Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species

Departmental Office: Schermerhorn Extension, 10th floor; 212-854-9987

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Dr. Matthew Palmer, 1010 Schermerhorn; 212-854-4767; mp2434@columbia.edu

Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species Adviser: Dr. Jill Shapiro, 1011 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-5819; jss19@columbia.edu

Director, Administration and Finance: Lourdes A. Gautier, 1014B Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-8665; lg2019@columbia.edu

The Department of Ecology, Evolution & Environmental Biology (E3B) at Columbia University was established in 2001. Although we are a relatively new department, we have grown rapidly in the past decade. We now have an internationally diverse student body and a broad network of supporters at Columbia and throughout New York City. Our affiliated faculty members come from departments at Columbia as well as from the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the EcoHealth Alliance. Together, we provide an unparalleled breadth and depth of research opportunities for our students.

In creating E3B, Columbia University recognized that the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, and environmental biology constitute a distinct subdivision of the biological sciences with its own set of intellectual foci, theoretical foundations, scales of analysis, and methodologies.

E3B's mission is to educate a new generation of scientists and practitioners in the theory and methods of ecology, evolution, and environmental biology. Our educational programs emphasize a multi-disciplinary perspective to understand life on Earth from the level of organisms to global processes that sustain humanity and all life.

To achieve this multi-disciplinary perspective, the department maintains close ties to over 70 faculty members beyond its central core. Thus, many faculty members who teach, advise, and train students in research are based in other departments on the Columbia campus or at the partner institutions. Through this collaboration, the department is able to tap into a broad array of scientific and intellectual resources in the greater New York City area. The academic staff covers the areas of plant and animal systematics; evolutionary and population genetics; ecosystem science; demography and population biology; behavioral and community ecology; and related fields of epidemiology, ethnobiology, public health, and environmental policy. Harnessing the expertise of this diverse faculty and the institutions of which they are a part, E3B covers a vast area of inquiry into the evolutionary, genetic, and ecological relationships among all living things.

Facilities and Collaborative Institutions

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B)

In addition to the off-campus facilities detailed below, the Columbia community offers academic excellence in a range of natural and social science disciplines that are directly related to biodiversity conservation including: evolution, systematics, genetics, behavioral ecology, public health, business, economics, political science, anthropology, and public and international policy. These disciplines are embodied in world-class departments, schools, and facilities at Columbia. The divisions that bring their resources to bear on issues most relevant to E3B’s mission are: the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the School of International and Public Affairs, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the International Research Institute for Climate Predication, the Black Rock Forest Reserve in New York State, the Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine, the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Several of these units of the University are networked through the Earth Institute at Columbia, a division of the University that acts as an intramural network of environmental programs and supplies logistical support for constituent programs, through planning, research, seminars, and conferences. All of the above schools, centers, and institutes contribute to finding solutions for the world’s environmental challenges.

The Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES)

The Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES), formerly known as the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), is actively involved in protecting biodiversity and ecosystems. The Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability is dedicated to the development of a rich, robust, and vibrant world within which we can secure a sustainable future. Through a diverse array of strategic partners in science, education, and outreach, the center builds unique programs that promote human well-being through the preservation, restoration, and management of biodiversity, and the services our ecosystems provide.

The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), a leading provider of cutting-edge environmental research, education, and training, since its inception in 1994, has grown into two institutions—an Earth institute center and a Secretariat for a major environmental consortium. The center’s new name is the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES, pronounced “i-sees”). EICES also continues, however, as the Secretariat for the Consortium for Environmental Research and Conservation, continuing 15 years of collaborations between the Earth Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, The Wildlife Conservation Society, and EcoHealth Alliance on biodiversity conservation.

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has advanced its global mission to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe through a wide-reaching program of scientific research, education, and exhibitions. The institution comprises 45 permanent exhibition halls, state-of-the-art research laboratories, one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere, and a permanent collection of 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts. With a scientific staff of more than 200, the Museum supports research divisions in anthropology, paleontology, invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, and the physical sciences. The Museum’s scientific staff pursues a broad agenda of advanced scientific research, investigating the origins and evolution of life on Earth, the world’s myriad species, the rich variety of human culture, and the complex processes that have formed and continue to shape planet Earth and the universe beyond.

The Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) was created in June 1993 to advance the use of scientific data to mitigate threats to biodiversity. CBC programs integrate research, education, and outreach so that people, a key force in the rapid loss of biodiversity, will become participants in its conservation. The CBC works with partners throughout the world to build professional and institutional capacities for biodiversity conservation and heightens public understanding and stewardship of biodiversity. CBC projects are under way in the Bahamas, Bolivia, Madagascar, Mexico, Vietnam, and the Metropolitan New York region.

The Museum’s scientific facilities include: two molecular systematics laboratories equipped with modern high-throughput technology; the interdepartmental laboratories, which include a state-of-the-art imaging facility that provides analytical microscopy, energy dispersive spectrometry, science visualization, and image analysis to support the Museum’s scientific activities; a powerful parallel-computing facility, including a cluster of the world’s fastest computers, positioned to make significant contributions to bioinformatics; and a frozen tissue facility with the capacity to store one million DNA samples.

New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), with its 7 million specimen herbarium, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and its LuEsther T. Mertz Library, the largest botanical and horticultural reference collection on a single site in the Americas, comprises one of the very best locations in the world to study plant science. NYBG’s systematic botanists discover, decipher, and describe the world’s plant and fungal diversity; and its economic botanists study the varied links between plants and people. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the United States, features some 6,000 species in a newly installed “Plants of the World” exhibit. The new International Plant Science Center stores the Garden collection under state-of-the-art environmental conditions and has nine study rooms for visiting scholars. All specimens are available for on-site study or loan.

In recent years, NYBG has endeavored to grow and expand its research efforts, supporting international field projects in some two dozen different countries, ranging from Brazil to Indonesia. In 1994, AMNH and NYBG established the Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics Studies to promote the use of molecular techniques in phylogenetic studies of plant groups. This program offers many opportunities for research in conservation genetics. NYBG operates both the Institute for Economic Botany (IEB) and the Institute of Systematic Botany (ISB). The ISB builds on the Garden’s long tradition of intensive and distinguished research in systematic botany—the study of the kinds and diversity of plants and their relationships—to develop the knowledge and means for responding effectively to the biodiversity crisis.

The Garden has also established a molecular and anatomical laboratory program, which includes light and electron microscopes, and has made enormous advances in digitizing its collection. There is currently a searchable on-line library catalog and specimen database collection with some half million unique records. Field sites around the world provide numerous opportunities for work in important ecosystems of unique biodiversity.

Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, works to save wildlife and wild lands throughout the world. In addition to supporting the nation’s largest system of zoological facilities—the Bronx Zoo; the New York Aquarium; the Wildlife Centers in Central Park, Prospect Park, and Flushing Meadow Park; and the Wildlife Survival Center on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia—WCS maintains a commitment to field-based conservation science. With 60 staff scientists and more than 100 research fellows, WCS has the largest professional field staff of any U.S.-based international conservation organization. Currently, WCS conducts nearly 300 field projects throughout the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The field program is supported by a staff of conservation scientists based in New York who also conduct their own research.

WCS’s field-based programs complement the organization’s expertise in veterinary medicine, captive breeding, animal care, genetics, and landscape ecology, most of which are based at the Bronx Zoo headquarters. WCS’s Conservation Genetics program places an emphasis on a rigorous, logical foundation for the scientific paradigms used in conservation biology and is linked to a joint Conservation Genetics program with the American Museum of Natural History. The Wildlife Health Sciences division is responsible for the health care of more than 17,000 wild animals in the five New York parks and wildlife centers. The departments of Clinical Care, Pathology, Nutrition, and Field Veterinary Programs provide the highest quality of care to wildlife.

EcoHealth Alliance

EcoHealth Alliance is an international organization of scientists dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity. For more than 40 years, EcoHealth Alliance has focused its efforts on conservation. Today, they are known for innovative research on the intricate relationships between wildlife, ecosystems, and human health.

EcoHealth Alliance's work spans the U.S. and more than 20 countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia to research ways for people and wildlife to share bioscapes for their mutual survival. Their strength is built on innovations in research, education, and training and accessibility to international conservation partners.

Internationally, EHA programs support conservationists in over a dozen countries at the local level to save endangered species and their habitats, and to protect delicate ecosystems for the benefit of wildlife and humans.

Academic Programs

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology runs two undergraduate majors/concentrations. The primary major is in environmental biology and the second is evolutionary biology of the human species. The foci and requirements vary substantially and are intended for students with different academic interests.

The environmental biology major emphasizes those areas of biology and other disciplines essential for students who intend to pursue careers in the conservation of Earth’s living resources. It is designed to prepare students for graduate study in ecology and evolutionary biology, conservation biology, environmental policy and related areas, or for direct entry into conservation-related or science teaching careers.

Interdisciplinary knowledge is paramount to solving environmental biology issues, and a wide breadth of courses is thus essential, as is exposure to current work. Conservation internships are available through partner institutions and serve as research experience leading to the development of the required senior thesis.

Declaration of the environmental biology major must be approved by the director of undergraduate studies and filed in the departmental office located on the 10th floor of Schermerhorn Extension.

The major in evolutionary biology of the human species provides students with a foundation in the interrelated spheres of behavior, ecology, genetics, evolution, morphology, patterns of growth, adaptation, and forensics. Using the framework of evolution and with attention to the interplay between biology and culture, research in these areas is applied to our own species and to our closest relatives to understand who we are and where we came from. This integrated biological study of the human species is also known as biological anthropology. As an interdisciplinary major, students are also encouraged to draw on courses in related fields including biology, anthropology, geology, and psychology as part of their studies.