Sunday, November 1, 2009

Biologist of the Month: Dr. Eric Pianka

This week was our Graduate Student Symposium, and I had the great privilege to meet Dr. Eric Pianka, aka the Lizard Man. As a biologist, and specifically as a herpetologist, I was in awe of this man. He has been actively publishing in the biological community for 50 years. 

Image courtesy of U of Texas

Dr. Pianka worked with the famous Robert MacArthur, and with him wrote the citation classic on Optimal Foraging. Along with many other citation classics buried in countless important biological papers, he literally wrote the book on Evolutionary Ecology. He has spent his whole life studying lizards (particularly Varanids), and recently collaborated with Nova on an interesting documentary called "Lizard Kings". And, like any good biologist, he has been the object of misplaced controversy by some religious groups because of his concern about human over-population and its effect on the earth. (Ecologists have been concerned about this for many years, especially with the size of the carbon footprint left by modern humans-especially in the western world.)  

So, you see, I was a little intimidated to meet this great man. However, Dr. Pianka's friendly demeanor and sense of humor put us all at ease. In fact, I don't think he had a minute to himself without an eager grad student or professor begging his attention. All us folks in my lab were more than happy to cart him about town, to dinner, etc and have the opportunity to pick his brain. 

I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and google for a while about optimal foraging, evolutionary ecology, and even monitor lizards. And if you're feeling particularly academic, take a peek at Dr. Pianka's list of publications, many of which he has available for download as pdf. 

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