What is the Harris World Ecology Center?

The mission of the HWEC has two main components. The first is to support the research and training of graduate and undergraduate students in ecology, evolution and conservation, and the second is to provide community outreach in the area of biodiversity education. The long term vision is to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss through community education, research, and the training of students who then take on decision-making positions in regions and countries where biodiversity is threatened. Our constituents are current, past, and prospective undergraduates and graduate students, our scientific partners, our local partner organizations, and community members from the St. Louis region. We encourage research locally, regionally, and internationally, as well as the training of both local and international students.

The HWEC was established in 1990 as a means to secure donations to support the research and training of graduate students studying in the areas of tropical ecology and conservation. The original name, the International Center for Tropical Ecology, embodied this focus on tropical research and support of students from tropical countries, at that time mostly from Latin America. Our partner from the outset was the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT), but soon joint training and research efforts were begun with the Saint Louis Zoo (STLZOO). In 2006, following a major donation from Whitney R. Harris, the Center name was changed to the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology center, and efforts were made to expand the scope of the Center to be both more local and more global. The Center has always been and continues to be housed within the Department of Biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The HWEC is a globally unique instituion, as it is the only existing partnership between a major research university with an internationally-recognized program in biodiversity conservation, and an internationally-recognized botanical garden and an internationally-recognized zoo, both of which conduct research in, and are sponsors of, ecological studies and biodiversity conservation.

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In addition to support for research, the Harris Center provides training in conservation implementaion via undergraduate and graduate certificate programs. Students are placed with local, national, and international conservation NGOs and government agencies. May times this is an opportunity for students to put conservation efforts into practice. Local agencies include the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Center at Riverlands, the City of St. Louis, The Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

There has been a community education component to the mission of the HWEC from the outset, starting with World Ecology Day, which has since developed into the annual Whitney and Anna Harris Conservation Forum (17 in total), and the Jane and Whitney Harris Lecture (24 in total), an annual public lecture given by a leader in biodiversity conservation. The forum is traditionally held at the STLZoo in the fall, and the Lecture at MOBOT in the spring.