The Department of Biology established the Ecological Research Center (ERC) in 1973
to meet the need for information relating to ecology (locally and world-wide). The
objective was to provide an academic unit within the University that would foster
the institution's goal of discovery and dissemination of critical knowledge to the
metropolitan community of Memphis, the people of Tennessee, the Mid-South region and
the nation. Additionally, there was a desire to prepare diverse graduate and undergraduate
student populations for successful careers in ecology and related fields and, in so
doing, contribute to the global need for a workforce qualified to address the world's
growing demand for ecological information.
From the beginning, it was recognized that these goals could best be accomplished
through the establishment of partnerships with city, state, federal, and private agencies.
Such linkages have been strongly promoted and have been critical to the development
of the ecology program at The University of Memphis. Ecological issues are complex
and tightly associated with economic, political, and social issues. Therefore, diverse
backgrounds and understandings are required to successfully resolve many ecological
More recently, the Center recognized the growing need for ecological information as
it relates to increasing urban environments and addressing problematic issues in such
areas. The Center therefore began establishment of a new Program in Urban Ecology,
a multidisciplinary focus which will train a new breed of ecologists through graduate
studies and internships.
Urbanization (associated with human population growth) represents one of the most
significant factors affecting the earth's ecosystem. Yet, such urban systems are relatively
unstudied and represent the new frontier in ecology and related areas. Because ecological
issues in the urban community are complex and tightly associated with economic, political,
and social issues, diverse backgrounds and understandings are required to successfully
resolve many ecological problems and develop conservation and management plans.
Such complexity requires training beyond traditional backgrounds. At present, few
programs exist to prepare a workforce for this arena. Additionally, only a few programs
have been developed worldwide to conduct research in an attempt to meet the challenges
of sustainable natural resources in urban ecosystems. Because the scope of topics
is so broad, no other institution outside of academia encompasses a wide enough range
of specialist to cover the territory associated with research and education at this
level. Consequently, academic institutions must accept the challenges of the modern
world in dealing with issues related to long-term sustainability of the earth's resources.
Conservation and management of natural resources is best served through collaborative
work (employing the highest level of modern technology) among individuals from many
disciplines that share an interest in ecological issues. Therefore, The Ecological
Research Center, through partnerships with state, federal and private agencies and
organizations and support from the general public, proposes a visionary program that
results in virtually a new breed of ecologist and an innovative approach to identifying
ecological needs and developing research plans for solutions to problems and issues.
As urbanization continues to increase (today approximately 80% of the American population
resides in urban areas) and problematic issues shift from rural to urban arenas, urban
universities are called upon to address society's needs in unique ways.
Such needs can only be served through visionary programs. We propose such a focus
in our Program in Urban Ecology, and believe our plan benefits the residents of Memphis,
the Mid-South, and the global community by assessing issues that explore and improve
the quality of life for everyone. Additionally, the program represents an opportunity
for the University and associated groups to provide a model for others to follow worldwide
as the new "Ecological Age" continues to develop.