Within the Department, ecology covers a wide range of topics from nutrient cycling to ecological energetics. Specialties include terrestrial, aquatic, marine, and population ecology; resource conservation; and management of ecosystem resources. Fields of application within ecology include: aquatic ecology; fisheries consulting; forestry and agricultural management; parks and recreation; planning and management; resource conservation; toxic soil and water pollution research.


Terrestrial Ecology

Terrestrial ecologists in the Department of Environmental Sciences study and teach a broad range of topics in population, community and ecosystem ecology. Research in terrestrial plant ecology focuses on the interactions among climate, vegetation and soils, and the temporal dynamics of vegetation  in response to a changing environment. The cycling of carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients is an essential integrator of many research efforts. Ecological studies of terrestrial animals focus on the habitat, behavior and population dynamics of a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Terrestrial ecology research spans spatial scales from landscapes to regions to the globe, and ecosystem types include grasslands, savannas, temperate and tropical forests, boreal forests, tundra, and managed ecosystems. In addition to field and greenhouse experiments, we incorporate a variety of research tools, including geographic information systems, remotely sensed imagery and computer simulation modeling.

Microbial Ecology

Research in microbial ecology focuses on the interactions of biotic and abiotic factors and the concomitant effects on the biology and physiology of microorganisms responsible for mediating many critical ecosystem processes. Investigations of the interplay between microorganisms, microorganisms and macroorganisms, and microorganisms and their surroundings is conducted in conjunction with colleagues in a variety of disciplines and from several institutions. Active projects examine the microbial transformations of plant biomass and both organic and inorganic pollutants, trophic transfer of energy through microorganisms particularly in estuarine environments, and the role that microbial community structure plays in determining community function within ecosystems.

Marine Ecology and Marine Sciences

Although there is no formal program in Marine Studies at the University of Virginia, a large number of faculty in the Department of Environmental Sciences have active research programs in marine environments. These include studies of the impact of storms on coastal environments, vegetation in marsh, lagoon and barrier island systems, evidence for climate change in ocean sediments, and isotopic studies related to hydrothermal vents. The Department maintains a field station on the Eastern Shore of Virginia as part of NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program where interdiscplinary studies are underway of ecological and physical processes in a barrier island environment.