November 16, 2001
Unapologetic entomologist earns gold medal
U of A prof pioneers massive experiment
Dr. John Spence is used to tracking down insects -- the other day he came across some gold.
"It was the nicest thing that's ever happened to me in my career. I'm still a little stunned, but I'm not giving it back," he joked.
Spence was referring to the Entomological Society of Canada's (ESC) gold medal, which he received at the society's annual meeting in Niagara Falls in October. A biological sciences and entomology professor at the U of A since 1978 and now the chair of the Department of Renewable Resources, Spence won the national award for being "an outstanding researcher and teacher," according to Dr. Bernie Roitberg, president of the ESC.
"His research is extraordinary in its depth and breadth," Roitberg said. "And he's been a tremendous success as a mentor and a teacher to thousands of students. His enthusiasm and passion for what he does really rubs off on them."
Throughout his career, Spence has supervised 43 graduate students who have gone on to faculty positions in places around the globe including Finland, Indonesia and Kenya.
Currently, Spence is principal investigator in what he said is, "as far as we know, the largest manipulative forestry experiment in the world."
The research involves more than 1,000 hectares of land and entails "experimental burns so we can test natural disturbance theories and see how forestry structure and alternative values like biodiversity are re-established during regeneration," Spence said.
Spence and his students have already pioneered the use of ground beetles for understanding impacts of forest practices on arthropods. He hopes his latest research project will lead to the further development of forestry management practices that are "sustainable, sensible and ecologically sensitive."
"The key is doing the research, though," he said. "Basic research is not as fashionable as it was, say, 15 to 20 years ago, but it's absolutely critical. If you don't have the information you can't know what you're doing -- it all comes down to the biology."