Christopher Neill Named Director of MBL Ecosystems Center

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Christopher Neill, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and a Principal Investigator on the Plum Island Ecosystems Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, who is also the Phyllis and Charles M. Rosenthal Director of the Brown-MBL Partnership, has been named Director of the MBL Ecosystems Center. The Ecosystems Center is the environmental research division of the MBL. Center scientists use experiments and modeling to study how complex ecological systems work and how they respond to changing conditions caused by human actions.

"I am honored to lead an extraordinary group of scientists at MBL that in many ways pioneered modern ecosystem science," said Neill. "This is an important time for our Center and for our global ecosystem. As humans play a greater and greater role in shaping the planet, we need more than ever to understand the earth's basic ecological life support systems and to apply that knowledge to sustain working ecosystems, our biological heritage, and human well-being. My priorities will be to maintain the Center's role as a leading place for innovative ecosystem research and to enhance its role as a translator of research into actions that solve environmental problems."

The MBL Ecosystems Center is currently institutional host to three LTER projects: Arctic, Plum Island, and Palmer Station, and has several scientists and other personnel at a fourth LTER site, Harvard Forest. As part of his LTER research, Neill studies the structure of urban ecosystems in the Boston region, as part of the larger NSF Macrosystems Ecology project comparing urban ecosystems within the Florida Coastal Everglades, Cedar Creek, Central Arizona - Phoenix and Baltimore LTER sites. He serves on the LTER Communications Committee and leads the Logan Science Journalism Program at the MBL that brings journalists to the Arctic, Palmer, Plum Island and Harvard Forest LTER sites.

“The Ecosystems Center was one of the first groups to study climate change, starting nearly 40 years ago, and it leads the field today with research stations from the tropics to the poles,” said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman. “Chris’ research interests, combined with his commitment to education and science communication, make him a perfect person to lead the center into its next phase of growth and development.”

Neill’s research focuses on understanding how large-scale changes in land use alter soils, emissions of greenhouse gases, and the runoff of water and nutrients into streams and rivers. For more than two decades he has studied how deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon affects soil fertility, water quality, and stream habitats. He also studies how the intensification of farming in the Amazon and tropical Africa will alter regional environmental quality.  Neill has a long-standing interest in local applied environmental research. He works on the ecology and restoration of ponds and grasslands in coastal Massachusetts and collaborates with The Nature Conservancy, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and other local organizations.
Neill received a B.S. from Cornell University, and a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He first came to MBL as a student in the summer Marine Ecology course in 1983. He joined the MBL as a post-doctoral research associate in 1991, and after establishing a research program in the Amazon, rose through the ranks to senior scientist in 2010. In 2010 he was also named Director of the Brown-MBL Partnership and Brown-MBL Graduate Program in Biological and Environmental Sciences, which unites the MBL’s and Brown University’s combined research and education expertise in biology, environmental sciences, and biomedical research and offers graduate students the chance to work collaboratively on projects with scientists at both institutions.

Neill also has considerable experience in communicating science to the public. He directs the Hands-on Environmental Laboratory for the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program, and for many years wrote a column on ecology and the environment for The Enterprise newspaper in Falmouth, MA. Neill was awarded a Bullard Fellowship by Harvard University in 2010 and a Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil in 2007. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and the American Geophysical Union. He currently serves as the president of Falmouth Associations Concerned with Estuaries and Saltponds and as a board member of BiodiversityWorks.

Neill succeeds Hugh Ducklow, the Lead Principal Investigator at the Palmer Station LTER site, who held the post since 2007 and is moving to the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. 

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation.

The LTER program was created in 1980 by the National Science Foundation to conduct research on ecological issues that can last decades and span huge geographical areas. The network brings together a multi-disciplinary group of more than 2000 scientists and graduate students. The 26 LTER sites encompass diverse ecosystems in the continental United States, Alaska, Antarctica, and islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific—including deserts, estuaries, lakes, oceans, coral reefs, prairies, forests, alpine and Arctic tundra, urban areas, and production agriculture.