Biology prof awarded fellowship in forest research at Harvard

What strikes York biology Professor Dawn Bazely, ensconced for the next six months at Harvard University’s Harvard Forest, a National Science Foundation long-term ecological research site, is the absolute isolation combined with the knowledge that she’s only 15 minutes away from a Wal-Mart.

Bazely is at Harvard Forest, part of the US Long Term Ecological Research Network, on a prestigious Charles Bullard Fellowship in Forest Research, one of only six awarded the fellowship out of dozens who applied. The Fellowship is given to people in mid-career who show promise of making a major contribution to forests and forest-related subjects.

“Everything I need is quite nearby, but it seems so isolated because I am surrounded by forest,” says Bazely, who is living in a house on the Harvard estate that was built before 1820. “I keep explaining to people here, that when you drive eight hours to Ontario, the landscape is completely different. It’s industrial and urbanized, with very little forest cover, and that’s Southern Ontario. I keep thinking, where do you find this kind of forested landscape in Ontario? Well, Forest Road leading into Harvard Forestyou would have to go north to the Boreal Forest.”

Right: Forest Road leading into Harvard Forest

Bazely is at Harvard Forest to finish her book on conservation biology in Southern Ontario, which she started in 1999, long before she became director of the Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability. It’s taken a while for the book, she admits, but then, she says, everything happens for a reason, and much of what she has learned from her social sciences and humanities colleagues at York will inform her writing.

At the Harvard Forest site, established in 1907, there is a rich archive, as well as the wealth of libraries for her to use while interacting with top researchers who’ve been studying there for years. This will give her the opportunity to compare and contrast the conservation/ecology experience in New England with that of Southern Ontario.

“I’m here to learn as much as I can about the New England states, particularly Massachusetts, and their land use history, policies and politics,” says Bazely. They are doing a great deal of work on invasive species, such as the Asian long-horn beetle, and climate change at the Harvard Forest, she says, and that will play into her finishing of the book, which helps to answer the question: What do we know about biology and conservation management in southern Ontario?

Nicky Lustenhouwer (left), a Dutch graduate student and Harvard ForestLeft: Nicky Lustenhouwer (left), a Dutch graduate student and Harvard Forest visitor from the European Erasmus Mundus master’s program in evolutionary biology, with Dawn Bazely in front of a display of Dutch elm disease at Harvard Forest

“Most people in Canada live within 100 miles of the Canada-United States border,” says Bazely. “This why Southwestern and Southeastern Ontario is the most urbanized, industrialized and intensely farmed area in all of Canada. It has the highest number of endangered and threatened species in the country, and remaining natural cover is less than three per cent in some areas.” And that has Bazely concerned. How do we conserve the natural environment, especially when there are so many competing demands on our land base and resources?

“It’s really a sustainability issue with its population and intensive land use and climate change challenges. With climate warming, we are going to be seeing more species migrating northwards from the US and what are they going to hit – well a lot of concrete.”

 The house on the Harvard Forest estate, built before 1820, where Dawn Bazely is staying for six monthsLeft: The house on the Harvard Forest estate, built before 1820, where Dawn Bazely is staying for six months

In New England, even though the forests were razed and sheep were grazed, after the settlers left and went west, the forests rejuvenated. These landscape changes are illustrated in the famous dioramas of the Massachusetts landscape found at Fisher Museum. There is now a rich diversity of plant and animal life, and lush forests, which is so different from the Southern Ontario experience, she says.

“We’ve been going down in terms of natural habitat cover. So what does it mean if we want to preserve and conserve and restore, if we are to protect the natural habitat in this pressure cooker of conflicting land uses?”

These issues are the same everywhere, she says. But it’s how communities deal with them that makes the difference.

After she finishes this latest book, Bazely is set to complete Environmental Change and Human Security in the Arctic, which she is co-editing. Then she is off to Oxford University for four months to write yet another book, related to her International Polar Year project that recently wound up; this one about oil and gas and local communities.

“It all has to do with sustainability,” says Bazely.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer