Director of Ecological Think Tank to Depart

The head of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) is leaving after 16 months on the job. Edward McCauley will return to the University of Calgary in Canada to be vice president for research in July. The development is not good news for NCEAS, which is also losing its core funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NCEAS was founded in 1996 as place for researchers to collaborate on the synthesis and analysis of existing data to answer key ecological questions (Science, 10 April 2009, p. 170). Working groups of ecologists propose projects, and those that are selected visit the facility, which is operated by the University of California, Santa Barbara, for several weeklong work sessions. They can also interact with a resident group of postdocs and scientists on sabbaticals, as well as experts in data mining.

About half of the NCEAS budget comes from the state of California and foundations. NSF has provided grants ($3.7 million in FY 2010) that make up the rest. In 2009, NSF decided to open a competition for a new center that would focus on environmental problems and have a greater emphasis on integrating social science. NCEAS applied but learned last September that it had not been selected. The remaining funds can be stretched out until July 2012 to complete existing projects and support postdocs.

McCauley says that NCEAS has drafted a strategic plan, which is being evaluated by university officials. Santa Barbara “is committed to supporting NCEAS," he says, adding that his decision to leave is for personal reasons unrelated to NCEAS. A new director will be able to implement the plan, he says, given the widespread support of the organization from ecologists. "NCEAS is far bigger than the director. NCEAS is really part of the fabric of the community."