Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology 125th Points of Pride

First Undergraduate Botanical Laboratory Created at Iowa State
In 1870, Charles Bessey joined Iowa State as an instructor in botany, horticulture and zoology. He guided the botany department during its formative years and created the first undergraduate botanical laboratory in the United States. Bessey wrote the first research papers published at Iowa State and established a herbarium, assembling a collection of 15,000 botanical specimens. Bessey served as acting president of Iowa State in 1882 and helped draft a proposal later embodied in the Hatch Act, which provided support for the establishment of state agricultural experiment stations.

Experiment Station Botanist Establishes First Seed-testing Laboratory
Louis Pammel joined Iowa State in 1889 as a botany professor and served as the Experiment Station botanist from 1889 to 1922. During Pammel’s tenure, he established the first seed-testing laboratory in the United States and taught the first bacteriology course offered at any college in the nation. His varied research interests and prolific writing produced more than 700 publications on such topics as poisonous plants, Iowa grasses, ecology, weeds, honey plants and bee pollination. He led field tours, encouraged nature study in schools, made extensive plant collections, and was an influential mentor to many students, including George Washington Carver and Ada Hayden. Pammel played a key role in establishing the Iowa State Board of Conservation in 1917 and served as its first president. During his tenure as president, 38 state parks were established.

Carver Gains National Respect as Experiment Station Botanist
After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1894, George Washington Carver stayed at Iowa State to work on a graduate degree. Because of his proficiency in plant breeding, Carver was appointed to the faculty and served as assistant botanist for the Experiment Station. Over the next two years, Carver quickly developed scientific skills in plant pathology and mycology, the branch of botany that deals with fungi. He published several articles on his work and gained national respect. In 1896, he completed his master’s degree and was invited by Booker T. Washington to join the faculty of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. At Tuskegee, he earned world acclaim for the development of hundreds of profitable uses for crops such as cotton, peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes.

Herbarium Becomes National Resource Under Ada Hayden’s Direction
The Ada Hayden Herbarium at Iowa State has the largest collection of Iowa plants and fungi, containing more than 600,000 specimens. Functioning primarily as a research facility important for taxonomic studies, it is also used for identifying unknown plants. Charles Bessey founded the herbarium in 1870, but under Ada Hayden’s direction it grew in size and prestige to become a major national resource in plant taxonomy. Hayden was the first woman to receive her doctorate from Iowa State in 1918. She served as an Iowa State assistant professor in botany research, assistant professor of the Experiment Station and curator of the herbarium until her death in 1950. Hayden’s persistent speaking and writing bout the value of saving prairie areas eventually led to the establishment of the State Preserves Advisory Board in 1965.

ISU Researcher Publishes First Global Analysis of Evolutionary Relationship Among Grasses
In 1995, Lynn Clark, professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, published the first global analysis of the evolutionary relationships among all grasses. This significant scientific achievement provided the evolutionary perspective for sequencing the genomes of the primary cereals that feed humankind. Clark is the world’s foremost authority on the biodiversity and genealogical relationships of bamboos, and of grasses in general. Two species of bamboo are named for her: Rhipidocladum clarkiae from Costa Rica and Olmeca clarkiae from Mexico and Honduras.

Researcher Develops Global Model of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Soils
Jim Raich, a professor in ecology, evolution and organismal biology, developed a global model of carbon dioxide emissions from soils. Measured rates of soil respiration from terrestrial and wetland ecosystems are reviewed to define the annual global CO2 flux from soils, identify uncertainties in the global flux estimates, and to investigate the influences of temperature, precipitation and vegetation on soil respiration rates. His 1992 paper, published by the International Meteorological Institute in Stockholm, has been cited more than 2,000 times on Google Scholar. 

Regeneration Research Becomes a Model for Lake Restoration Projects
Research led by Iowa State limnologist John Downing found that ponds around the globe could absorb as much carbon as the world’s oceans. He discovered that constructed ponds and lakes on farmland in the United States bury carbon at a much higher rate than expected; as much as 20 to 25 times the rate at which trees trap carbon. Downing also contributed to the Iowa Lakes Survey and examined changes in sedimentation rates and sediment composition in 34 Iowa lakes from as long ago as 150 years. He leads long-term regeneration research at Clear Lake in north central Iowa, become a model for several lake restoration projects.

Nation’s Leading Research on Cotton is Conducted at Iowa State
A research facility atop Bessey Hall is home to the nation’s leading research being conducted on cotton. Jonathan Wendel, professor and chair of the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has been awarded numerous grants for his research to study the comparative evolutionary genomics of cotton, the world’s leading textile fiber. An international consortium of scientists that included Wendel mapped the genome sequence for cotton in a paper published in the journal Nature in 2012. His lab carried out much of the biology experimentation and research that went into the genome-sequencing project.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race with Turtle Research
For such a long-lived animal, turtles in the wild face many challenges — so many that most species are considered endangered. Fred Janzen, a professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has been studying turtles for 25 years. Turtles have environmental sex determination linked to temperature, so how many male and female offspring are hatched directly links to whether a population will remain stable or survive. Janzen created a Turtle Camp in 1995 along the Mississippi River at the Iowa-Illinois border where students have a chance to do field research each summer. An expansion of the study closer to home includes building four research ponds at the Horticulture Research Station.