- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Karban is an international authority on plant communication.
“Rick's pioneering discoveries on plant communication through volatile compounds certainly merit this recognition,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
ESA, in announcing the list of 27 fellows, said that its fellowship program recognizes the many ways in which its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and management and policy.
Karban is the author of the newly published 240-page book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press), considered a “landmark in its field,” said Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews, UK, co-author of Experimental Design for the Life Sciences and Plant-Animal Communication.
“Karban seeks to argue that plants behave—that they sense their environment, detect and communicate with an array of different organisms, and respond to their sense of the environment and communication,” Ruxton said. ”He is very successful in this, demonstrating that plant sensing and communication is a vibrant area of current research with still plenty more to discover.”
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
“Plants responded more effectively to volatile cues from close relatives than from distant relatives in all four experiments and communication reduced levels of leaf damage experienced over the three growing seasons,” they wrote.
Karban is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research. He was named an outstanding professor, ecology, at UC Davis in 1986. He has published more than 100 journal articles and now, three books.
Karban is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Karban received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Haverford (Penn.) College in 1977 and his doctorate in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1982. He served as a lecturer at Haverford College for six months before joining the UC Davis faculty in May 1982 as an assistant professor. He advanced to associate professor in 1988 and to full professor in 1994.
Karban's former graduate student, Anurag Agrawal, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, was also elected a 2017 fellow for his “innovative contributions to community and evolutionary ecology, especially through providing conceptual advances and rigorous experimental work on plant-insect interactions.”
Agrawal received his doctorate at UC Davis in 1999.
Another UC Davis professor, John Stachowicz of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology was elected as a 2017 fellow “for his fundamental contributions to the fields of symbiosis and mutualism, multi-trophic species interactions, biogeography, and invasion biology.”
ESA established its fellows program in 2012 with the goal of honoring its members and supporting their competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions in the Society, at their institutions, and in broader society, said spokesperson Lisa Lester.
(The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world's largest community of professional ecologists, and committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society's Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.)