Patricia A. Werner, PhD, is an ecologist, professor and department chair emeritus at the University of Florida, and honorary professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at Australian National University. A botanist and population ecologist best known for her work on savanna plant community structure, function, and succession patterns, Dr. Werner has traveled globally to conduct research on local plant communities in Venezuela, the United States and Australia. She is recognized as a pioneer in her field for being among the first to apply a combination of field population measurement techniques, demographic concepts, and mathematical models to plants, shifting the way that plant population management and regional comparisons between populations are discussed, particularly in evaluations of damaged environments. Her interest in science began young and was encouraged by her parents, who taught her about plants and animals and provided her with the tools and materials to experiment with the natural world. By the age of 5, Dr. Werner had learned mathematical shortcuts from her mother, a nurse, and she recalls that even if math and science were not centered, they were always present.
Further encouraged by her high school science teacher, Dr. Werner pursued a bachelor’s degree in science and continued her education at Michigan State University, earning a Master of Arts in plant systematics in 1968 and a Doctor of Philosophy in plant ecology in 1972. While a graduate student at Michigan State University, she spent significant time conducting research at W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, and credits both the experience and the influence of her director, professor George Lauff, as a turning point in her professional development. Dr. Werner remained at Michigan State University after completing her doctoral studies, becoming a professor from 1973 until 1986. During a sabbatical in 1982, she began a study of tree population dynamics in Australia’s Kakadu National Park that would eventually lead to a permanent relocation and a position as senior principal research scientist and director of the Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre in Darwin in 1985.
While living in Australia, Dr. Werner was named to the board of the Questacon National Science Museum and Kakadu National Park. She obtained dual citizenship before returning to the United States in 1990 to accept an appointment as director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. Dr. Werner joined the faculty of the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1992, becoming the inaugural chair of the school’s department of wildlife ecology, where she taught and supervised graduate students until being granted professor emeritus status in 2003. She returned to Australia the same year, and continues to research and publish as an honorary professor at Australian National University.
Throughout her career, Dr. Werner has been recognized for her groundbreaking research and her advocacy on behalf of minority scientists. She has published more than 85 peer-reviewed articles and papers that have been cited dozens of times, and was the author of the seminal text “Savanna Ecology and Management: Australian Perspectives and Intercontinental Comparisons” in 1991. Her most recent work, published in 2019, is a demographic summary of Australian canopy trees based on a synthesis of more than three decades of field data, among the first of its kind.
A former national board member of the USA Man and Biosphere Program, a UNESCO affiliate, Dr. Werner has been called to testify before Congress twice and has served on select subcommittees of the EPA and NASULGC. She is the namesake of a Michigan State University graduate scholarship, the Patricia A. Werner Scholarship for Ecological Field Studies, designed to encourage students to pursue fieldwork and outside research, and has recently developed a lecture targeted at early-career scientists titled “Lessons Learned in 40 Years of Research: Tips for Today.” Dr. Werner is a celebrated fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of Australia, and a nominee to the National Academy of Science.