CORVALLIS - Mark E. Harmon, a forest ecologist and associate professor with the Department of Forest Science at Oregon State University, has been named to one of three Richardson Family Endowed Professorships at OSU's College of Forestry.
Harmon's job will be to expand and integrate landscape-level research programs to sustain the long-term integrity and productivity of forests, and improve forest policy and management worldwide.
Harmon, 46, was selected from among five finalists after a nationwide search, said Logan Norris, head of the Department of Forest Science. "Mark was the person who best matched the vision and expectations we had for this endowed chair," Norris said.
The professorship is supported by the Ward K. Richardson Family Endowment, established from a 1992 bequest of forest land to OSU.
Harmon received his doctorate in botany from OSU in 1986, and has gained an international reputation for his research on the ecosystem processes of forests. His studies have ranged from what happens to nutrients on a particular forest site as plants move through their cycle of growth, death, and decomposition, to how much dead wood might exist in the forests of the whole world at any moment.
He is the lead scientist from OSU at the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a research station in the Oregon Cascades administered jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and OSU. He also leads a group of about 30 scientists from all over North America who are examining how decomposition forms organic matter in soil, which has implications for sustaining soil fertility in ecosystems around the globe.
Harmon's studies of the decomposition of dead trees that began in the mid-1980s have helped establish the critical role of large pieces of rotting wood in maintaining functioning forest ecosystems, and forest managers are now leaving more large wood on harvest sites.
In 1990 Harmon published a study on how forests absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The controversial study disputed the common notion that young forest plantations are an efficient "carbon sink," able to cleanse the air of excess carbon dioxide. It pointed to factors in carbon dioxide buildup such as decomposition of logging slash and wood products. That work is helping to refine policy deliberations on the role of carbon in global climate change.
Harmon is developing a course in landscape ecology that draws on genetics, plant physiology, wildlife biology and geography to help students understand processes that maintain forest sustainability.