Oswald J. Schmitz

Oswald J. Schmitz

Senior Associate Dean of Research & Director of Doctoral Studies; Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology

Type
  • YSE Faculty

Oswald Schmitz is the Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology, in the Yale University School of the Environment. He studies the linkage between two important components of natural systems: biodiversity and ecosystem services. These issues are examined using field experimentation guided by formal mathematical theory of species interactions. His research explains how predator and herbivore species determine the species composition and productivity of plants in ecosystems, and ensuing ecosystem processes such as nutrient and carbon cycling. Research also focuses on elucidating how important environmental disturbances, such as global climate change and natural resource exploitation, alter the nature and strength of species interactions in ecosystems and ensuing ecosystem services. The scientific insights aid efforts to conserve vital services that species in ecosystems provide to humankind. His research evaluates how to rethink conservation strategies by considering species as part of a natural portfolio. This portfolio represents a wealth of potential alternatives to contemporary technologically intensive and expensive approaches in environmental management. His book “The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene” encapsulates much of his thinking about biodiversity and ecosystems and, heavily inspired by the writings of Aldo Leopold, makes ecological science accessible to a broader readership.

My research focuses on studying the linkage between two important components of natural systems: pattern in the distribution and relative abundance of species biodiversity . and the quantity and rate of biogeochemical cycling, resource supply, and plant production ecosystem function. In this endeavor, I subscribe to a view of ecosystem structure that recognizes that biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships should be examined in two important dimensions. There is diversity in the functional groups of species (plants, herbivores and carnivores) that comprise ecological food chains. There is diversity in the kinds of species belonging to a particular functional group (e.g, grazing herbivores, browsing herbivores). This dimensionality is what makes ecosystems complex. The endeavor to understanding this complexity is what, for me, makes ecological science so exciting. I tackle issues of complexity using field experimentation guided by formal mathematical theory of species interactions. Both theory development and field research is aimed at identifying functionally unique groupings of predators and herbivores. These insights in turn motivate research aimed at discovering how species functional identity causally determines the species composition and productivity of plants in ecosystems, and ensuing ecosystem processes such as nutrient and carbon cycling. I also conduct research that focuses on elucidating how important environmental disturbances, such as global climate change and natural resource exploitation, alter the nature and strength of species interactions in ecosystems and ensuing ecosystem services I am also passionate about using scientific insights to aid efforts to conserve vital services that species in ecosystems provide to humankind. Such research evaluates how to rethink conservation strategies by considering species as part of a natural portfolio with substantial investment opportunity. This portfolio represents a wealth of potential alternatives to contemporary technologically intense and expensive approaches in environmental management.

Fundamentally, my teaching is geared toward providing students the quantitative and analytical skills that will support their endeavors to make responsible management decisions when working as professionals in the conservation of biological diversity. My lecture courses introduce students to concepts related to gathering and applying scientific information for problem solving. Students learn how to formalize that knowledge using quantitative tools such as demographic modeling and computational ecology. Whenever possible, I draw in real-world examples to expose students to the numerous applications of the concepts presented in class. The intention is to instill in students some confidence that the concepts they will use actually can give them a foundation on which to make effective management decisions. At the same time, I hope to give the students a healthy but skeptical respect for science by illustrating both the power and pitfalls of scientific methods as means for gaining reliable knowledge for management applications. I encourage students to be irreverent. My philosophy behind this is that, much like the process of developing new ways of thinking in science, creative new solutions to environmental problems do not often arise by following the status quo. I also recognize that the next generation of environmental professionals must participate more comfortably in the electronic information age. To encourage this, I gear my teaching around the next generation of information technology through web-served assignment. The web-served assignments allow students the freedom to conduct computer simulation experiments using self-directed learning outside of the normal (and somewhat restrictive) confines of a fixed-time classroom or lab setting. Students can access the material at any time and learn the material covered in the assignments at a pace that is more compatible with their individual learning capabilities. I teach three lecture courses each dealing with different aspects of conservation science delivered to different audiences. Ecology and Environmental Problem Solving (introductory undergraduate): A subject of considerable interest in environmental conservation is whether natural ecosystems are resistant and resilient to natural or human-induced disturbances. That is: How much environmental change can ecosystems tolerate before they become altered and how much disturbance can they withstand before they collapse? Ecology, as a scientific discipline, offers key theory, tools and empirical insights that can be brought to bear on answering important questions about ecosystem sustainability. This course will provide students with the necessary concepts and tools to begin evaluating how ecological populations and communities are structured and how they respond to natural and human-induced perturbations. Ecosystem Pattern and Process (graduate and advanced undergraduate): Ecosystem science provides a unique vantage point from which scientists can begin to understand complex adaptive systems. The basis of ecosystem science is to determine how patterns in biological processes emerge from interactions between organisms and the abiotic environment. This course introduces the ecosystem concept, investigates the structure and functioning of ecological systems, studies the response of systems to changing environmental conditions, and applies resulting knowledge to preservation and management issues. Presentation is balanced between terrestrial and marine/aquatic systems. Wildlife Conservation Ecology (graduate and advanced undergraduate): This course introduces the student to concepts and mathematical tools related to gathering and applying scientific information to problem solving in wildlife conservation. The course explores conceptually the kinds of ecological knowledge needed for wildlife conservation. Students also learn how to formalize that knowledge for effective decision-making. Relevance to real-world problem solving is the central focus of the course and students are exposed to numerous examples of applications throughout the term.

Education

B.SC., M.S.C., University of Guelph, Ontario; Ph.D., University of Michigan

This professor is accepting doctoral students