2021 Annual Report: Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research

Field of colorful wildflowers

Resilience is a hot topic in ecology, the economy, industry and socio-environmental systems. The concept of resilience is systems-based and evokes two principles: resistance and elasticity. A resilient system can be one that is able to absorb (resist) stress, or able to bounce back from a periodic stress (disturbance).

The pandemic caused stress on our system of researchers and research programs, which proved to be resilient. Evidence for our center’s resilience to major research impediments in 2020 is conveyed in our proposal and award metrics. The University of Kansas recently launched Research Insights, a platform that summarizes and graphically presents research statistics. From 2020 to 2021, our center’s proposal success rate rose from 59.2 to 72.9 percent, and total funding from new awards administered by the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research increased 13 percent.

These statistics do not include additional major awards to KU that involve our researchers as investigators — awards that are administered by KU units other than our center. This extra research funding and activity amplifies proof of our community’s capacity to bounce back from disturbance.

After a long and isolated year of work in 2020, we faced the growing reality that our workplace would remain changed indefinitely. Many meetings would continue virtually or would go awkwardly hybrid. Supply chain and workforce issues would limit our ability to restock labs with consumables and attend to our infrastructure needs. The most disheartening reality was that our buildings would remain less populated, and masks would still hide the smiles of our colleagues.

These realities brought restoring a sense of community to the top of our center’s list of greatest needs. In 2021, administrative staff began to meet in person, and those who worked remotely returned to campus two days a week. Our “lunchroom,” a flexible space, was refreshed to be more inviting. Pizza lunch was offered to graduate students on the first Friday of every month, which started as grab-and-go, but eventually students began to stay for seminars. A few seminars went hybrid in the lunchroom, and in December many members of our community contributed to and attended a long-overdue cookie share before the holiday break. We kept the momentum going into the new year by adding professional development, research tools and DEI discussions for graduate students on Fridays in lieu of standard seminars.

We overcame another difficult year with great proposal success, inspiring discoveries, continued student engagement and increasing attention to inclusion and belonging, all of which are summarized here in this incredibly information-rich and visually captivating annual report launched on our new website. Developing the new website took more than a year of work, tireless deep thinking and artistic talent; I invite you explore.

Sara Baer

Sara G. Baer

Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research