History of the Ecological Research Center

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 issues.

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.