Professor Malhi in Wytha. Source: Yadvinder Malhi
Current Affairs Environment News

Oxford professor elected President of British Ecological Society

Oxford professor Yadvinder Malhi has been elected as the next President of the British Ecological Society (BES), following an online ballot of members this week.

Professor Malhi will take up the post in December 2021, when the current president, Jane Memmott’s term comes to an end.

Announcing the news on its website on Wednesday, BES said that it had received over 1,000 votes from members, who also elected Yvonne Buckley of Trinity College Dublin as Vice-President among other positions also up for election on the ballot.

Malhi is a professor of ecosystems science at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University and a Jackson Senior Research Fellow at Oriel College, specialising in tropical ecosystems, with post-doctoral research measuring flows of carbon dioxide in and out of the Amazon. Malhi’s research spans Asia, Africa and South America, and covers questions about ecosystem function, diversity and dynamics as well as adaptation to climate change.

Speaking to the BES about his research, Malhi said: “I want to understand how [societies] tick and function, how they respond to global changes,” and that it was whilst studying as a physics undergraduate at Cambridge that he became interested in studying the world as an interacting system, leading to a PhD in meteorology.

Closer to home, Malhi’s team also have an active research programme at Wytham Woods, owned by the University, establishing a forest ecology and climate change monitoring station there.

Established in 1913, the British Ecological Society is the world’s oldest ecological society and has 6,000 members worldwide. It has six ecology-based journals and provides extensive grants to promote ecological research.

As a British Asian, Malhi will become the first non-white president of the BES, and said: “We want to see many more people from diverse backgrounds in ecology. I hope I can be an example to non-white communities that ecology is an interesting career, and moreover has a vital role in play in addressing the major challenges of our century.”

Ecological studies and conservation are some of the least diverse fields in terms of race in Britain, with only 3.1% of environment professionals identifying as non-white minorities in comparison with 19.9% of all occupations, whilst only 9% of students studying environment-related courses in higher education identify as non-white, compared to 22% of UK students who identify this way in total.

Malhi told BES: “There are ethnic minority communities in the UK who are not seeing the vocational value in ecology as a career. And internationally, ecology is dominated by the Global North, as that is where most of the funding is.”

He added: “I hope my experiences of working in diverse continents and cultures can make some contribution to this challenge.”

Speaking more about what his presidency might look like, Malhi stated that he hoped to promote the studies not just of “pristine systems” but those parts of the world altered by humans, such as farmlands, roadside verges and fragments of forest: “There is huge momentum and policy incentive for restoring ecosystems right now, and a lot of key contributions can be made here.”

Reacting to the news on Twitter, Malhi said: “I’m honoured to be chosen as President-Elect of the @BritishEcolSoc. I hope to support amazing work in building ecology/ecologists already being done & also particularly focus on biodiversity recovery, building a diverse ecological community & addressing #Anthropocene challenges.”

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue, and now writes a weekly Climate Column. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.