CORVALLIS - Oregon State University is hosting a daylong conference called "The Naturalist Tradition" that will examine the increasingly important role of natural history specialists in an era when modern, industrialized society is threatening plant and animal species.

The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9, at OSU's LaSells Stewart Center. It is free and open to the public.

Funded through the university's Thomas Hart and Mary Jones Horning Endowment in the Humanities, the conference will explore the development, significance and status of the naturalist tradition. Natural history is the naming of natural objects on earth, describing them, putting them in an order, and understanding that order, say conference organizers.

Before society can understand plant and animal species declines, an accurate assessment of those species must be available, said Paul Farber, chair of OSU's history department.

"Such an assessment is difficult because of the small number of trained naturalists available," Farber said. "Funding for natural history has been decreasing for some time in favor of other areas of the life sciences. But contemporary problems like the threat to biodiversity are calling attention to its importance."

The conference has attracted several prominent life scientists and historians from around the country. The event will be broken into two sessions: the morning session, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., will focus on the "Historical Place of Natural History in the Life Sciences" and the afternoon session, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., on "Natural History in the Life Sciences Today."

Topics include evolution, medicine, experimental science and ethology as they relate to natural history; the "new" natural history, biodiversity and conservation biology.

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Paul Farber, 541-737-3421