UMaine Ecologist Joins Role Models as Mercer Award Recipient

A University of Maine marine scientist has won a prestigious award for publishing an outstanding ecological research paper before the age of 40.

Douglas Rasher, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Maine, received the Mercer Award at the 99th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Aug. 11, in Sacramento, California.

Rasher joins influential scientists, and some of his role models — E.O. Wilson, Jane Lubchenco, Robert MacArthur and Joseph Connell — as a recipient of the award.

“Over the past half-century, many well-known ecologists received this award for publishing what are now considered ‘classic’ papers,” Rasher says. “These studies shaped who I am as a scientist and how I view the natural world. That makes receiving this award very personal and special to me.”

Rasher was chosen the recipient of the 2014 Mercer Award for his eye-opening study on Fiji’s coral reefs that provided insight into management and conservation of coral reefs.

He was a graduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology when he conducted the research that demonstrated diverse grazing fish are essential to keep coral reefs clean and free of harmful seaweeds that quickly out-compete baby corals for space on the reef.

Clean reefs, he found, are healthy reefs and are better able to recover from hurricanes and other disturbances. Ecology published the study online in June 2013.

The Mercer Award, which has been presented annually since 1948, is named in honor of George Mercer, a young ecologist killed in World War II. ESA gives the award to promote contributions of early-career ecologists.

Bob Steneck, professor of marine ecology and biology at UMaine, said some awards are for a lifetime of achievements — for a job well done.

“Others are bellwethers of great things to come,” he says. “The Ecological Society of America’s Mercer Award is clearly in the later camp.”

Rasher says he pursued funding for a position at UMaine, in general, and the Darling Center, in particular, because it would enable him to work with Steneck, whom he calls a “world-class scientist,” as well as to study “one of today’s most pressing environmental issues.”

Rasher’s awarding-winning research paper, “Consumer diversity interacts with prey defenses to drive ecosystem function,” may be read at online.

Contact: Linda Healy, 207.563.8220