The M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professor, 2017-2019: Dr. Brook Milligan
The Honors College is pleased to announce that the recipient of the M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professorship for 2017-2019 was Dr. Brook Milligan, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Milligan’s Sundt Honors Seminar, “Querétaro, México: A Case Study for Biodiversity, Food Security, Ecosystem Services, and Global Change,” who focused on three interrelated issues that will dominate the 21st century: (i) assurance of food and water security, (ii) maintenance of natural ecosystem services affecting human well-being, and (iii) the impact of global change on both. The main goal of the course was for students to better understand the interplay among these issues, and come to appreciate how acquisition and use of data on land use, biodiversity, and potential impacts are crucial to long-term solutions to the challenges we face as individuals and as a society. We worked with colleagues at both the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ) to learn how they gather and use biodiversity and other data to address sustainability. In the field, the students worked on ongoing research projects in small teams that mix NMSU students with Mexican peers. Through these experiences and work on case study projects, everyone was exposed (i) to the perspectives of governmental agencies dealing with biodiversity and land use information to guide policy and management decisions, (ii) to the process of acquiring information in the field as well as to the potential conflicts that arise from the realities of conditions in the field, and (iii) to the value of integrating scientific information to address the interrelated challenges of food and water security, functioning ecosystem services, and global change. Through presentations to the Honors College and at URCAS, students had the opportunity to transfer their knowledge to members of the campus community, thereby amplifying what they have learned.
About Dr. Milligan:
Dr. Brook Milligan is a Manasse Scholar in the Department of Biology. He is a population geneticist with strong research interests in conservation biology and modeling. Dr. Milligan obtained his B.A. in Physics in 1978 from Dartmouth College, and his Ph.D. in Ecology in 1985 from the University of California, Davis. He received a prestigious National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Plant Biology to work with Dr. Jeffrey Palmer at the University of Michigan. He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1989 and began at New Mexico State University in 1984.
One of the areas for which Dr. Milligan is known is his careful development of better ways of transforming our hard-won data into new knowledge. For example, he was instrumental in a collaboration with Michael Lynch (now at Indiana University) that described how to analyze dominant genetic markers as a means of characterizing natural populations. He also published foundational methods for phylogenetic comparative biology using maximum likelihood, as well as for maximum likelihood estimation of genetic relatedness between individuals within natural populations. Currently, he is tackling the much more general problem of inferring information from data that can be represented as a probabilistic graph, and is applying that work to problems in landscape genetics (i.e., the causes of genetic variation across the landscape), mapping distributions of species and biological communities (i.e., predicting occurrence and range extents), and quantifying population dynamics (i.e., determining basic demographic parameters such as birth and death rates). All of these share an underlying commonality that Dr. Milligan is exploiting in the form of C++ software intended to empower biologists to explore alternative, biologically-motivated models as a means of improving our knowledge of the natural world.
In addition to his research, Dr. Milligan has strong interests in international collaborations, and has, for example, collaborated with colleagues at UNAM since 1997. In 2012, Dr. Milligan was selected as the first Jefferson Science Fellow from New Mexico, a prestigious position in the U.S. Department of State. In that capacity, he advises not only the State Department, but also USAID and other agencies on the interplay between genetics, international policy, and environmental issues. He has also advised or negotiated with Brazil, China, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Peru, Thailand, and the UK on the same range of issues. One of the main problems Dr. Milligan is dealing with is how to combat the $100 billion industry trading in illegally sourced timber; genetic information can play an important role in this, so he is advancing both the science and the policy to make that feasible. The illegal timber trade, combined with the illegal trade in wildlife and IUU fishing, threatens not only to degrade critical ecosystem services that human well-being depends on, but also to undermine the rule of law around the world.
Dr. Milligan’s work on these issues combines his expertise in the basic sciences of genetics, genomics, and conservation with his commitment to apply them to address critical problems facing sustainability of livelihoods.
Dr. Milligan looks forward to imparting his experience and expertise in these areas to the students of the 2018 Sundt Seminar.