Visiting CMEC researcher Michael Becker wins prestigious prize – University of Copenhagen

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27 March 2017

Visiting CMEC researcher Michael Becker wins prestigious prize

Visiting researcher at Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, and BBC Natural History Unit researcher Michael Becker has won a British Ecological Society Young Investigator prize. The prize – one of only five awarded each year – recognises the best research papers published in BES journals by early career scientists.

Michael Becker, visiting researcher at Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate has won a British Ecological Society Young Investigator prize.

Michael won the Southwood Prize for the best paper in the BES's Journal of Applied Ecology in 2016 for his paper on the Sixty-year legacy of human impacts on a high Arctic ecosystem.

The prize, which includes £250, a year's BES membership plus a year's subscription to the journal, will be presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting in Ghent, Belgium, in December.

Will ecosystems ‘bounce back’ after disturbance?

Despite warnings to the contrary by conservation scientists, there is a widely-held and persistent belief that ecosystems are fairly resilient to human disturbance and that they will eventually ‘bounce back’.

This paper assessed a region of the Canadian high Arctic that was disturbed in the 1940s by the construction of a small airstrip. After only 5 years' use, the airstrip was abandoned. But did it bounce back?

After careful study of the plants and soil on and around the former airstrip, Michael Becker and Wayne Pollard found that, far from bouncing back, the disturbed landscape reflects a disturbance-initiated succession towards a different stable-state community.

According to the judges:

The study is an excellent example of how carefully-conducted work can expose the long-term effects of human land uses, and lead to clear management recommendations (...) Becker and Pollard were able to advise managers how to lessen their impact on high Arctic environments, by being sensitive to the micro-topography of disturbed areas and by reseeding those areas with native species”

Interested in the effects of climate change on biodiversity and community patterns, and the evolution of polar landscapes, Michael's research and reporting often take him the remote, polar desert ecosystems of the high Arctic and Antarctic. He is currently working at the BBC Natural History Unit on a new landmark television series called Seven Worlds.

Read the winning paper