NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY PROGRAM REPORTS ON CEES DIRECTOR DON MELNICK AND CAFÉ SCIENCE
Sheuer, Susan. TalkingScience. In Dr. Don Melnick at the Picnic Market and Cafe. Retrieved May 21, 2010, from http://www.talkingscience.org/2009/10/dr-don-melnick-at-the-picnic-market-and-cafe/
"On Monday evening, September 14th, at the small and informal Picnic Café, between 101st and 102nd and Broadway, Columbia University Professor of Conservation Biology, Don Melnick, offered up a highly informative and consistently entertaining account of his work over the past 35 years studying scientific systems, finding solutions to the loss of biodiversity around the world, and integrating science and policy development."
Dr. Don Melnick at the Picnic Market and Cafe
It’s a known fact that the environmental problems we humans face are legion, but who’s out there really doing something about them? On Monday evening, September 14th, at the small and informal Picnic Café, between 101st and 102nd and Broadway, Columbia University Professor of Conservation Biology, Don Melnick, offered up a highly informative and consistently entertaining account of his work over the past 35 years studying scientific systems, finding solutions to the loss of biodiversity around the world, and integrating science and policy development.
Dr. Melnick addressed two critical and related issues, namely, the decline in species populations, and the decline of genetic diversity within those species as a result of habitat fragmentation and inbreeding. A key focus of Conservation Biologists, Dr. Melnick explained, must be to help species maintain their ability to evolve under rapidly changing environmental conditions. This may mean using management strategies that “fool mother nature,” for example, planting forested corridors between forest fragments, or cross breeding vertebrates from two separate communities. We must bring, he said, “the best science to bear”, in creating environmentally sustainable management strategies that preserve genetic diversity at the highest possible level.
Dr. Melnick is more than a scientist; he is a master storyteller, who regaled his audience with engaging stories of scientific study, and survival in some less than welcoming places-countries where political and economic turmoil often made it difficult to carry out his conservation goals. We learned, for example of his three year stint studying Rhesus monkeys in the Himalayan foothills of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, and the ordeal of traveling from one military check point to the next, the day after the 1977 military coup that ousted then President Ali Bhutto. We heard how his wife, along on the study and also a scientist, saved her husband from hyperthermia while trekking in the mountains. Somewhat closer to home, we learned of Dr. Melnick’s work in the Dominican Republic (a biodiversity hot spot) building latrines and water filtration systems in fishing communities, as well as his friendship and working relationship with President Leonel Fernandez Reyna.
Dr. Melnick and his colleagues are about to launch a huge sustainable fisheries program in that country. On a lighter note, and moving on to his work in conservation genetics in Indonesia, he described how if you rub the inside of a Sumatran rhino’s thigh it will most definitely roll over for a blood sample, and if you happen to rub the inside of the thigh of a Malayan tapir (we’re speaking here, in genetic terms, of the next closest species), it will gladly do the same.
Underpinning each of Dr. Melnick’s conservation goals is his firm belief that ecological restoration, in order to be successful, must be linked to the economic, educational and social well being of local populations. Conservations projects, that is, must revolve around relationships with community leaders, and local citizens must be the beneficiaries of such projects.
Dr. Melnick’s talk was part of Columbia University’s “Café Science” series, while also a celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, and the two hundredth anniversary of Darwin’s birth. This inspiring hour ended too quickly, and an eager band of audience members spilled onto the sidewalk and surrounded Dr. Melnick, hoping to ask him just a few more lingering questions.
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