We invite ecologists from around the world to speak each year year. In the fall, we highlight the work of a GDPE alum and  a faculty member, and in the spring we bring in outside speakers. We define “distinguished” broadly as someone who has contributed important work to the discipline of ecology. 2020-2021 speakers are shown below.


David Hoover

October 14, 2020

“From droughts to deluges: The ecological impacts of precipitation extremes on dryland ecosystems”

David Hoover received his PhD from the GDPE program in 2014. He then went on to a postdoc with the USGS in Moab and started his current position with the USDA-ARS in 2017. Dr. David Hoover’s current research is focused on how land management and climatic variability influence the ecohydrology of semi-arid rangelands. He examines carbon and water dynamics through the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum at multiple temporal and spatial scales, ranging from plant-level ecophysiology through ecosystem-level exchange, to landscape-level patterns of water movement, storage and use. In addition to his research, Dr. Hoover seeks to provide science-based information for land managers to facilitate sustainable livestock production in a changing climate.


Francesca Cotrufo

November 4, 2020

“Advancing understanding of soil organic matter to provide solutions to our wicked challenges”

M. Francesca Cotrufo is a Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Senior Scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab, at Colorado State University. Dr. Cotrufo is a soil ecologist and biogeochemist, internationally recognized as an authority in the field of litter decomposition and soil organic matter dynamics, and in the use of isotopic methodologies in these studies. Her main research interest is in understanding the mechanisms and drivers of formation and persistence of soil organic matter, and its response to global environmental changes and disturbances. She also pursues applied research to propose soil management practices that increase soil health and mitigate climate change, such as application of biochar in soils. As a scientist fully aware of the current and future challenges expecting humanity, she is interested in promoting K-12 education and outreach activities to advance scientific literacy and societal understanding of current human impacts on the Earth System.




Vanessa Ezenwa

February 18, 2021 4:00 PM

“Worms, Germs, and Buffalo: a Coinfection Story”

Vanessa Ezenwa is a Professor at the University of Georgia, where she holds joint appointments in the Odum School of Ecology and College of Veterinary Medicine. She received a BA in Biology from Rice University and PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. Vanessa’s research centers on the ecology of infectious diseases in wild animal populations, with a specific focus on linking processes across scales of biological organization. Work in the Ezenwa lab investigates how physiological, behavioral and ecological processes occurring at the individual level shape interactions between hosts and their parasites, and the consequences of these interactions for population- and community-wide patterns of disease. Her work combines longitudinal and experimental field studies with laboratory approaches and theory to address key questions about host-parasite interactions in natural systems. Insights from Vanessa’s research on the consequences of parasite coinfection and the links between social behavior and infection have important implications for how we manage infectious diseases in both animals and humans.


Jonathan Losos

March 18, 2021

“Using Experiments in Nature to Study Evolution in Real Time: Research on Lizard Adaptation in the Bahamas”

Jonathan Losos is an evolutionary biologist known for his research on how lizards rapidly evolve to adapt to changing environments. He recently rejoined the Washington University Biology Department after spending 12 at Harvard University, returning in January as the inaugural holder of the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professorship and Director of the Living Earth Collaborative, a partnership between Wash U., the Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden. This new biodiversity center, nearly unique in partnering a leading university, zoo, and garden, has the mission of advancing knowledge of biodiversity to ensure the future of earth’s species in their many forms. Losos has written more than 240 papers, two books (most recently Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution), and is an author of a leading college biology textbook. Losos has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and many other awards.


Rachael Winfree

April 22, 2021

“What can pollinators tell us about biodiversity and ecosystem services in real-world landscapes?”

The goal of Rachael Winfree’s research program is to understand the role of biodiversity in ecosystem services in the real world – that is, in large-scale and unmanipulated systems. Her research group is developing a framework for thinking about this question that bridges the gap between smaller-scale experiments (and the associated theory), which ecologists understand well, to the more complicated reality of nature. Some of their current questions include: What is the most meaningful way to measure biodiversity in nature, and is the answer scale-dependent? Do we need to preserve biodiversity in order to maintain ecosystem services, or are only a few dominant species sufficient? What is the role of rare species in ecosystem services? Can we extend biodiversity-ecosystem function research to mutualist networks? Rachael is a Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University, and is one of 184 scientists in the field of environment / ecology on the list of ‘the world’s most influential scientific minds,’ which is based on authorship of highly cited papers. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University in 2001 and her B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1990.a