Alan R Berkowitz


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    Plant physiology and ecology. Schoolyard and urban ecosystems. Agro-ecology and garden ecology. Long term ecological research. Ecology teaching and learning.

  • Profile Question 1
    When and why did you decide to go into a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    I fell in love with trees on hikes with my family in the wood along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, and then discovered that you could actually study trees in a woodlot near my high school with a wonderful biology teacher. My curiosity seems insatiable, enjoying from this early age the combination of measuring things and understanding how they work. My interest in plants was solidified as an undergraduate student, splitting my time between the lab studying plant pigments and the field studying ecological interactions between trees. After getting my doctorate in plant ecology, I found my true love as a scientist - sharing it with students and teachers!

  • Profile Question 2
    What is the coolest thing you have discovered or learned about plants?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    In studying corn and sunflower plants for my doctorate, I discovered that the amount that each plant grows is directly and linearly related to the amount of water it loses through transpiration. There are very few straight line relationships in nature, but this is one of them. The main difference between species is the slope of the line, relating to the efficiency with which each uses water. Corn, as a C4 plant, was much more efficient than sunflowers. This meant that it could grow more with a given amount of water, and in most situations could shade out sunflowers interplanted with it.

  • Profile Question 3
    Can you share a funny/interesting lab or field story?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    I was co-leading a research project studying how different kinds of low-growing vegetation under powerlines might be able to suppress the establishment and growth of tree seedlings. If we could find an effective natural cover, it could reduce the need for herbicides or manual cutting to keep trees out of the powerlines. We established plots in many different locations, and in each plot planted seedlings of different tree species in a numbered grid. By mistake, in the one plot that I planted I started from the wrong corner so the numbering was all wrong. Fortunately, since we had good notes, we still could find all the seedlings for the 2+ years we studied the plot. However, this plot was called the "Berkowitz Plot" from then on, with everybody chuckling.

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Skills & Endorsements

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