Volker H. W. Rudolf
I grew up in Germany, and as far as I can think back, my goal was always to become an ecologist, although I didn't know back then that this is what it was called. My whole education was geared towards this one goal, and after graduating from high school (with a double major in Mathematics and Biology) I got my BS from the University of Regensburg in Biology, and my MS in Tropical Biology and Animal Ecology from the University of Wurzburg. For my masters, I did my research in Taï National Park. This low-land primary rainforest site in Ivory Coast, Africa, harbors one of the highest levels of biodiversity in West Africa. For my research I worked on the life-history of a frog species that breeds in tree-holes (and pretty much anything that holds small puddles of water), and it was the complex life-cycle of this species that stimulated much of my current research on size-structure and complex-life cycles and stimulated my interest in aquatic systems. I decided to come to the US to get my PhD at theUniversity of Virginia with Henry Wilbur. For my PhD I worked on stream salamander and dragonfly communities in the Appalachian Mountains and studied how cannibalism impacts natural communities.
My research interests are broad but mainly focus on the ecological and evolutionary factors that generate and determine the structure of natural communities and their ecosystem processes. The traditional approach in community ecology and particular in food web theory is based on the premise that predictions can be made by treating a species as a homogenous entity. However, as I quickly realized working on natural communities, no population is truly homogenous and individuals within a species often vary considerably in their ecological function. By far the largest source of this functional variation between individuals stems from differences in size and developmental stage. Indeed, the functional variation across developmental stages within a species often exceeds the variation across species. However, it is largely unknown whether and how this variation below the species level influences natural communities or even ecosystems. In my research I use a combination of field observations, field and laboratory experiments, and theoretical models to develop a predictive framework for understanding how this variation among developmental stages within species influences populations, communities, and ecosystem processes, and the evolution of complex life-histories. In general, our work suggests that this variation below the species level can alter the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of predator-prey and host-pathogen systems, change the conditions for coexistence and invasion of species, and even determine the functioning of complex ecosystem (e.g. stability of complex food webs, primary productivity, decomposition rates, etc.).
Outside of academia, I enjoy a range of outdoors sports, including mountain climbing, skiing, windsurfing, and photography (although the absence of mountains around Houston puts some limits on these activities), and traveling. As an undergraduate student I used to spend two to three month at a time traveling in Africa and South-East Asia to explore the local culture and nature. Now I take any chance I get to make shorter trips to see other parts of the world.
I've been an ASN member since I started my PhD. To me the goals of the society represent the mix I strive for in my academic life: using a firm knowledge of natural history to guide experiments and theoretical models to elucidate the factors that drive the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of natural systems. As a scientist, I also believe that it is our responsibility to educate the public and diffuse our knowledge to a broad audience, and I think that ASN provides a venue for me to do this. I have also personally benefited from ASN: I was fortunate enough to receive the Young Investigator Award in 2008.