Associate Professor Chris Paradise is an aquatic ecologist, but the bodies of water that intrigue him the most are far too small to splash around in. You can’t dig too far into this professor’s work without coming upon the word “treehole.” Treehole?
“A treehole is a cavity in a tree,” Paradise explains, “a little rot-hole that fills up with water and becomes a self-contained ecological system where aquatic organisms live.” Small organisms—most of us think of them as insects.
An Ecological Preserve
Davidson College has identified about 100 acres on the north side of campus as an ecological preserve. “I’ve found about 25 treeholes there,” Paradise says,“and I have supplemented them with some ‘homemade’ treeholes, constructed from capped PVC pipe.” Do bugs find these a suitable home? “Not all of them, but many do, especially mosquitoes.”
A Good Scientific Model
Paradise’s treehole research began in graduate school, and he has continued it since coming to Davidson in 2000 because it's a good way to teach science to undergraduates. “With treeholes right on campus, students can get out into the field easily, with experiments that are relatively easy to design and conduct—and replicate, which is important in science, and not always easy to accomplish with ecological systems.”
As part of the Environmental Studies Concentration, Paradise team-teaches Introductory Environmental Studies through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. “I cover the natural science aspects of the course,” he says, “and we have discussions on the culture of food and economic sustainability. And sometimes we eat!”
Practice What You Teach
Paradise grows as much of his own food as possible in a backyard garden, and supports local growers whenever he can. He is encouraged that Davidson has designated 2008–09 as the “Year of Sustainability”—as an example not just for students and faculty, but for the town and the region. “Davidson can demonstrate through its choices and actions that you can save money and the environment at the same time.”
A Light Heart on a Heavy Topic
On Chris Paradise’s homepage, you’ll find a link to “Words of Wisdom,” a collection of quotes about the environment from sources as varied as Dr. Seuss, Aristotle and Henry David Thoreau, who 150 years ago asked, “What's the use of a house if you don't have a decent planet to put it on?”
Although he wonders the same thing now in the 21st century, Paradise does not despair. “I am optimistic. I have to be. These students we teach—they can change the world.”