South Korea’s National Institute of Ecology (NIE) opens

Professor Joy Zedler helps to inaugurate

rendering of South Korea's National Institute of EcologyWith a futuristic vision (right), South Korea’s National Institute of Ecology (NIE) became a reality on October 17, 2012. Invited to help inaugurate the NIE were Professor Joy Zedler of UW’s Botany Department and seven other restoration ecologists from around the world (1 Canadian, 1 German, 2 Australians, 1 from UK and 2 more from USA,). Korea’s Vice-Minister of the Environment and Seocheon County’s Governor opened the two-day symposium to commemorate the new Institute. Zedler congratulated the Koreans on achieving their ambitious project, which aims to advance restoration ecology by hiring about a dozen scientists, providing apartments for visiting scientists and students, and emphasizing research and education (at all levels). The new facilities will also support public outreach by attracting visitors to eight acres of constructed ecosystems, four impressive greenhouse domes, an outdoor aviary, and several research greenhouses. These impressive new facilities will empower researchers to develop national policy and strategies for conserving, restoring, rehabilitating, and sustaining the ecological resources of South Korea. To achieve their ambitious mission, Director Dr. Chang Seok Lee facilitates collaborations with many universities and resource agencies, making it truly a national effort. Dr. Lee’s has drawn upon his expertise in soil ecology to guide the planning and planting of native vegetation that represents the region’s native woodlands and wetlands.

On day 1 of the historic occasion, Zedler spoke about the combined challenges of changes in land use and climate, which act in concert to alter wetlands—among the most important ecosystems on earth, due to their ability to correct many of the problems caused by an abundance of humans. Wetlands are especially well-known for being able to reverse human additions of nitrogen fertilizers. Appropriately, a series of wetlands stretch from upstream in this mountainous country, past the innovative “Ecorium” (photo), and next to the NIE’s visitor center (photo). Zedler recommended new approaches for restoration, some of which are being tested at UW’s Arboretum, to keep native species in wetlands while aiming to make future ecosystems resilient to the certainty of future environmental changes that are not yet fully predictable.

Dr. Lee guided the international and Korean speakers on a walking tour of the NIE’s constructed ecosystems, where hydrology, soil, topography, and plants are all being modified to suit oak woodlands, pine forests, and even an alpine community with “refrigerated soil.” On the second day, a pre-opening visit to the domes featured tropical and subtropical vegetation, ranging from dry desert to rainforest. In Zedler’s view, “This is the newest and most ambitious innovative, and exciting ecological restoration center ever attempted; it has strong federal support, its leaders have the necessary expertise, and its staff are eager to collaborate with experts from around the world.” Toward that aim, Zedler encouraged all to visit Madison for the annual conferences of the Society for Ecological Restoration, which will meet October 6-11, 2013 (Convention Center), with auxiliary activities at the Arboretum.

The main missions of the NIE are (1) inventory and collection of ecological resources, (2) prediction and forecast of ecosystem changes, (3) conservation and sustainable use of ecological resources, (4) conservation and restoration of rare and endangered species and ecosystems, and (5) ecological education and outreach.

The International Panel invited to help launch the NIE were:

  • Dr. Joy B. Zedler, University of Wisconsin, USA
  • Dr. Vicky M. Temperton, Julich Research Centre – Phytosphere Institute, Germany
  • Dr. David Lamb, University of Queensland, Australia
  • Dr. Richard J. Hobbs, University of Western Australia, Australia
  • Dr. Eric S. Higgs, University of Victoria, Canada
  • Dr. James A. Harris, Cranfield University, UK
  • Dr. Young D. Choi. Purdue University Calumet, USA
  • Dr. Edith B. Allen, University of California – Riverside, USA

The South Korean speakers were:

  • Dr. Joon-Whan Shin, Korean National Arboretum
  • Dr. Woo-Shin Lee, Seoul National University
  • Dr. Sam-Hee Lee, Korean Institute of Construction Technology
  • Dr. Sang-Joon Kang, Chungbuk National University
Joy Zedler & Dr. Lee NIE ecorium NIE visitor's center
Joy Zedler and Dr. Lee
The NIE Ecorium
The NIE visitor's center