Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Les Mehrhoff - botanist and pioneering giant in the field of invasion biology

Picture courtesy Randy Westbrooks
SCC Camp
Les Mehrhoffbotanist at the University of Connecticut, and a pioneering giant in the field of invasion biology, has passed away leaving ecosystems a little less protected and all of us a much more beholden to his work in championing biological diversity.   Doing justice to his work fills a web site and attempting to describe the reach of his work will be a task for future historians of ecology and horticulture.  But, perhaps the towering monument to his life's work is the creation of The Invasive Plant Atlas of New England - the  IPANE project - whose mission is a testimony to his drive to protect the last native landscapes.


From early detection and rapid response, to high tech mapping by citizen scientists, Dr. Mehrhoff worked tirelessly to find new ways to offset the harm caused by invasive species.  He sought to understand how the mechanisms of invasion worked and how one might use the knowledge to prevent further damage.  Focusing on plants, Les was determined to find a way to protect the indigenous species of New England and North America and eventually the world.  Les spoke to me about the impact of ornamental horticulture on native plant communities, about claims of sterility and about ways of assessing a consensus about the valuation of ecological systems.

The disappearance of species and the homogenization of place concerned Les Merhoff.  He studied the effect of invasive species on ecological interactions in natural areas.  He sought to understand the impact of introduced species on the rate of species loss in non-managed natural systems.  He was a leader both in the on the national stage as well as a visionary to grassroot-movements that struggle to reverse the tide of ecosystem altering invasive species.  Les was like a gardener who did not need to wait for more information when considering the removal of a weed from a favorite display.  He saw first hand the changes that were happening with greater and greater speed to the native flora and therefore ro whole ecosystems.

Today, the political winds have shifted, and the invasive species conversation has been pushed to the local level.  There is no effective national conversation today, but rather a rising tide of citizen scientists who owe much to Les Mehrhoff's tenacity and determination to organize and train citizen scientists to help stem the flood of invasive species into native species communities.  Because interest groups have stifled any near term hope of an effective national management strategy, state and local activists are creating regulations and legislation to begin to address the impacts of invasive species.


Les would have been proud to see action rather than talk; in his shadow the work goes on.

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