Faculty Forum to Examine Ecology Research

Michael Kelrick, professor of biology, will present, “Commonness and Rarity: An Ecologist’s View of Banality and Eccentricity” at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 in Baldwin Hall Little Theater as part of the Truman Faculty Forum.

In this lecture, Kelrick will present glimpses of more than 20 years of his own research, investigating both ends of the abundance spectrum, from what makes some species successful weeds, to what makes a species rare enough to be listed as federally endangered. Ecologists study the determinants of species’ distributions and abundances, so understanding why some species are common while others are rare is a fundamental, though enigmatic, undertaking.

Kelrick will address questions including: “are there discoverable biological/ecological factors that explain why these species are as prolific, or as scant, as they are?” and “to what extent are species’ current abundance states being driven by human activities that modify factors determining their abundances from what they would otherwise be, if unaffected by anthropogenic influences?” These questions will be discussed through examples of fieldwork on several different plant species Kelrick has studied.
For more than 150 years, from Darwin’s “Origin of Species” to current community ecological theory, naturalists have noticed patterns of abundance, striven to describe them quantitatively, and ascribed to these patterns not only determining mechanisms, but also implications about how nature itself might be organized. Recognizing such patterns of abundance does beg for explanation, but so does human fascination with the atypical.

Kelrick will conclude his presentation with an inquiry that includes what cognitive science offers regarding how Homo sapiens see the world, from the banal to the eccentric.