James T. Carlton, PhD
Exotic Species Invasions Specialist, Ecologist
We asked each of our scientists to give us their thoughts on their professions and what they think the future holds for humanity.
What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
Let's define my career as one focused on being an ecologist interested in how and why the environment has changed over centuries and millennia, including sorting out human-mediated and non-human mediated drivers of change. In terms of human impact, we have had for millennia several effective ways to change the natural world: we can fuss with the contents (increasing or decreasing the abundance of resident species and altering their genetic composition), we can delete species (extinctions), or we can add species (invasions). How would you pursue a career ferreting out the scale of these alterations? You will need to broaden your education and training beyond conventional approaches; the career requires the knowledge of an historian and a biologist, as well as a detailed knowledge of environmental policies over time. These come together in a fascinating career as an ecologist specializing in the history of the environment. Why do we want to know and understand environmental history? An understanding of what was is fundamental to our goals of conservation and preservation — without a scholarly target of what was, we cannot properly frame what our partial restoration goals are or understand the scale of what we have left to preserve. (For more information, Carlton recommends "Apostrophe to the Ocean", 1998, Conservation Biology, 12, 1165-1167.)
What do you like best about your profession?
My career has allowed me a good deal of freedom of travel and exploration and the freedom to pursue a wide range of interests, often well off the beaten track. The more freedom you have in what you want to do when you get up in the morning, the more enjoyable your career.
What makes you most fearful for the future?
Erosion of funding for environmental education, at all levels.
What makes you most hopeful for the future?
Expanding environmental education in elementary schools. There is no substitute for larval imprinting.