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Ranking touts ASU's impact in ecology research

May 23, 2008

ASU's research and publication efforts have landed the university at the sixth spot in Thomson Scientific’s U.S. University’s Top 10 for ecology and environmental sciences.

The rankings, developed for 21 subject areas, were derived from an examination of 9,200 publications (from 2001-2005) associated with the Thomson’s University Science Indicators database. The top scores were held by University of California, Santa Barbara; Stanford University; University of Wisconsin, Madison; Harvard University and University of Washington.

"This honor reflects the breadth of ASU in ecology and environmental sciences, spanning microbial to social groups, marine to landscape and urban; and, with recent hires, has become one of the very best in behavioral ecology," says Professor Rob Page, founding director of the School of Life Sciences.

Page believes it is ASU’s signature interdisciplinarity, as well as research excellence in these areas, that led to ASU being ranked. There is plenty of evidence to support this opinion. For example, the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has 101 researchers, 250 graduate students, more than 832 publications since 2001, and topped ASU’s charts for research expenditures for academic units in 2007.

Life sciences researchers study a diverse array of subjects and systems, from philosophy of sciences to transmission of disease. While their academic homes are in the School of Life Sciences, many of these scientists are also leaders or collaborators in ASU’s research centers and institutes, including the Global Institute of Sustainability, Biodesign Institute at ASU, Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, International Institute for Species Exploration, and Center for Biology and Society.

A recent example of the multi-faceted environmental sciences resources being created at ASU is the “ecoSERVICES ASU” group in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Under the leadership of life sciences professors Ann Kinzig and Charles Perrings, this group “studies the causes and consequences of change in ecosystem services – the benefits that people derive from the biophysical environment – and analyzes biodiversity change in terms of its impacts on the things that people care about.” EcoSERVICES ASU hosts Diversitas, an international program that meshes with another international initiative around the science of biodiversity and ecosystem change, the International Mechanism for Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity (IMOSEB), supported by International Council for Science (ICSU) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The breadth of ASU’s expertise in ecology and environmental sciences creates a big footprint. Big enough to top the charts. It spans the boundaries of schools, centers, and institutes, and collaborative focus, running the gamut from urban to ant studies, environmental engineering, water resources, sustainability, nutrient cycling, and everything fish, fowl, microbial, and ecosystems in between.

Since 1966, ASU researchers have published more than 44,644 total publications; 31,858 articles in peer-reviewed journals, according to the Thomson’s “ISI Web of Knowledge” tool. Interestingly, the top two highly cited papers at ASU to date are held by Sudhir Kumar, director of the Center for Evolutionary Functional Genomics and professor in the School of Life Sciences, for two publications in molecular evolutionary genetics. Thomson’s database tool is not inclusive of all publications and journals of significance, still it provides an indicator, in these 21 fields, of the impact of an institution’s research enterprise. Some of ISI’s highly cited researchers within the subject category include ASU professors Nancy Grimm, James Collins, James Elser, Jingle Wu, Michael Rosenberg, and Phil Hedrick, for his work in conservation genetics.

This national ranking illustrates the long standing success and impact of our life sciences research enterprise at ASU and arises directly as a result of attracting outstanding faculty in our ecological, evolutionary, and environmental sciences,” says Sid Bacon, dean of natural sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.