Land & Environment

Ecological Evolution: Transition Pending for Leadership at USU Ecology Center

By Lael Gilbert |

Peter Adler will be succeeding Nancy Huntly as director of the Ecology Center at Utah State University.

Wildfire, invasive species, climate change. Problems in the natural world tend to be thorny, often with interwoven factors that can’t be untangled without sincere, cross-disciplinary problem-solving.

The siloed nature of traditional university structures often works at odds with cross-disciplinary work — if there isn’t a hydrologist, biologist or social scientist in your contact list, it’s hard to get wider perspectives on intractable problems. Since 1967 the Ecology Center at Utah State University has worked to remedy that, the last 12 years with Nancy Huntly at the helm.

Through hands-on and administrative programs, the Ecology Center helps researchers and students bridge academic boundaries, facilitating collaboration among ecologists and ecology-related faculty across departments and colleges. It connects scientists from diverse academic backgrounds, trains students in cross-disciplinary skills, and manages the funding of innovative and thoroughly un-siloed science work.

Now leadership at the Ecology Center is changing, marking the end of an exceptional chapter under Huntly, a professor from the Department of Biology, who leaves an indelible mark across campus and beyond. Peter Adler, a professor from the Department of Wildland Resources, has been selected as the next executive director of the Ecology Center starting Jan. 1, 2024.

With partners across campus, Huntly has worked at a seemingly simple but deceptively ambitious goal: paving the way for truly interdisciplinary science projects. From graduate programs to science communication internships, she has facilitated the creation of partnerships, worked to share knowledge, and pursued a common understanding and language between disciplines.

One obvious success is the Climate Adaptation Science Program, which offers graduate students from 10 participating departments interdisciplinary research and training, maintaining a focus on their field of choice but encouraging interdisciplinarity and community engagement.

Students in the program learn and practice informatics, modeling, communication, leadership, project management, risk assessment, decision-making under uncertainty, and interdisciplinary teamwork, and then produce actionable science.

Another success, Huntly said, was bringing USU into the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.

“For a long time science hasn't been as effective as it could be for informing public action and understanding,” Huntly said. “But the kind of work we’ve done here contributes to better collaboration — the ability to be more interdisciplinary, to contribute to a more useful science. I think we play in that ballpark really well now.”

“The Ecology Center makes USU a great place to be an ecologist,” Adler said. “I want to be sure it remains as great for others as it has been for me.”

Adler is an ecologist who researches patterns of biodiversity and the processes that shape them and applies what he learns to anticipate the ecological impacts of climate change. He is a natural fit for this leadership position — he enjoys exploring science from a diversity of perspectives and helping those outside his specialty find important connections between different research approaches and questions.

Adler is ready to hit the ground running in this new role. His short-term goals for the Ecology Center are to strengthen the intellectual community of ecologists on campus by increasing attendance at face-to-face events by experimenting with new formats, he said. He is working with new Associate Director Geno Schupp, a professor from the Department of Wildland Resources, to create a long-term plan to expand opportunities in the Climate Adaptation Science arena. Adler also plans to increase integrative research efforts at USU and increase funding for graduate students from traditionally under-represented groups.

“We extend our sincerest gratitude to Nancy Huntly for her service and leadership,” said Linda Nagel, dean of the Quinney College of Natural Resources. “The Ecology Center has grown in prominence and impact under her watch. And we have a lot to look forward to — Peter Adler’s unique strengths and perspective lend themselves well to furthering the mission of the Ecology Center and supporting students and faculty in coming years.”


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


Peter Adler
Dept. of Wildland Resources, Ecology Center
Professor, Director

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