ECI Seminar: Dr. James Elser, Arizona State University


Location: 283 Galvin

"Phosphorus, Food, and Our Future"

Download the Event Poster

Phosphorus is the 15th element in the Periodic Table and is essential for formation of our genes and our bones.  It is also limiting to productivity in ecosystems and for crops.  However, runoff of P from farms and cities pollutes lakes and oceans while concerns have recently been raised  about how much longer humanity can continue to mine cheap P for fertilizer production.  This talk will deal with both sides of the sustainability conundrum for P and highlight ways forward to a sustainable food system.


Dr. Elser’s research involves the integrative field of biological stoichiometry, the study of balance of energy and multiple chemical elements in living systems. While this work is primarily ecological in focus and includes studies of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and biota, the approach uses an evolutionary perspective to integrate levels of organization from the molecule and cell to the ecosystem. . Over the years, field sites have included lakes of Argentine Patagonia; the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario, Canada; lakes of the Arctic; lakes, forests, and grasslands of the upper Midwest USA and Inner Mongolia; thermal springs in Yellowstone National Park and in Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert; and the Sonoran Desert.  Currently, he is an active member of the ASU’s NASA-funded Astrobiology project “Follow the Elements” and a co-organizer of ASU’s Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative.  Elser is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) and in 2012 he received the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, the society’s highest award for research accomplishments.  A dedicated teacher, Elser has taught introductory biology to more than 10,000 undergraduate students.  In 2009 his pedagogical impacts were recognized by the ASU Parents Association, which named him ASU Professor of the Year.  In 2008 Elser (ND Class of 1981) was chosen as the inaugural recipient of the University of Notre Dame Biology Department's Distinguished Alumni Award .