News Archive

posted 11/18/03

Dr. Shahid Naeem, Expert in Biodiversity Research, Joins CERC and E3B

Dr. Shahid Naeem, a biodiversity expert, recently joined CERC and E3B. He is pictured above in Death Valley

Dr. Shahid Naeem, an expert in biodiversity research, has joined the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, and the Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology department.

Naeem is currently principal coordinator (and founder) of BioM.E.R.G.E., an NSF-funded project that has one of its missions as bringing together scientists to analyze data on our biota [a term that combines flora and fauna] and how they relate to the functioning of our ecosystems.

"If you have the human genome you can begin to understand very complex things about human beings and how they work," Naeem says. "Well, we don't even have a list of what or how much biota exists on the planet." Through BioM.E.R.G.E., Naeem and his colleagues are beginning to collect such data, and to identify where and how our ecosystems are affected when our biota change.

(For more information on BioM.E.R.G.E., please visit http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biomerge/about.html)

Naeem's foci is biodiversity conservation as a means of insuring ecosystem services. "Conserving biodiversity is critical because it is not just the species, but the metabolic activities of plants, animals and microbes, that collectively supply oxygen, regulate greenhouse gasses, and through a complex set of processes, makes up life-sustaining systems," says Naeem. visit Naeem's website "Ecology With No Apology"

"Most of what we value as human beings relies on the healthy functioning of diverse ecosystems," says Don Melnick, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC). "Shahid studies the complex interaction of species that make up those ecosystems, and therefore his work is seminal to understanding, managing, and conserving the natural infrastructure upon which all else depends."

"E3B is thrilled to have added Shahid Naeem to its faculty," says Marina Cords, chair of the Earth, Ecology and Environmental Biology department. "We know he will provide leadership in developing research and curriculum in ecology, one of our main disciplinary foundations. He has a stellar record of research excellence and productivity and teaching effectiveness. In addition, his broad range of interests and expertise will allow him to develop profitable interactions with many of our extensive affiliated and adjunct faculty and with our students, who represent a diverse set of particular interests."

Naeem will be teaching the graduate course this spring,"Understanding Nature Through Observation and Experiment," which will examine how people have attempted to understand nature by the use of observational, experimental, and theoretical studies and will include a "rapid pace exposure to sophisticated statistical method."

One of the ways Naeem exemplifies the complexity of biodiversity processes is by a simple exercise he does with his students. He starts by auctioning off a perfectly useable desktop computer. After the auction is over, Naeem opens up the computer casing and pulls out a small part at random. Then the auction starts again. "Its incredible how the students lose faith that the computer will function properly with each part that is removed," he says.

He asks his students to extrapolate this exercise to the loss of species in the environment. "I want to show that if you lose the diversity in an ecosystem, you will lose ecosystem function in surprising ways," he says.

Says department chair Cords, "At this stage of the department's ontogeny, it is also especially important that new faculty have the energy, interest and cooperative motivation to rise to the opportunity -- and challenge -- of building a new department. Shahid was the ideal candidate from all these perspectives. Colleagues and students alike are so happy to have him as a member of our community."

Before joining Columbia, Dr. Naeem was a full professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington. He began his B.A. at City College of New York, completed it at the University of California/Berkeley where, after three years as a tropical biology research assistant, returned to obtain his M.A. and Ph.D. in zoology.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.