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SynThesis 1

Congratulations to E3B MA student Myles Davis who won 3rd place at the GSAS Master’s SynThesis competition!

On May 2, 2023, twelve Columbia GSAS Master’s students competed in the GSAS Master’s SynThesis competition. This competition consists of taking a topic that you’ve been researching and thinking about for over a year, and presenting it to the general public in a three-minute talk, with just one visual slide and no notes to help you. Myles (second from left) spoke about human and wildlife activity in NYC during COVID. You can watch his presentation HERE.


E3B PhD student Marie Lilly from the Diuk-Wasser Eco-epidemiology Lab got to go on set of the Today Show yesterday morning and set up deer tick specimens that the lab collected for a segment about ticks and tick-borne disease! You can watch the full segment on ‘How to protect yourself — and your pets — during tick season’ HERE.

You can also check out the Tick App ( for more information about ticks and tick-borne disease, to report your tick encounters, and to help further Eco-epidemiology lab research efforts!

E3B MA student Emma Lauterbach was tasked by Professor Claudia Dreifus to “write a letter to the editor and send it off.”

Emma did that and it was published in the New York Times!

To read Emma’s letter, please click HERE. Congratulations Emma!

Photo, left to right: Mary C. Boyce, Ruth DeFries, Jennifer Crewe, Adam D. Reich.

Congratulations to E3B Professor Ruth DeFries on winning the Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award!!⁣

Columbia University Press, in conjunction with the Office of the Provost, is pleased to announce that What Would Nature Do? A Guide for Our Uncertain Times by Ruth DeFries is the winner of the eighth annual Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award.

Ruth DeFries is a Co-Founding Dean of the Columbia Climate School; University Professor; and Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology.

The Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award is given to the Columbia University faculty member whose book published by the Press in the two years prior brings the highest distinction to Columbia University and Columbia University Press for its outstanding contribution to academic and public discourse. The winner is selected by the Distinguished Book Award jury, which is composed of current members of the Press’s Faculty Publication Committee.

In presenting the award, Professor Adam Reich, chair of the Distinguished Book Award jury and chair of the Press’s Faculty Publication Committee, commented, “DeFries weaves together a highly readable book that approaches our contemporary complex, and potentially failing, society with a spirit of curiosity and pragmatism. Rather than using natural sciences to tell us why our social world can’t be changed, she uses the natural world as a source of inspiration for how we might get out of the various muddles we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

Congratulations to E3B’s very own Professor Matthew Palmer for being selected as one of the recipients of the 2022 Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching!

Dr. Palmer teaches and advises students in several programs, including E3B’s undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and graduate programs and in the Environmental Science and Policy program in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He teaches courses in botany, forest ecology, urban ecology, herpetology, and research methods, often with extensive field and laboratory components. His research includes measuring ecosystem functions in forests, wetlands, and cities, the management of natural areas, and the conservation of biological diversity. He finds great joy in teaching and in helping students to see the natural world with a fresh perspective and to better understand the connections between nature and humanity.

“His course on botany has fundamentally altered the way I look at the world around me. I find myself walking a little more slowly on my way to campus from my dorm every day, just to take a look at the plants around me. Every day I come away with a greater appreciation of Columbia’s campus and the city around me.”—Diego Plaza Homiston (CC’23)

Congratulations Matt on this wonderful, well-deserved achievement!

The E3B department is delighted to announce that Dr. Alexandra Huddell has won the 2022 Don Jay Melnick Award!

Named in honor of one of the founders of our department, the Melnick Award recognizes outstanding dissertation work and other departmental activities.

Alex’s dissertation focused on how agricultural frontiers influence losses of nitrogen. Conventional agricultural practices in Europe, North America, and Asia lead to large nitrogen losses that cause dead zones, smog, and greenhouse warming. Agriculture is expanding along climate frontiers, occupying vast regions of the tropics that previously had little large-scale agriculture, and along management frontiers, with new crops and techniques. Do these frontiers exacerbate nitrogen leaks or mitigate them?

Alex first addressed climate frontiers, studying nitrogen losses in tropical agroecosystems. She studied field systems in Mato Grosso, Brazil, where agriculture is expanding rapidly. Her first chapter (AGE 2021) found that excess fertilizer in these agroecosystems leads to among the highest emissions ever recorded of nitric oxide (which forms smog).

Alex’s collaborators in Brazil had previously found that huge amounts of nitrate (which causes dead zones) accumulate deep in the soil rather than leaking out into waterways. Alex’s second chapter (Ecosystems 2022) tested an explanation for this high nitrate storage. She found that negatively charged ions (anions, like nitrate) stuck tightly to the soils in Mato Grosso, unlike the common situation in temperate soils (which tend to stick to cations instead of anions). This “anion exchange capacity” combined with the great depth of the soils (over 8 meters (!)) meant that the soils in Mato Grosso could continue to store nitrate at current levels of fertilization for tens-hundreds of years.

This nitrate storage in Mato Grosso was intriguing. Was it ubiquitous in tropical agroecosystems? In her third chapter (a meta-analysis; Global Change Biology 2020), Alex found that it was not. She found that tropical agroecosystems leak as much nitrate as temperate ecosystems for a given level of fertilizer. However, she found that tropical agroecosystems emit substantially more nitric oxide than their temperate counterparts, as she had observed in Mato Grosso.

Alex’s fourth chapter focused on a management frontier: perennial grains. Perennial grains are hypothesized to mitigate nitrogen losses compared with conventional agriculture, yet this hypothesis has rarely been tested. Alex worked at the SAFE experiment at the Lönnstorp Research Station, which grows perennial wheat alongside annual wheat. She found that her hypothesis was spot on: perennial wheat soaks up way more nitrogen than annual wheat, essentially preventing nitrogen losses (~100 fold lower).

Alex’s work is cutting-edge biogeochemistry. Fittingly, given the namesake of this award, her work matters for people and has clear management implications. In addition to her outstanding academic success, Alex was an excellent departmental citizen. She was deeply involved in DEI efforts, culminating in co-founding the Environmental Justice and Urban Ecology Summer Research Program.

Congratulations Alex!

More From the Field

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A new study by E3B PhD student Erich Eberhard was quoted in the Winter 2022-23 Columbia Magazine! You can read ‘Can We Act Sooner to […] Read More

E3B PhD student Pallavi Kache was profiled for Columbia News in December! To read more about Pallavi’s research on how cities can stop the proliferation […] Read More

Dr. Eleanor J. Sterling (1960 – 2023) – In Memoriam Eleanor Sterling, longtime colleague and beloved member of the E3B community, passed away on February […] Read More

E3B Chair, Shahid Naeem, was quoted in a Nature story on biodiversity crisis! The article called, “Can the world save a million species from extinction?” […] Read More

Congratulations to MA student Lilah Sciaky, who won the “best poster” award at the 2022 NEEP (Northeastern Evolutionary Primatology) meeting! From Lilah: I examined how […] Read More

Check it out: A piece in the State of the Planet from the Columbia Climate School details the work of E3B PhD student Pedro Ribeiro […] Read More

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