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Interview with Simon Levin, August 11, 2015

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:24 - Background and early career

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Partial Transcript: To begin with, I'm going to ask you Simon, if you would just review your early years, what motivated you to become interested in ecology as a profession and how did it happen?

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about growing up in Baltimore and spending his summers as a camp counselor taking children on canoe trips. He discusses his aptitude for mathematics, and says that he wanted to apply mathematics to something more useful. He went to John Hopkins University and then the University of Maryland where he earned his Ph.D in mathematics. Afterwards, he became an assistant professor at Cornell University and took a sabbatical to work with Robert Paine at the University of Washington where they studied patch dynamics.

Keywords: Berkeley; Bot Whittiker; Bruce Wallace; David Pimentel; Dick Root; Ecology and Systematics; Gene Likens; Gordon Orians; NSF; Paul Feeney; Rachel Carson; Red Cross; Tommy Edmondson; natural resources; population gentics; spatially structured populations

00:13:40 - Other career milestones

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so let's think for a little bit about other milestones during your career.

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about asking to be moved from the mathematics department to the ecology department because he wanted to surround himself with other ecologists. He also discusses becoming the director of an ecosystem research center funded by the EPA, and says that this is the first time he became interested in ecotoxicology (the study of the effects of toxic chemicals on populations). He talks about how over time his focus shifted from theoretical ecology to applied ecology.

Keywords: Dick Levins; Gene Lickens; George Innis; George Woodwell; Herb Bormann; Hudson River Foundation; Jerry Franklin; Journal of Mathematical Biology; Orie Loucks; SIAM; Tom Odum; spruce budworm

00:23:16 - Getting interested in economics

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Partial Transcript: By the end of the 1980's I was becoming interested in the interface with economics.

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about how he developed an interest in economics from an ecological perspective and moved to Princeton University. He was involved with the Bayer Institute of Environmental Economics, which was formed to bring ecologists and economists together.

Keywords: Bob O'Neil; Bob Whittaker; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Santa Fe Institute; University of Washinton; ecological systems; socioeconomic systems

00:31:48 - Teaching graduate students

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Partial Transcript: I was fortunate that I always liked to talk to people who knew things that I didn't know and thought about things differently than I did, and I've tried to convey that to my students.

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about his philosophy for teaching graduate students that he adopted from G. Hutchinson (an ecologist at Yale University), which is to give them freedom with their dissertation research. He also says that his students usually have a strong background in applied mathematics.

Keywords: Bob McArthur; Tom Odum; Tommy Edmondson

00:37:24 - Ecology's evolution as a discipline / ESA - The Nature Conservancy split

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Partial Transcript: Well that brings us I think to another area that I'd like you to talk a little bit about, mainly how has ecology changed as a discipline?

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about the ways in which the discipline of ecology has changed over the years, saying that it has become more quantitative and more multidisciplinary, with a greater focus on things like policy and economics. He also discusses The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and how it split off from the Ecological Society of America (ESA) because some members thought it included too much advocacy.

Keywords: Ecological Applications; Bob Paine; Bob Whittaker; David Pimentel; Dick Root; Forestry ]; Gene Likens; Hal Mooney; International Biological Program; Paul Feeney; Sustainable Biosphere Initiative; agriculture; animal behavior; aquatic ecology; botanical; climate change; community ecology; watershed; zoology

00:47:58 - Involvement in ESA

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Partial Transcript: Okay so let's talk a little bit about the early years of Ecological Applications.

Segment Synopsis: Levin talks about being the editor of the Ecological Applications journal and working closely with ESA's Public Affairs Office. He discusses the future of ESA and says that he thinks the meetings should continue to include basic research sessions so the organization doesn't become entirely policy-oriented.

Keywords: AAAS; Al Gore; Duncan Patten; Marge Holland; Snowbird Resort; Sustainable Biosphere Initiative