Name: Doug Levey
Education: I received a BA from Earlham College and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, where I worked with Tim Moermond and Julie Denslow.
NSF Experience/History: I’ve been a Program Officer in Population and Community Ecology for about two years. I arrived as a rotator and became a permanent employee shortly thereafter.
Research Experience/History: As you’ll see, I’m a dabbler. I started out as a tropical ecologist, interested in plant-animal interactions – in particular, how frugivorous birds respond to spatial and temporal variation in fruit abundance and, conversely, how the distribution of fruiting plants is determined by the behavior of fruit-eating birds. Working with captive tanagers and manakins, I became fascinated by how quickly they internally process fruits, which led me down the path of digestive physiology. I then shifted my lack of focus to ant ecology, alcoholism, and the evolutionary paradox of harmful fruits. (I’m in awe of deadly nightshades and wild chili peppers.) More recently, my students and I have studied the surprisingly quirky nature of bird migration in South America, the efficacy of habitat corridors in conservation, adaptations of urban wildlife, long-distance seed dispersal, the extent to which seed limitation structures plant communities … and creative uses of dung.
Competitions I currently work on: I’m involved with the review process of all proposals submitted to the Population and Community Ecology cluster. This includes: preliminary proposals, full proposals, DDIGs, EAGERs, RAPIDs, CAREERs, OPUS, and different types of supplements. I also participate in various working groups, including one about increasing workforce diversity for Dimensions of Biodiversity and one about restructuring graduate education.
How did you come to be working in DEB?
I was a professor at the University of Florida for many years. Although I loved that life, my wife and I slowly came to accept that long-term prospects for our autistic daughter were poor in Florida, and we started to look for professional opportunities in large metropolitan areas. One day when I was serving on a review panel, someone here (Judy Verbeke, from the Division of Biological Infrastructure) mentioned that NSF was always searching for rotators. I inquired, and the rest happened very quickly.
Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB from the academic world:
My first full day in the office, I suddenly found myself hosting the entire staff for a practice session of “Dancin’ DEB”. These were many of the same people that not long ago I had had to gather my courage to speak to, yet there they were: swaying and singing a modified version of “Dancing in the Streets” to a hastily loaded version of the original blasting from my computer. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. (Editor’s note: Next time you’re at NSF stop by the DEB office to see the collection of heartfelt send-offs for departing staff and rotators.)
Tell your awesome fieldwork adventure story:
We were studying mockingbirds on the University of Florida campus, and started to suspect that they were watching us more than we were watching them. This turned into an adventure in experimental design — how does one tell what a mockingbird is thinking? We were astonished by where the adventure led: mockingbirds learned with incredible speed and accuracy to recognize individual humans. (Want to be convinced? Check out our YouTube video).
Trivia: the nature of balance at DEB
Pretty much the same day that I drove north from Gainesville to northern Virginia to start at NSF, Bette Loiselle and John Blake (formerly in DEB) drove south from northern Virginia to Gainesville, where they started faculty positions at the University of Florida.