zebras
Zebra and wildebeest gather on the mid-grass plains between the rainy and dry seasons.
                       

      SU biology professor Doug Frank G'90 came to Syracuse in 1986 as a doctoral student to study the Yellowstone ecosystem under McNaughton's guidance, and later joined the faculty. Frank continues to research Yellowstone and, like many other ecologists, has turned to what he calls the "McNaughton Perspective" to unravel the incredible complexities of an ecosystem. McNaughton's approach-like peeling the layers of an onion—has benefited researchers on a variety of ecosystems. Case in point: Yellowstone, where elk, bison, and pronghorn have an impact similar to the large mammals of the Serengeti. In comparing two systems previously believed to be "markedly different," McNaughton, Frank, and Benjamin F. Tracy G'96 wrote in a 1998 issue of BioScience that this "[grazing ecosystem] is distinguished from others by its prominent herbivore-based food web and by the extent to which ecological processes are regulated by dynamics within that food web."
      Frank says McNaughton has had a huge influence on him both professionally and personally, first as a mentor and now as a colleague. "Sam has consistently provided important contributions with his Serengeti work," Frank says. "Everybody recognizes he's been on the forefront of how grasslands operate ecologically, and his influence spills into other areas too. The profession will spend the next one or two decades testing his hypotheses in different ecosystems to see if the same processes and effects are occurring. He's truly been a leader."
lion      In 1994, the National Science Foundation (NSF), a longtime sponsor of McNaughton's research, awarded him a prestigious five-year, $1.25 million accomplishment-based renewal grant, the only such grant given for ecology research in the past several years, according to Scott Collins, who directs the ecology and long-term ecological research programs at NSF. On top of that, in June McNaughton received a $1.5 million NSF grant that will support his research efforts through 2004, when he plans to retire. The funding, McNaughton says, will allow him to experiment with adding minerals to the soil—and, therefore, to plants—in an attempt to attract ungulates, the hoofed mammals of the Serengeti that have been an instrumental part of his research through the years. "Sam's certainly one of the most creative grasslands ecologists in the world," Collins says. "He's shaped a lot of the way we think about our grasslands."
      When McNaughton made his first Serengeti research foray in March 1974, ecological studies of plant communities focused mainly on climate and soil properties as the guiding influences on growth, production, and composition. McNaughton, who specializes in tracking energy flow and nutrient cycling through ecosystems, also planned to work from that angle, wanting to study the impact of the Serengeti's soil and vast rainfall gradient on the grasslands. But McNaughton found he couldn't contemplate the soil and vegetation without considering the repercussions of roving herds on the grasslands, so he incorporated the beasts into his ecosystem equation. Ultimately, this recognition that "interaction is of the essence" became McNaughton's governing philosophy. "If I concentrate on plants, I can't understand those plants without considering the animals and the microbes," he says. "Everything is so interlinked."

                 


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