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UCR Scientist to Receive Major Environmental Award

UCR Scientist to Receive Major Environmental Award

(September 10, 1999)

Michael Allen, one of the world's leading scientists on the relationship between microscopic soil organisms, soil biology and ecological restoration, will be one of nine recipients of the 1999 Chevron Conservation Awards to be presented Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.

Allen is a professor of plant pathology and biology at the University of California, Riverside and directs the campus' Center for Conservation Biology, a provider of unbiased scientific research regarding development and restoration issues.

Established in 1954 and sponsored by the Chevron Corporation, the Chevron Conservation Awards program pays tribute to the environmental accomplishments of organizations, professionals and volunteers whose efforts help protect air, water, land and wildlife resources.

"I was pleased and surprised at receiving this award," Allen said. "There are so many excellent scientists upon whose ideas and accomplishments my own research and activities rest. This is a tribute to both them and to my students and colleagues who have worked so diligently on conservation issues."

Allen is an authority on microscopic soil organisms known as mycorrhizal fungi and the role they play to assist in restoration of ecosystems damaged by fires, volcanic eruptions or human activity. This special group of soil organisms have a symbiotic relationship with plants ?the absorption of mineral nutrients and water by plant roots is enhanced by the fungi, which benefit by taking energy they need from root cells.

In work comparing damage caused by the 1980 Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption with mining activities in Wyoming, Allen and his colleagues confirmed the key role that mycorrhizal fungi have in re-establishing native trees, shrubs and grasses in damaged areas. The work also pointed to more effective replanting practices. Planting in patches rather than distributing re-introduced vegetation evenly improved the wind's role in regrowth and attracted more animals that assisted in spreading seeds and pollen. Allen's work has also taken him to the far northern latitude climate of the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska to the scorching heat of the California desert. Recently, his work has taken him to a natural reserve in the tropical rain forest of Yucatan, Mexico, where with UCR colleagues he is working to develop ways to restore vegetation following hurricanes and fires. The UCR scientists found that mycorrhizal relationships are not only critical to re-establish plants, but the diversity of these fungi is also important to restoring the diversity of plants in tropical forests.

Allen has also begun studying the effects of global climate changes - including changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels - on the below-ground ecosystem. A recent study with colleagues at Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture fou nd that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide - one of the greenhouse gases implicated in global warming - is placing plants under greater nutrient stress, but also triggering changes in soil structure that can help plants cope. The work was published i n August in the prestigious journal Nature.

Prior to joining the UCR faculty in 1998, Allen was an associate scientist with the UCR departments of botany and plant pathology while he was a faculty member at San Diego State University. From 1993 to 1995, he also served as program officer for the National Science Foundation, overseeing its Conservation and Restoration Biology and Long-Term Ecological Research programs, which fund conservation and restoration projects throughout the world and studies of long-term trends in environmental conditions.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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