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Dean's Lecture scheduled

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 08 - October 13, 1994

Society's practices work either with natural systems or against them, a Virginia Tech professor says; and if hostile practices continue, the parts of natural systems that survive may be those least valued by humans: cockroaches, Norway rats, and fruit flies.

John Cairns, university distinguished professor in biology and director of the University Center for Environmental and Hazardous Materials Studies, will present "Global Co-evolution of Natural Systems and Human Society," the sixth lecture in the Dean's Lecture Series of the College of Arts and Sciences, Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. in 300 Whittemore. Cairns will discuss the hypothesis that human society and natural systems are co-evolving, sometimes in hostile ways.

Because human society has always been dependent on ecosystem services, such as maintaining the atmospheric gas balance and water quality, and is now equally as dependent on technological services, which can damage those ecological services, society must achieve a balance between the two, Cairns said. That balance can be attained solely through co-evolution with natural systems in a way that preserves the integrity of those systems and human society, he said.

The Dean's Lecture Series was initiated in 1989 as part of the college's 25th anniversary. Each year, an outstanding member of the college faculty is selected by a committee and the dean to present a public lecture on a topic of general interest.

Cairns, who does research aimed at improving the quality of information used in making environmental decisions, has been a pioneer or made major contributions in several critical areas, including community ecology and recovery and restoration of damaged ecosystems. His career has earned him numerous honors and distinctions, including being elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London.

Cairns has earned numerous awards, including the prestigious Life Achievement Award in Science from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the U.S. Presidential Commendation for Environmental Activities, and the United Nations Environmental Programme Medal. He has written, edited, or been senior author of 50 books; and he has published 1,236 articles in professional journals. His most recent books include Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems, Ecological Toxicology, and Implementing Integrated Environmental Management.