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Steve Running talks about a graph while lecturing in a class called Introduction to Climate Change: Science and Society at the University of Montana recently. Running, who has been at the forefront of climate change research for 20 years, is one of a number of guest lecturers in the class.

Like ants hauling 5,000 times their own body weight, the University of Montana’s ecologists produce much more world-class science then their faculty numbers might indicate.

“Faculty are the research engines on a campus,” said Ric Hauer, who leads UM’s Center for Integrated Research on the Environment. “Harvard University has four or five times the faculty that UM has. But the UM ecology faculty is not only running with the big dogs like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley. We actually are one of the big dogs.”

Specifically, a new analysis of publications in the science community’s top professional journals ranked UM No. 5 among all doctorate degree-granting schools in North America. The University of California-Santa Barbara ranked No. 1, followed by the University of New Hampshire, University of Maryland, University of Minnesota and UM. Harvard scored 8th, Stanford University was 13th and the University of California-Berkeley was 18th. Montana State University did not score in the top 50 ecology-publishing schools.

A similar University of Washington study from 2007 ranked UM No. 8 out of 316 schools that grant doctorate degrees in the United States and Canada. Hauer decided to run the numbers again last year. The new study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Ecosphere by Megan Keville, Cara Nelson and Hauer.

The study looks at the number of ecology research papers published in 40 of the top science journals in the world. It also checks how many times those papers get cited, or quoted, in other people’s research. Academic department heads use the same measuring sticks to gauge a professor’s qualification for promotion or tenure. In this case, the analysis compared UM’s status to other schools granting Ph.D’s – the typical degree required to become a professor.

The field of ecology sprawls across the Missoula campus. It includes aspects of biology, geology, mathematics, forestry, climate, physics, ecosystem science and a variety of other disciplines that explain how the natural world works. It also involves the work of graduate students seeking their terminal degrees and undergraduates who get hands-on research experience in their classes.

“As a faculty member here for 30 years, I’ve seen how the professors here feed off one another and push one another,” Hauer said. “They set lofty goals for one another and that helps us in recruiting some of the very best ecologists anywhere in the world.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.