College, VCU team up on environmental research

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February 6, 2009

1:20 AM

The College of William and Mary is joining forces with Virginia Commonwealth University to advance the institutions’ respective expertises in the environmental sciences by forming a conservation biology partnership.

The collaboration involves the College’s Center for Conservation Biology, which focuses on biology and computational modeling programs, and VCU’s Rice Center for Environmental Life Studies, the strengths of which include ecology and environmental science programs, as well as ecological genomics and conservation medicine.

Bryan Watts of the College’s Center for Conservation Biology Bryan Watts said the collaboration is primarily for joint faculty research but will provide some opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

The Rice Center, located about halfway between the two institutions in Charles City County, will serve as the location for the new research institution. The College of William and Mary/Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Conservation Biology at the VCU Rice Center.

The new Center is funded completely by donor and namesake Inger Rice. Currently, research, as now, will receive funding from outside sources like state funding and grants.

The VCU Rice Center is certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and contains several lecture halls, laboratories, a conference room and administrative offices, in addition to an outdoor pavilion that can be used as a classroom. It was built on an ecology-rich parcel of land donated by Rice in 2000.

A research pier on the nearby James River can be used as a riverside entryway to the building. VCU and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries dock their boats in the facility, which has a holding capacity of six boats. An attached floating platform dock can accommodate visiting boats and allow the loading and unloading of research equipment.

The Center for Conservation Biology was founded in 1991 by Watts and biology professor Mitchell Byrd, both leaders in the field of wildlife conservation. The Center’s primary research focuses on the preservation and sustainability of bird populations in the western hemisphere.

The Center was awarded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Recovery Champion Award in 2007 in honor of their continuing research on bird conservation, which specialized in the recovery of the bald eagles.

“The role of the Center for Conservation Biology in the broader conservation community is to provide information and expertise on bird populations,” Watts said. “We are one of the larger producers and providers of such information. Our information is used daily to inform the purchase of conservation lands, to draft environmental policy, and by regulatory agencies to manage resources.”

Watts believes that the collaboration will enrich the quality of research at both institutions.

“Conservation problems are complex, and to address them in a holistic way requires many diverse disciplines like ecology, economics [and] sociology. For this reason, we often work with partners where we can marry their expertise with ours to gain synergistic benefits,” he said referring to the dovetailed expertise between the two groups.

This is not the first collaborative effort between the two institutions. In 2008, the VCU- College of William and Mary Health Policy and Law Initiative was established to bring together VCU and College faculty members to switch conduct research and offer joint-degree programs, with focusing on topical problems in health policy and bioethics.

“Research increasingly involves collaboration between individuals and between departments,” College President Taylor Reveley said at a signing ceremony Jan. 26. “Indeed, some of the newest and strongest collaborations will be between universities.”

Previous unofficial collaborative research efforts between the College and VCU have been building up to this merger for some time.

“We have worked with some researchers in the biology and environmental science program there for some years,” Watts said. “VCU is working to build the Rice Center, and the Center for Conservation Biology seems to be a fit there. We believe that we will be able to help them build their programs there, ultimately being more effective in research and hopefully providing more opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to work on research problems with us.”

Watts believes the two institutions can expect more successful, comprehensive research from the most recent union.

“These partnerships don’t just increase the resolution of the scene,” he said, “they broaden the view.”

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