachian region as well as in endangered habitats worldwide.”
Museum educators and programming staff will be a part of the Center’s projects from their inception, and will work with the scientific staff to create more opportunities for public engagement in research, outreach, and restoration projects at the museum and at Powdermill Nature Reserve, in Westmoreland County.
The Center will be led by internationally recognized entomologist and educator John Wenzel, who joins the museum’s staff as Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems. Wenzel comes to Carnegie Museum of Natural History from The Ohio State University (OSU), where he was a professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology and where he served as director of the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity for ten years.
“What we’re talking about is a real change in the way natural history science is conducted,” Wenzel says. “During the 20th century, natural history became specialized, which resulted in scholars who are exceedingly knowledgeable about their fields. But now, with the accelerated pace of habitat degradation and species loss worldwide, we have to thread those specialties together to respond to these crises.
“We need to look toward research partnerships and revenue sources we haven’t explored before,” says Wenzel. “Industries reliant on biodiversity, for example, should be investing back into the science of discovery that fuels their advancement and growth.”
Initial funding for the Center comes, in part, through a grant from The R.P. Simmons Family Foundation, a long-time supporter of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The importance of Powdermill Nature Reserve
Established in 1956 as the museum’s biological research station, Powdermill Nature Reserve’s continuous database of biodiversity information stretches back to 1961.
A primary goal of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems is to build the museum’s capacity to better utilize Powdermill as a living laboratory for ecological research, and as a site for visiting researchers and educators studying the mid-Appalachian ecosystem. The Center will manage the Powdermill location and will promote wider use of its research and educational facilities. Some of the Center’s forthcoming projects that have components at Powdermill include studies and programming related to invasive species, the location’s 50-year-long bird banding program, and the impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas development—a topic of increasing importance across Pennsylvania and particularly the Laurel Highlands. [See projects backgrounder]
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website, www.carnegiemnh.org.