CORVALLIS, Ore. – Conservation biology research at Oregon State University has been ranked in a new survey as the best of 315 such programs in the United States and Canada.

The rankings, done for the first time by the journal Conservation Biology, the leading professional journal in this field, point out that OSU had the second highest number of publications, the greatest number of “citations” that reflect the scientific significance of a publication, and the number one overall ranking.

California universities – at Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley – held four of the next five highest rankings, along with the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The University of Washington was ranked seventh and Stanford University tenth. In this evolving field, the research programs of these leading West Coast universities were far ahead of many prestigious schools in the Ivy League, Big Ten and other major eastern colleges.

Conservation biology is one of the younger scientific disciplines, but of growing importance. It brings together scientists from such traditional fields as botany, ecology, atmospheric science, oceanography, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and zoology – as well as social and economic perspectives - to study and learn how to protect the Earth’s biological diversity. Research can range from endangered species and ecosystem function to the effects of global warming, often exploring the environmental and ecological impact of humans.

“We’re particularly proud of this ranking, as it speaks not only to our faculty strengths, but to so much that we value at OSU,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “As the planet’s climate changes and the world looks for answers, OSU’s work in this field will be of ever increasing importance, and our faculty will be collaborating with colleagues in similarly outstanding programs to push the frontier of conservation biology forward.”

OSU in recent years has also received extremely high rankings in related fields, such as first in agricultural sciences, geosciences and forest ecology. A survey last year of forest faculty, in fact, showed that peers rate the OSU College of Forestry the best in North America.

Conservation biologists are integrating the findings of physical sciences, such as marine or atmospheric science, with the biological sciences, in ways that will help humans understand or predict the dangers facing various species and ecosystems, and ways those concerns might be addressed. They provide information about the many valuable services provided by biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, the threats posed by overpopulation, the effects of habitat loss.

Oregon provides a unique setting for conservation biology research, experts say, with an enormous diversity of land forms and biodiversity. Within a few miles, the region changes from ocean ecosystems to one of the world’s largest temperate rain forests, agricultural valleys, populated urban areas, alpine peaks and high desert. Studies in recent decades have ranged from near-shore ocean ecosystems to forest ecology, endangered species, terrestrial pollution, salmon health, stream ecology, the impacts of climate change and amphibian declines.

In recent years, OSU scientists from oceanography and zoology discovered and warned about the “hypoxic zones” of increasing concern off the Oregon coast, in which changing ocean conditions are causing large-scale die-offs of crabs and other marine species. Several papers from the College of Forestry have questioned conventional approaches to salvage logging and replanting after forest fires.

One recent study co-authored by an OSU researcher indicated that much conservation biology research around the world is dictated by personal interests and convenience, rather than the greatest threats to biological diversity. Other work that has gained international attention outlined the role of wolves, cougars and other top predators in protecting plant and animal diversity in national parks and elsewhere.

Conservation biology research at OSU has earned millions of dollars of research support from leading federal agencies, private foundations and local governments, and the university recently formed an Institute for Natural Resources to better link scientific research with the biological, social and policy issues it could help address. OSU also benefits from its close collaboration with other federal research agencies that are on or near the university’s campus.

“Many of the highly ranked schools, such as Oregon State University and Colorado State University, have a rich history of applied ecological research stemming from their designation as federal land grant universities,” the journal noted in its report. “These schools in particular have close ties to federal and state natural resource–based agencies, as evidenced by their interactions with researchers at several U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratories.”

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Ed Ray,