Biologist Dedicates Research to Bettering the Environment
April 22, 2009 – Biology professor Edward Barrows has a lifelong interest in all natural surroundings related to life, but he fears the Earth is experiencing a “biodiversity crisis.”
“We are inadvertently causing beneficial species to go extinct daily and killing untold numbers of them by destroying their habitats,” he says.
Through his biodiversity research, Barrows tracks arthropod and plant populations in nature preserves.
Arthopods such as insects, spiders and crustaceans perform many invaluable ecosystem services – aerating soil, aiding in organic decomposition and nutrient recycling, filling crucial roles in food chain and pollinating crops and other plants. If this important ecosystem service ceased to exist, the Earth would soon face major food shortages and possibly starvation.
Analyzing National Parks
Through Barrows’ Laboratory of Entomology and Biodiversity, he is able to study arthropods in local national parks, as well as in Wisconsin. The local national parks include the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway and Glover Archbold Park.
Each of the parks faces many harsh assaults in air, soil and water pollution; overuse by people; and devastation by hundreds of species of alien, invasive organisms, Barrows says.
To help rescue and preserve the habitats and species in danger, the professor and his students go where they are needed, receiving grants from a variety of sources to collect and analyze information.
With the view of managing the biota of the parks – a mission mandated by federal law – Barrows’ lab is helping the National Park Service to learn which arthropods live in its parks, their numbers and which habitats they occupy. Some of the lab’s work is explained in the 2006 environmental film On the Edge: The Potomac River’s Dyke Marsh, which premiered to a standing-room-only crowd at the Kennedy Center.
Another significant focus of Barrows’ work is scientific communication. Written for both the scientific and nonscientific communities, his book Animal Behavior Desk Reference: A Dictionary of Animal Behavior, Ecology and Evolution (CRC Press, 2000) connects terminology and concepts of biology with a focus on organismal biology.
In addition to his research, Barrows finds ways to promote environmental awareness – whether teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, serving as director of the Georgetown Center for the Environment and chair of the Committee on Science Buildings or supervising the student-produced Georgetown University Journal of the Environment.
“I like to see students learn about basic ecology and forest biodiversity – the conservation challenges and all,” Barrows says. “When they recognize forest health can be linked to human health, they have a new appreciation for the environment.”