Gift from botanist Jean Langenheim establishes Endowed Chair in Plant Ecology and Evolution

Jean Langenheim and Ingrid Parker. Photo by Tim Stephens.

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has appointed Ingrid Parker, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, to the newly established Jean H. Langenheim Endowed Chair in Plant Ecology and Evolution. Parker is the first faculty member to hold the endowed chair, established by a gift of $350,000 from Jean Langenheim, professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology.

The endowment provides funds to support and encourage research and teaching in the area of terrestrial plant ecology and evolution, including studies of human impacts on plants, such as global warming, introduction of invasive plants, and ecosystem destruction.

"I wanted to support a continuation of the long-standing research at UCSC for understanding the relationships of plants to their environment, and their evolution to meet ever-changing conditions," Langenheim said. "We are very fortunate to be surrounded by such diverse flora and vegetation in this area, so this is a logical place to promote this kind of research. And I hope the chair will also enable faculty and students to expand their research to other parts of the world, particularly the tropics."

Langenheim is an eminent plant ecologist who has served as president of the Ecological Society of America, the International Society of Chemical Ecology, the Association for Tropical Biology, and the Society for Economic Botany. She has traveled throughout the world in the course of her research, focusing on tropical trees in her studies of the evolution of resin-producing trees and the origins of amber (fossil resin). She also studied the chemical ecology of redwoods and other Pacific Coast plants.

A UCSC faculty member since 1966, Langenheim was the campus's first female faculty member in the natural sciences and the first woman to be promoted to full professor. Although she retired in 1993, she continues to supervise graduate students and remains active in research.

Parker joined the UCSC faculty in 1998. Her research includes investigations of invasive plant species and the evolutionary interactions of plants and plant pathogens. She has ongoing research projects on invasive plants in California, from Monterey County to the Sierra Nevada, and is investigating a new disease of coconut palms in Panama with her husband Gregory Gilbert, professor of environmental studies.

"It is such an honor to be associated with Jean, who is a real pioneer in plant ecology and evolution," Parker said. "The endowment will provide valuable support for the projects of students who are working in plant biology on campus."

Her plans for using funds from the endowed chair include helping graduate students to participate in courses in tropical ecology offered in Costa Rica by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Langenheim has represented UC on the OTS board and helped establish some of these special graduate courses as the academic vice president of OTS. Several UCSC faculty members, including Parker, took the courses themselves as graduate students.

Parker also wants to use the funds to support UCSC's annual plant research symposium, which brings together faculty and students involved in plant research from various departments and divisions on campus.

The endowed chair is an honor that comes at an especially meaningful time for Parker, who spent much of the past year on partial medical leave while she underwent treatment for cancer.

"Being nominated by my department meant so much to me because it was a real vote of confidence looking toward the future. Last year was tough, and it's wonderful to be back," she said.