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Celebrated Ecologist Joan G. Ehrenfeld Dies at 63

AAAS fellow Joan Ehrenfeld, an expert on invasive species,wetlands ecology, and urban ecology, died at her home in Highland Park, NewJersey on June 25, 2011, after a year-long battle with acute leukemia.

Ehrenfeld spent her 35-year career as a RutgersUniversity professor of ecology studying plant communities in both New Jersey'swildest and most settled places, from the Pine Barrens to the urban wetlands ofRahway. She was recognized around the world as a leading voice on plantecology.

Born in New York City, Ehrenfeld began hercareer early when she was chosen for a National Science Foundation-sponsoredprogram for high school students and spent a summer working in a BarnardCollege research laboratory. She earned a bachelor's degree, magna cum laude,in Biology from Barnard in 1969, and then earned a Master's degree from Harvardin 1970 and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York in 1975.

Ehrenfeld balanced her dynamic scientific career with the raising of fourchildren. Shebegan her career at Rutgers in 1976, as an Assistant Research Professor in theCenter for Coastal and Environmental Studies. She directed the New Jersey WaterResources Research Institute of the US Geological Survey from 1990 to 2009,first in the Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, and then, starting in1997, as a full professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and NaturalResources.

Hercareer was marked by boundless curiosity and a wide range of professionalinterests. Among other things, she conducted studies on urban wetlands,restoration ecology, invasive plants in numerous habitats, and the effects ofheavy metals in wetland soils; some of her recent work examined the role ofbiodiversity in the spread of West Nile Virus.

Wearingher trademark hat - a tan baseball cap with the words "Plays in the Dirt"embroidered above the brim - she taught legions of students the art of fieldscience. Whether she was camping overnight with students at a Rutgers FieldStation, or helping them analyze their data in the lab, she was a role modelfor undergraduates, grad students and post-doctoral fellows, proving throughher example that it is possible for a woman to raise a family and also be aleader in the sciences.

Despitethe demands and rigors of a career in science, Ehrenfeld always put herfamily first. She was inexhaustible - returning from long days in the field orlab to cook dinners from scratch, help with homework, and juggle the needs offour children. She devoted weekends to family activities and instilled a greatlove in her children for the things she loved most too: wilderness, music,theater, and opera. She delighted in being agrandmother, sharing the samebooks, songs and games with her three grandchildren that she had filled herchildren's lives with years before.

Ehrenfeld was never happier than when she was outdoors, preferably deep in themud and green silence of a cedar swamp. She organized weekend hiking trips withher husband, David Ehrenfeld, also a Rutgers biology professor, and anychildren or friends who could be brought along. She invited her students onhikes and canoe trips, setting a pace that was challenging for people twentyyears her junior. In one recent study,she usedcitizen science as a method of investigating the responses of native vegetationto invasive species, training groups of hikers to monitor species along NewYork and New Jersey trails.

Agenerous colleague, Ehrenfeld collaborated widely with others on her research,and was recognized by her peers for her distinction as a scientist, teacher,and leader. She received numerous awards, including the 2011 Research ExcellenceAward from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, the Cook College 2003 Research Excellenceand Impact Award, and the 1999 Cook College Academic Professional ExcellenceAward for Academic Innovation and Creativity. In 2000, she was elected a Fellowof the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2010 she waselected a Fellow of the Society of Wetland Scientists, positions of greatdistinction.

Anassiduous grant-writer, Ehrenfeld brought in millions of dollars over hercareer to support ecological research. In the years between 2005 and 2010alone, she raised $2.1 million in grant funding from the EPA, NSF, USDA, NJDEP,and other public and private sources.

She served the scientific community in many ways;she was a member of National Science Foundation panels, served as a member ofthe National Research Council Committee on Independent Scientific Review ofEverglades Restoration Progress, reviewed articles for many journals and wasselected as a member of the Science Advisory Board of the United StatesEnvironmental Protection Agency. Her graduate students and post-doctoralstudents went on to occupy research and government positions around the world.

In demand as a speaker on many ecological topics,she has delivered invited lectures across the United States and around theworld, in such locations as Bangalore, India; Lunteren, the Netherlands;Cuiaba, Brazil; and Beijing and Xiamen, China.

Herpassion for science was matched only by the organization and determination thatshe brought to her work. The author or co-author of over 120 scientific papers,she continued working on data analysis, advising students, and collaboratingwith others throughout her battle with leukemia. Her hospital room alwaysfilled with classical music, she worked through all the miseries ofchemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant. Since her diagnosis in April 2010,she was the author or co-author of more than a dozen scientific publications,including five book chapters.

Ehrenfeldwas a lover of music, singing in the Highland Park Choir and playing piano, anda leader in her Jewish community. She is survived by her brother, RobertGardner; husband, David Ehrenfeld; her children, Kate Gardoqui and her husbandDaniel Gardoqui, Jane Dimyan-Ehrenfeld and her husband Michael Dimyan, JonathanEhrenfeld and his wife Emily Ford, and Samuel Ehrenfeld; and threegrandchildren, and mourned by countless friends, relatives and colleagues. Inlieu of flowers, donations may be made to the NewYork-New Jersey Trail Conference.

---- Written by "The Family of Joan Ehrenfeld"