Sara Baer will lead Kansas Biological Survey

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Office of Research has announced that Sara Baer has accepted the position of director of the Kansas Biological Survey, a KU designated research center with dual status as a state agency. Baer has been professor and chair of the Department of Plant Biology at Southern Illinois University. The Lawrence native will begin at KU on Aug. 18, joining the faculty as a full professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. As part of her position as director, she also will hold the title of state biologist.

“Sara brings a dedication for ecological research and teaching, particularly prairie restoration, that will serve KU and the state of Kansas well,” said Belinda Sturm, interim associate vice chancellor for research. “She is looking forward to working with researchers and state agencies to deepen understanding and broaden education about our environmental resources.”

Baer will succeed Ed Martinko, who retired this spring after serving as director of the Biological Survey since 1983. Craig Freeman, a senior scientist at the survey and director of KU’s R.L. McGregor Herbarium, is serving as interim director this summer.

“We deeply appreciate Craig’s willingness to step into the interim role once again, as he did many years ago,” Sturm said.

The Kansas Biological Survey was established at KU in 1911, building on a tradition of biological surveys dating back to statehood. The survey was formally recognized as a nonregulatory agency of the state of Kansas in 1959. The survey houses a variety of environmental research labs and remote sensing/GIS programs in Takeru Higuchi Hall and the West District greenhouse.

The Biological Survey also manages the 3,700-acre KU Field Station, which includes three sites: the core research area just north of campus; the Baldwin Woods Forest Preserve; and the Anderson County Prairie Preserve, a Nature Conservancy-owned site near Welda, about an hour’s drive south of Lawrence. The core research area is almost unique among university-based field research stations in its proximity to main campus, and thus has welcomed thousands of KU students visiting through classes in the sciences, arts and humanities. The Field Station also includes five miles of walking trails and the KU Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden, open to the public every day dawn to dusk.

Baer’s expertise is in grassland, soil and restoration ecology. During her doctoral studies at Kansas State University, she began long-term research on factors influencing plant diversity and belowground recovery during grassland restoration. At SIU, she has continued to conduct research on restored prairie, investigating the roles of soil properties, climate, local adaptation in plants and environmental heterogeneity on plant communities and ecosystem functioning. Much of this work has been conducted at Konza Prairie Biological Station, a long-term ecological research site managed by K-State and jointly owned with the Nature Conservancy. Her service and administrative experience includes co-developing an interdisciplinary Center for Ecology at SIU, acquiring long-term external funding for undergraduate research and internship programs, and serving as chair of the Graduate Council Research Committee, the Ecological Society of America’s Soil Ecology Section and the Department of Plant Biology.

After completing her master’s degree at the University of Georgia, Baer worked there as a research technician for pioneering ecologist Eugene Odum, examining temporal patterns in grant funding and publications from long-term ecological research sites. Later, as a conservation technician with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, she developed a strong interest in managing, protecting and restoring tallgrass prairie.

“Sara will be an excellent leader of the Biological Survey and a great addition to the KU biological sciences,” said Chris Haufler, professor and chair of ecology & evolutionary biology. “She will champion the teamwork that has helped to build such a strong reputation for KU as a great place to ask and answer questions about the ecology of the region and the Earth.”

— Story by Kirsten Bosnak, Kansas Biological Survey.