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Paleoecology Lecture – Looking Backward, Thinking Forward
January 15 @ 7:00pm
Cathy Whitlock: “Looking backward, thinking forward” free public lecture Jan. 15th @7pm at MOR
BOZEMAN — Cathy Whitlock, Montana State University’s newest Regents Professor, will discuss the path and people that have shaped her career as a paleoecologist during a free public lecture set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Museum of the Rockies’ Hager Auditorium.
Whitlock, who in November was named a Montana University System Regents Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in MSU’s College of Letters and Science, will present “Looking backward, thinking forward: Perspectives of a paleoecologist.” Paleoecology is a discipline that looks at the past to understand how ecosystems have evolved in the face of changing climate, natural disturbances and human activity.
In her lecture, Whitlock will describe the approaches she and her team developed during the 1988 Yellowstone fires that are now used to inform resource management decisions and conservation efforts around the world and her team’s discoveries about the history of fire, people and climate in both hemispheres.
She will also share her thoughts on the tough question of whether — given projected climate change — knowledge of the past is still relevant for understanding the future in places like Montana.
“I was drawn to the field of paleoecology 40 years ago because each new discovery gave us a better picture of the past, and that detective work was exciting,” Whitlock said. “Now, beyond satisfying my curiosity, knowledge of the past has become one of the best tools for understanding how ecosystems will adjust to future climate change. This realization has brought new meaning to my responsibilities as a scientist.”
The lecture precedes Whitlock’s formal induction as a member of the National Academy of Sciences at its annual meeting in the spring, an honor to which she was elected last May.
“We are thrilled to celebrate Cathy Whitlock’s prestigious recognition as a Regents Professor, and as a newly elected member of the NAS, and could not imagine a better way to do it than to hear her perspective gained from four decades of research and experience,” said MSU Vice President of Research Renee Reijo Pera, whose office is sponsoring the lecture.
Whitlock joined the MSU faculty in 2004 and established the MSU Paleoecology Lab, which focuses on reconstructing vegetation, fire and climate histories to understand how past ecosystems responded to climate change in order to better understand how ecosystems may respond to future climate change.The lab supports post-doctorate, graduate and undergraduate students and visiting scientists from around the world.
At MSU, Whitlock served as founding director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems from 2011 to 2017. She was lead author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, a report released by the IoE that details climate trends and their consequences for Montana’s water, forests and agriculture. The first in a planned series, the assessment is the result of over two years of research conducted in collaboration with the Montana Climate Office, Montana Water Center and Montana State University Extension.
She also served as the lead investigator on the National Science Foundation Wildfire Partnership in Research and Education (WildFIRE PIRE) project and was the MSU co-investigator for Montana’s previous NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research project.
Prior to MSU, Whitlock earned her doctorate in geological sciences from the University of Washington in 1983 and her bachelor’s degree from Colorado College in 1975.
She said she is grateful for the support she has received at MSU, and for the “endless opportunities for research and learning that come with being in Yellowstone’s backyard.”
“My successes are the result of inspiring mentors, great colleagues and amazing graduate students,” Whitlock said. “I’ve enjoyed every day of my time at Montana State University.”