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Curt Richardson (PhD 1972): Alumni Update

Curt Richardson (PhD 1972) is the second person ever to graduate from UT with a PhD in Ecology, and his career after graduating has been impressive!  This is what he had to say:

No question UT put me on the path to a remarkable career, first at the University of Michigan and then at Duke University for the past 38 years.  Tennessee in 1972 was only one of two Universities offering a PhD in Ecology, and with their strong program and ties to Oak Ridge National Lab it presented me with an unbelievable opportunity to do research in the NSF funded International Biological Program (IBP).  After completing my degree in physiological plant ecology with a minor in soils I was hired directly out of graduate school as an Assistant Professor of Ecology in the School of Natural Resources in Michigan. Postdocs were not required in ecology in those days as the number of graduates were few and the field was growing rapidly.  It was a wonderful school and unlike today money was readily available from NSF, so grants were readily available for research, especially in ecology.  While I was at Michigan, I moved from forestry research and  became interested  in wetlands ecology.  I  worked on one of the first major studies in the U.S. on the ecological and biogeochemical  effects of  waste water additions to wetlands at Houghton Lake Michigan.  My research, I can proudly say, showed that wetlands cannot  efficiently remove phosphorus from the water and that the natural wetland communities were greatly altered by the invasion of cattails.  Importantly, this research stopped EPA from approving the use of natural  wetlands for waste water treatment and thus the field  of constructed wetlands  was born.

After five years at Michigan I was offered a wonderful position to head up the ecology program at Duke’s School of Forestry and Environmental  studies.  This school later became the Nicholas School of the Environment in 1991.  While at Duke, I have been a Professor of Resource Ecology but have also  taken my turn at administrative duties.  Over the years I have been Ecology Program Chairman, Division chair of Ecosystem Science and Policy and even acting Dean of the School.  However, my first love is teaching and research where I have mentored over 150 masters more than 20 PhD students. Twenty-five years ago I founded the Duke University Wetland Center and currently still direct its research activities.  There is no doubt the ecological training and experiences given to me at UT by my professors while a graduate student in the Ecology Program at UT gave me the entree into a wonderful academic and research career in ecology at two great institutions.  

My  major research efforts have focused on wetlands as nutrient sinks and chemical transformers on the landscape.  Fortunately, I have  directed research on some of the most important wetland issues of our time, including long-term studies on the effects of nutrient phosphorus additions in wetlands in Michigan, Pocosin peatlands losses in North Carolina, the restoration of the Everglades of Florida and more recently scientific assessment of wetland restoration potential in the Iraq marshes. Since 2000 I have focused on restoring all the wetlands and streams on the Duke University campus and in 2007 the University dedicated 25 acres of the campus as SWAMP (Stream Wetland Management Assessment Park).  Currently, I  direct  research on  a large multi-institutional DOE grant on carbon sequestration and GHG losses in peatlands (Minnesota to Panama), and I am  a CO-PI in the nanomaterials project (NSF CEINT Center) where I  direct research on nanomaterial effects on wetland plants and water chemistry.

I have  authored or co-authored  over 175 peer-reviewed papers.  Recent books include “Methods in Biogeochemistry of Wetlands in 2013 and  “The Everglades Experiments: Lessons for Restoration in 2008. I have  been listed in Who’s Who in Science annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. In 2006, I  received the National Wetlands Scientist of the Year Award from the Environmental Law Institute.  I am an elected  Fellow of the Society of Wetland Scientists, the Soil Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I  received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of wetland Scientists in 2013.  Importantly,  these career achievements  cannot outshine the real value  of having the opportunity to work  with great students and people over the past four decades.