Perspectives Online

Burkholder receives CALS/CNR environmental service award

Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and director of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, is the 2009 recipient of the Joint Award for Service to the Environment and Society. The award is given annually by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Natural Resources at N.C. State University.

In the past, the award has been presented in conjunction with the Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug Lecture on Global Service to Environment and Society, held in October. Although the lecture was not offered this year, the colleges decided to continue presenting the award. Borlaug, known as the father of the Green Revolution for improving crop yields to feed a growing world population, was the first speaker in the series. He died in September at the age of 95.

At N.C. State, Burkholder holds appointments as professor of plant biology and adjunct professor in marine, earth and atmospheric sciences. She has made several major discoveries in research spanning from freshwaters to marine coasts. For example, she was the co-discoverer of Pfiesteria, a toxic fish-killing microbe identified as a major cause of fish kills. That discovery a decade ago led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide $220 million to help North Carolina farmers in the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary to reduce nutrient pollution to surface waters from agricultural runoff.

She also discovered that nitrate pollution can kill Zostera marina, the most important aquatic plant habitat species in brackish waters of the northern hemisphere. The research has led to better understanding about the effects of nutrient over-enrichment on seagrass meadows and has helped guide efforts to re-establish and restore these underwater meadows.

As director of the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, Burkholder oversaw the design and implementation of the first series of automated platforms for research and monitoring of our state’s estuaries. In addition, Burkholder developed the N.C. Floating Classroom Program aboard the center’s research and education outreach ship, the RV Humphries, which is the UNC system’s only Coast Guard-certified oceanographic ship. The program has been operational since 2004. So far in 2009, it has provided a half-day cruise and hands-on learning experiences for 630 eighth-graders and their teachers.

Burkholder is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the recipient of numerous honors, most notably the AAAS’ Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award. In 2008, she received the J. Compton River Achievement Award from the River Network as a lifetime achievement award for leadership in water quality efforts. In 2007, she received the Darbaker Prize for research excellence from the Botanical Society of America.

See more information about the award and previous winners

-- Natalie Hampton