Aug. 7, 2008

New Cornell institute focuses on invasive species

Thousands of animal and plant species from other countries have slipped into the United States posing serious threats to agriculture, human health and the integrity of our lands and waters. As a major port of entry, New York state, with its vast natural and agricultural resources, is vulnerable to damage from many of these species, including the Asian long-horned beetle and zebra mussel.

To improve the scientific understanding and statewide coordination of invasive species management -- including prevention, detection, management and eradication -- Cornell, with support from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, has established the Invasive Species Research Institute (ISRI) at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The ISRI's mission is to integrate the state's growing research capacity in invasive species with state and stakeholder management priorities.

Holly Menninger, who recently joined Cornell as coordinator of the new institute, will work closely with the New York Invasive Species Council, research scientists, state and federal agencies, and regional stakeholders to coordinate and prioritize the needs for and funding of invasive species research. She will build partnerships and facilitate collaboration among experts in government agencies, academia and the private sector to improve the response to and management of invasive species that cause economic and ecological damage.

The ISRI will be guided by an advisory board comprising researchers, outreach specialists, regulatory specialists and others with invasive species expertise.

"With the ISRI up and running and with Holly Menninger on board as coordinator, we are much better positioned to respond effectively to the challenges posed by invasive species," says Michael Hoffmann, director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station. "With increased globalization and a changing climate, this issue takes on added urgency."

Before coming to Cornell, Menninger was a senior public affairs associate with the American Institute of Biological Sciences, a nonprofit professional society in Washington, D.C.

She earned a B.S. in biology from Denison University and a Ph.D. in behavior, ecology, evolution and systematics from the University of Maryland.

"Our goal is for the ISRI to become a model for innovative, science-based invasive species management," said Menninger.