Expert in plant, soil interaction selected as foundation professor
LAWRENCE — The native prairies of Kansas are fertile ground for discovery. Soon, a new University of Kansas Foundation Distinguished Professor will use his expertise in ecology and microbiology to release secrets hidden within the soil and plants of the grasslands.
James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. Bever is one of five Foundation Distinguished Professors to be announced this year and one of 12 overall. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions. Microbes offer important clues to understanding the effects of global climate change because they play critical roles in geobiology, geochemistry, soil structure and development, and in the ecology and evolution of plants.
“Dr. Bever is a superbly accomplished scholar with international standing in soil science,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “With his diverse interests and expertise, he’ll serve as a major catalyst to further innovative work within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and other divisions of KU, such as the Kansas Biological Survey and the Biodiversity Institute. His work specifically addresses one of KU’s strategic initiatives, to sustain the planet.”
Bever’s research also extends to crop plants and restoration of vegetation on degraded lands. His more than 100 peer-reviewed articles have appeared in high-profile publications including Science, Nature, and Ecology. He has attracted nearly $7 million in research funding from a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.
He was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. He received an NSF Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis (OPUS) award in 2011. The NSF OPUS strives to combine a body of related research projects conducted by an individual or a group of investigators over an extended period. The goal is to produce unique, integrated insight useful both to the scientific community and in advancing the investigator's future work.
“Professor Bever will strengthen the collaborative group of researchers in EEB focusing on the increasingly important realm of the soil biosphere,” said Chris Haufler, chair of the department. “He is destined to spearhead new discoveries about how soil-bound microbes control above-ground biodiversity and productivity. His research will unquestionably yield major benefits to understanding ecology and agriculture in Kansas and the entire Midwest.”
Bever has been at Indiana University since 2000. In 2006, he was a Bullard Fellow at Harvard, and in 2007 he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Canberra, Australia. From 1998 to 2000 he was an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine. He has also held research positions at Duke University, the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
Among his many professional activities, Bever served eight years on the advisory board for The Land Institute, based in Salina. He also was chair of the Science Advisory Board for the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
Bever, who in 2014 spent a semester at KU as a Bold Aspirations visiting scholar, will hold a joint appointment with the Kansas Biological Survey.
“Dr. Bever will bring his international research leadership in the study of plant ecology, including plant-microbe interactions, to the KBS and the KU Field Station,” said Ed Martinko, director of the Kansas Biological Survey. “The results of his research to date have already contributed to our understanding of ecological processes as well as issues concerning conservation and restoration of plant diversity in abandoned agricultural fields.”
He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in ecology from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from Duke University.
KU’s Foundation Distinguished Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract eminent faculty members to support one or more of the university’s four strategic initiative themes.