Meet DEB: Daniel Gruner and Kathryn Cottingham


Daniel Gruner










Name: Daniel Gruner, Population and Community Ecology & Macrosystems Biology

Education: A.B. in Biology, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, Ph.D. in Zoology, University of Hawai‘i, Mânoa, HI

Home Institution: University of Maryland

Tell us about your research,

I am a rotating Program Officer and an entomologist and ecologist interested in species interactions in food webs, the maintenance of biodiversity in ecological communities, and the biogeography of both, particularly on islands. Generally, I seek to test fundamental ecological theory in empirical systems and, using synthetic approaches such as meta-analysis, to apply basic principles to understanding and mitigating the impacts of global climate change and the spread of invasive species. In recent years, my projects have focused on mangrove-marsh ecotones in Florida and the Caribbean; evo-ecological community assembly and biogeography on Pacific Islands, primarily Hawaii; experimental manipulations of herbaceous plant communities in the global Nutrient Network; and on the ecology and integrative biology of invasive forest insects, such as the European Sirex woodwasp and the emerald ash borer.

What made you want to serve NSF?

The National Science Foundation has provided support for my research at every career stage, enabling numerous projects that would have been impossible otherwise. In the scientific tradition, we rely on peer review and public financial support to advance scientific progress, and we commit to serve our peers and institutions in kind. Foremost, I came to NSF to serve the scientific community and the greater population who rely upon science and support it with their tax dollars. I also expect to learn a great deal from colleagues at NSF and from the PI community that will help me better communicate my ideas and broaden participation in science.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

When serving on review panels, I enjoyed diverse colleagues coming together to debate the merits of proposals at NSF. It is a privilege to read a broad array of interesting proposals, to meet new colleagues, and hear new perspectives while gleaning lessons for best practices in writing grants. Although we cannot fund all projects that come to NSF, the objectivity and fairness of the NSF review process has always been striking. As a rotating Program Officer, I look forward to diving deeper into this process behind the scenes and learning to hold this standard. At the very top of my list, I can’t wait to make those phone calls to early career scientists to announce their first major NSF award.


Kathryn Cottingham


Name: Kathryn Cottingham, Population and Community Ecology

Education: B.A. Drew University, M.S. University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin at Madison

Home Institution: Dartmouth College

Tell us about your research,

I am a rotating Program Officer and an aquatic ecologist with a strong side interest in the applications of ecological principles to problems in both environmental and human health. I typically approach problems using a mix of modeling, experiments, and field observations, as appropriate for the research question, and because my undergraduate training was in both mathematics and biology, I have a strong quantitative bent (although I can’t pretend to keep up with all the new, exciting techniques being developed in both modeling and statistics!).  Right now, I am particularly interested in the cyanobacterial taxa that have not read the limnology textbooks and are blooming in economically-valuable, low-nutrient, clear-water lakes located within mostly forested watersheds.  I want to understand what is causing those blooms, both within a summer and on longer time scales, and to evaluate whether there are management strategies that might keep the blooms from getting any worse in the future.

What made you want to serve NSF?

Being a rotator is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I see this position as an opportunity to give back to the broader ecological research community while also learning from the experience in ways that I hope will enrich my research and that of my trainees, collaborators, and institutional colleagues.  The seed was planted nearly 20 years ago, when my postdoc mentor, Tom Frost, rotated through DEB.  Tom spoke so highly of the experience – both professionally and personally – that I put it on the bucket list early in my time as a faculty member.  Since then, I have been eagerly awaiting the time when my kids would be old enough to take advantage of the many opportunities available in the DC-area that are not available in rural Hanover, New Hampshire.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

I am particularly excited to learn more about the full breadth of research that is being done across the country and around the world, especially in the DEB fields with which I have little firsthand experience, and to help make that research possible.