Acclaimed UM ecologist named Regents Professor – Missoulian

He has been called one of the top scientists this century in the field of ecosystem science. His work has been cited by researchers around the world more than 29,000 times.

And now Cory Cleveland, an ecologist and faculty member at the University of Montana, is a Regents Professor of Ecology.

Regents professor is the highest faculty rank bestowed by the Montana University System. Cleveland’s new honor was approved this week by the state Board of Regents during its Missoula meeting. He is the 14th UM faculty member to earn the professor rank since it was established in 1991.

“Rainforests are essentially the lungs of the planet,” explains Cory Cleveland, a professor of ecosystem ecology in his lab at the University of Montana in 2019. Cleveland and lead author Fiona Soper had recently published a study that found tiny leafcutter ants in Panama and elsewhere play a big role in nitrous oxide emissions in rainforests.

Cleveland’s nominators describe him as a preeminent global scholar in the fields of ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry and environmental conservation. He is part of the University’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

“When I was offered a job at UM, it felt like I won the lottery,” Cleveland said. “It was one of the happiest days of my life. Being selected as a regents professor at UM is a close second. It’s definitely the most fulfilling and rewarding moment of my professional career. It has made me reflect with tremendous gratitude toward all the people who made it a possibility.

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“I couldn’t be prouder to represent the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and UM as a regents professor.”

Cleveland, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, worked as a researcher with the CU Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research for six years. He joined the UM Department of Ecosystem & Conservation Sciences in 2007, and in 2011 became a charter faculty member of UM’s Systems Ecology graduate program.

He and his students have published more than 110 papers in leading national and international scientific publications. One paper, “Nitrogen cycles: past, present and future,” is described by nominators as something of a classic, as it alone has been cited nearly 6,000 times.

F. Stuart Chapin III, a renowned ecologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and past president of the Ecological Society of America, wrote that Cleveland strongly influenced his thinking about the role of microbes in ecosystem processes.

“Cory’s main contribution, in my view, is to provide a mechanistic understanding, based on the physiology, evolution and ecology of microbes, of the nature of phosphorus and nitrogen limitation in ecosystems — especially in the tropics,” Chapin wrote. “In my view, he is one of America’s leading young scientists.”

In 2018, Cleveland became the first Montanan ever named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. He also has earned more than $5 million in competitive research grants — mostly from the National Science Foundation.

Nominators also noted his outsized impact on UM’s curriculum. He redesigned the forestry college’s traditional “soils” class into a modern environmental science course integrating biogeochemistry, bioclimatology and hydrology. He also pushed for more team teaching and demanding field and laboratory experiences for UM students, and he helped develop UM’s environmental science and sustainability programs, among others.

Cory Cleveland

University of Montana ecologist Cory Cleveland recently was named a regents professor, the highest faculty rank bestowed by the Montana University System.

“Cory’s contributions over a decade ago toward simplifying undergraduate programs and redesigning the environmental sciences curriculum around student-centered learning now appears prescient and visionary,” his nominators wrote.

Additionally, Cleveland has championed graduate education at UM, mentoring 14 of his own graduate students and serving on more than 40 graduate committees in departments across campus. His nominators wrote that many of those trainees are listed as first authors on papers they publish with Cleveland and “perhaps the strongest signal of this outstanding graduate and research training is that all his graduate students have gone on to careers in science and natural resources, with six in tenure-track positions in academia across the U.S.”

Alan Townsend, dean of the UM forestry college, noted Cleveland long ago could have jumped to another institution with higher pay, lower teaching loads and substantial research support.

“But he’s remained at UM, with little fanfare or drama,” Townsend wrote. “Why? Because he loves this college and university, pure and simple.”

When he isn’t working, Cleveland said, he is backcountry skiing, mountaineering, hiking, camping, fly fishing “and pretty much anything else I can do outside.”

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Ava Grey

Hi there! I'm Ava Grey, an enthusiastic article writer with a passion for the arts, fashion, and staying informed about current events. As a journalism student at the New York Academy of Art, I'm driven to use my writing to create positive change and spark meaningful conversations. I'm particularly interested in contemporary art and sustainable fashion, and I love exploring how people use these mediums to express themselves and communicate their values. I believe that staying informed and hearing different perspectives is essential for personal growth and learning, and I'm always eager to engage in lively debates and discussions.

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