Doctoral Awards Ceremony

Extract from news item contributed by Professor John Birks, University of Bergen

The Ecological and Environmental Change Research Group in the Department of Biology, University of Bergen organised a one-day symposium on Long-term Ecology and Future Planet Earth on 4 May 2017 to celebrate Professor Kathy Willis receiving an Honorary Doctorate (Æresdoktor) from the University of Bergen.

Sixteen colleagues, former students, and friends from Oxford, Bergen, St Andrews, Southampton, and Tucson contributed lectures on the general theme of how a long-term perspective provided by palaeoecology or phylogenetics can aid problem-solving and decision-making in conservation, management, and resource stewardship today and in the future. Over 50 colleagues from eight countries attended.

John Birks presented an overview of Kathy’s many activities and achievements, offering six keywords to describe her: Outstanding, Versatile, Innovative, Wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary, Challenging, Surprising: 

"What is slightly unusual about Kathy’s wide range of achievements is the lack of any pre-existing ‘invisible college’ (sensu Diane Crane) into which she became a member. She has largely created her own new ‘invisible college’ which is now large, very international, and highly successful.”

In the final lecture, Kathy Willis (Oxford and Kew) discussed what 100 years of pollen analysis has taught us about where, when, and what to conserve. She provided a brilliant synthesis of her work and that of others on conservation palaeoecology within the paradigms of a Finite Earth and its protections and management (1908–1992); a Variable Earth and its maintenance and restoration (1990s–2002); and a Resource Earth (2005–) with its ecosystem services and benefits, and the ever-increasing need for sharing.

She showed how long-term studies can provide unique insights into natural baselines, drivers and rates of change, ecosystem variability and resilience, and changes in natural capital assets in space and time and associated trade-offs. Kathy concluded by emphasising the need to disseminate these valuable insights to managers and policy-makers.

This stimulating symposium was sponsored by the University of Bergen and its Department of Biology, the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and the VISTA research programme of the Academy and Statoil.

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