My Smilin' Face
Detailed Research Description
Book: Simulating Ecological and Evolutionary Systems in C.
Book: Constructed Climates
Constructed Climates Related Course
Useful, free, scientific software.
Detailed Teaching Description
Open Access Publishing Information
Ecosystem Services Course Information
Links (open in new window):
Durham Open Space and Trails Information
Graduate Program in Ecology
Department of Biology

Will Wilson

Terminal Associate Professor

Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham NC 27708-0325
Phone: (919) 451-6688
Office: 250 Biological Sciences

General Research Overview:

    New Academic Focus:I became more interested in community issues, and I'm now following academic aspects of important social-environmental concerns. My service on the Durham City/County Open Space and Trails Commission (follow the link) and the Farmland Preservation Board posed questions concerning urban environments and environmental justice.

    In this direction, I published "Constructed Climates: A Primer on Urban Environments" with the University of Chicago Press (2011). Check It Out: The book's site, Constructed Climates combines "urban ecosystem services" and "urban ecology," two concepts fundamentally tied to human-dominated ecological systems.

    In 2016 I published "Stormwater: A resource for scientists, engineers, and policy makers" with the University of Chicago Press. Find that book on Amazon or at UC Press. That area needed greater coverage in Constructed Climates, but there just wasn't room (or time). Stormwater represents the next major environmental issue (except for all the others).

    I'm presently updating Constructed Climates (spring 2017). What I'm really doing is digging deeper into environmental equity and justice, and I go back and forth between a new book or a update of ConClim. We'll see how much material there is to cover.

    The change in focus towards urban environmental issues took place, for me on a personal level, as our nation's higher education system has moved too far towards revenue generation, placing too much financial burden on students as it caters to commercial interests. I blame part of this shift on the 1980 Bayh-Dole legislation (passed back when I was in college) that allowed universities to patent and market the results of publicly funded research. With funding levels at 5%, I couldn't get funding in theoretical evolutionary ecology with my physics Ph.D. in a Biology department, and promotion depended on grants. I decided that yet another new direction was in order, and that freedom from top-down political considerations is what tenure protects.

    The above topics differ from my former primary research training (physics, math, and computation) and my theoretical evolutionary ecology research program described below. That work was quite fulfilling (check out my primary publications and 2000 book, Simulating Ecological and Evolutionary Systems in C) -- fascinating questions and wonderful collaborators. However, the lack of financial support made that work unsustainable.

    I've come to compare this national situation to the changes that took place on the family farm I grew up on, which, characteristic of many US family farms, moved through the years from dairy, beef, hogs, and grain as the economics of agriculture changed. In a similar way, national and university priorities moved away from basic scientific questions to revenue-producing endeavors, and primary research in theoretical evolutionary ecology didn't pay the way. Hence my shift, and the costs of book-writing (rather than primary research) match the available level of resources.

    On my website you'll find information, links, literature and course material from an early "ecosystem services" graduate seminar I held in 2006 as my research focus changed. At this point I consider that material, and any perspectives I present associated with that seminar, somewhat outdated.

    Former research studies: Over the two decades prior to 2006 I devoted my academic energy to theoretical evolutionary ecology. After my graduate training in theoretical physics, I turned my attention to population dynamics in spatial systems and trait evolution. Scaling interactions between entities at a microscopic level up to a macroscopic scale fascinates me, and both physics and ecology have challenging problems. As for techniques, I used a variety of simulation and mathematical methods to study these really hard ecological problems.