Jennifer L. Tank
Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences
A highly visible international authority on the cycling of nutrients in freshwater ecosystems, Jennifer Tank is the principal investigator for a National Science Foundation project examining the capacity of rivers to remove nutrients, a capacity that might be useful, for example, in the case of too much nitrogen. When present in excess amounts, nitrogen—the result of excessive application of agricultural fertilizers—can result in algal blooms that eventually die and decompose, “soaking up” oxygen in rivers and streams, eventually killing fish and other freshwater life forms.
In 2008, the publication of a paper that Tank co-authored set off an international controversy by identifying a potential problem with the byproducts of genetically modified corn crops. While her research ultimately came down neither for nor against the planting of genetically modified crops, on the whole, her work tends to raise important questions about the ecological impact of human choices on the natural world. An adviser to several government agencies focused on environmental issues, Tank also advises the Nature Conservancy. One such project assesses strategies to improve the health and efficiency of streams and drainage ditches in the agricultural Midwest.
Dr. Tank is also participating in a new strategic research initiative at Notre Dame called the Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), as the director of the new Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park. ND-ECI has partnered with the St. Joseph County Parks Department to launch this cutting-edge environmental research and education facility as part of ND-ECI. The new experimental facility has 2 globally-unique linked stream-pond-wetland systems that serve as a platform for cutting edge research on how human impacts influence freshwater resources. After one year of construction, ND-LEEF opened in June 2013 for its first season of field experiments.
Recently, Tank was named the 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow. Based at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Leopold Leadership Program provides outstanding academic environmental researchers with skills and approaches for communicating and working with partners in nongovernmental organizations, business, government and communities to integrate science into decision-making.
The late Dr. Stephen Galla (’49) endowed this professorship in 1974, in memory of his parents, Ludmilla and Stephen, and his brother, Robert. A medical professor and research scientist, Stephen was a national expert on the effects of anesthesia on the metabolism of the heart.