Mooney to receive 2002 Blue Planet Prize in recognition of pioneering ecological research

June 13, 2002

Harold A. Mooney, a professor of biological sciences, has been named co-recipient of the 2002 Blue Planet Prize - an annual award presented by the Tokyo-based Asahi Glass Foundation in recognition of noteworthy scientific contributions to global environmental conservation.

Mooney shares this year's prize with Professor James Gustave Speth, dean of Yale University`s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Each man will receive a certificate of merit, a commemorative trophy and a supplementary award of $400,000 (50 million yen) at a ceremony in Tokyo on Nov. 14 - to be followed by a commemorative lecture delivered by both winners at United Nations University in Tokyo on Nov. 15.

Established in 1992, the Blue Planet Prize is given annually to two individuals or organizations for major contributions to solving environmental problems on a global scale. Past recipients include Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich (1999) and the Washington, D.C.-based group, Conservation International (1997).

Mooney and Speth were chosen from a field of 132 candidates representing 39 countries. The foundation singled out Mooney for his pioneering work in plant physiological ecology, for providing objective measures of how plant ecologies are influenced by their environments and for his conservation efforts. Speth was chosen for a lifetime of creative and visionary leadership in the search for science-based solutions to global environmental problems and for pioneering efforts to bring these issues - including global climate change - to broad international attention.

When notified of the prize, Mooney expressed gratitude and praised the foundation`s efforts at raising international awareness about ecological issues.

"I hope that their example - a deep concern for the global environment - will be followed by all sectors of society as we move into a world with a human population that is predicted to reach as many as 10 billion people by the year 2050 with a resultant enormous impact on, and utilization of, the natural resources that sustain us all," Mooney said.

Plant ecology

Mooney - the Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology and senior fellow, by courtesy, at Stanford`s Institute for International Studies - was recognized for introducing physiological methodology to the research of plant ecology and for creating new methods for quantitatively understanding the impact of natural and human-generated environmental change on plant ecology.

In announcing the award, foundation officials described the circuitous route that led to Mooney`s outstanding career in plant ecology- starting in the 1950s when he entered the University of California at Berkley as a political science major. Short of money, Mooney was forced to leave Berkeley and accepted a job on a freighter traveling down the West Coast of the Americas. While crossing the Panama Canal, he read in a magazine about the job of collector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture`s Plant Exploration unit, which led to a major change in his career path.

"Dr. Mooney, who had taken a strong interest in plants through his activities in the mountains of California, was extremely attracted to an occupation in which he could both study plants and go on adventurous travels," foundation officials noted. As a result, Mooney enrolled in UC-Santa Barbara`s plant ecology program, earning an undergraduate degree in 1957.

In 1960, after receiving a doctorate from Duke University, Mooney joined the UCLA faculty and embarked on research into convergent evolution, demonstrating that different plant species develop the same physiological characteristics in response to the same severe environments. He earned acclaim by demonstrating that these similarities are not limited to form but also extend to function - a result achieved by comparing the ecology and physiological characteristics of plants in the drought-limited Mediterranean climates of the geographically disparate California and Chilean coastal regions and the Mediterranean Basin.

Stanford career

After joining Stanford`s Department of Biological Sciences in 1968, Mooney began to examine not only carbon gain but carbon use by plants - applying a cost-benefit approach to clarify how carbon resources are allocated to different sites in plants for photosynthesis and other functions. He had a significant impact on later studies into plant physiological ecology by showing in a detailed cost analysis how plants obtain carbohydrates and nitrogen, and how they distribute and store them to obtain the greatest effect with the lowest expenditure of energy.

In the late 1980s, Mooney established the first global evaluation of invasive plant species through SCOPE - the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment of the International Council of Scientific Unions.

"He regarded the acceleration of problems related to invasive species due to increased international commerce with grave concern, recognized the need for joint research between naturalists and social scientists, and launched the Global Invasive Species Program with many international institutions as partners," foundation officials noted. "Through such programs, he has brought awareness to the topic of the impact of human activities upon ecosystems through species introductions."

Complete biographies of Mooney and Speth will be available at the foundation`s website
By Mark Shwartz

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