What is the Harris World Ecology Center?

Our Mission

Our 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. We do this by supporting the research and training of graduate and undergraduate students in ecology, evolution and conservation, as well as through community outreach. 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.

A Brief History

Originally named the International Center for Tropical Ecology, the Center was established in 1990 as a means to secure donations to financially support the research and training of graduate students studying tropical ecology and conservation. With this initial tropical focus, most of our students came from Latin America. We became the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center after a major donation from Whitney R. Harris in 2006, expanding our scope from tropical to global. 

Our partner from the outset was the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT), and the Saint Louis Zoo (STLZOO) soon followed with joint training and research efforts. 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 institution, 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. Each of these institutions already sponsored and conducted research in ecological studies and biodiversity conservation, but our impacts are far greater together. 

facts and figures

Training Opportunities & Additional Partners

Beyond supporting research, the Harris Center also trains undergraduates and graduates in conservation implementation via a certificate program. As part of their certificate requirements, students intern with local, national, and international conservation NGOs and government agencies. Many 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.


Community education has been central to our mission from the outset, starting with World Ecology Day, which has since developed into the annual Whitney and Anna Harris Conservation Forum, traditionally held at the St. Louis Zoo in the fall. We also host the Jane and Whitney Harris Lecture series, an annual public lecture given by a leader in biodiversity conservation, traditionally held at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in the spring.

Whitney R. Harris was a founding member of the Development Board of the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Ever since his involvement with the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, Whitney Harris strived to promote peace and harmony among all peoples. He recognized the importance of the global environment for human well-being, and promoted conservation of the natural world through public education. Through a generous gift in 2006, the Center was renamed the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center and expanded to conserve not only tropical but also temperate ecosystems. Whitney Harris's generosity and vision support the Center's mission to educate the next generation of ecologists and conservation biologists, at a time when the conservation of natural resources is of paramount importance.

From Patricia Parker
Interim Director, Harris World Ecology Center:

The Center, established in 1990, has become, through its partnerships with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo, the premier institution for graduate studies in ecology and biodiversity conservation in the United States. Faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis collaborate with research faculty in the Herbarium and the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at the Missouri Botanical Garden and with conservation biologists and veterinarians in the Wildcare Institute at the Saint Louis Zoo. This institutional collaboration has been fostered by the generosity of the E. Desmond Lee and Family Fund through the creation of the E. Desmond Lee and Family Fund Chairs in Botanical and Zoological Studies.

Harris Center logo

From Peter Wyse Jackson
President, Missouri Botanical Garden:

The Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center, which was initiated by the University of Missouri-St. Louis in cooperation with the Missouri Botanical Garden almost 20 years ago, has grown into one of the world's preeminent centers for education and research in tropical biology. Its activities remain critically important for us all as we strive for international peace and harmony through the proper management of the world's biological resources. The Missouri Botanical Garden is proud of what our cooperative efforts have accomplished, and will continue to support the University strongly in the future development of the Center. As an institution with a history of nearly 150 years in pursuit of such aims, we are delighted with the opportunities for enhanced synergy in achieving them over the years to come.

From Jeffrey P. Bonner, PhD
Dana Brown President & CEO, Saint Louis Zoo:

The Saint Louis Zoo is proud to be a partner with the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center and its important work. We believe that a remarkable synergy has resulted from our joint efforts in tropical biology and conservation, with bright prospects for the future as our field programs continue to grow. In this time of increasing environmental risks, the Saint Louis Zoo believes that the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center will continue to play a vital role in studying and understanding our planet's diversity, and in ensuring trained professionals in many of the world's most biologically important countries.


Leadership Council

Louise Bradshaw, Fred Saigh Director of Education, Saint Louis Zoo

Vicki Brown, Content Creator | Brand Awareness Strategist, Beyond Motion Productions

Kyle Cheesborough, Horticulture and Site Work Manager, Saint Louis Zoo

Aimee Dunlap, Associate Professor, UMSL

Ilene Follman, Community Volunteer

Deb Godwin, Senior Director of Development, UMSL

Anna Harris, Community Volunteer and Co-Founder, Harris World Ecology Center

Lisa Kelley, Executive Director of the WildCare Institute, Saint Louis Zoo

Rhonda Key, Assistant Superintendent of Jennings Public Schools

Andrew Kersten, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, UMSL

Kenneth Kranzberg, Chairman of Kranson Industries, Inc.

Liz de Laperouse, Immediate Past Chair, Community Volunteer

Cynthia Lloyd, Executive Director of St. Louis-based SCOPE (Science and Citizens Organized for Purpose and Exploration)

Maureen McGrath, Community Volunteer

Olga Martha Montiel, Vice-President, Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, Missouri Botanical Garden

Eric Miller, Vice-Chair, Leadership Council; DVM, DACZM, DECZM (Hon. - ZHM)

James Moog, Community Volunteer

Mary Moog, Community Volunteer

Donna Nonnenkamp, Chair, Leadership Council; Retired Assistant Director, Pre-Professional Health Studies, Saint Louis University

Patrick Osborne, Community Volunteer; former Executive Director, Harris World Ecology Center

Patricia Parker, Des Lee Professor of Zoological Studies; Interim Director, Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center

Katy Mike Smaistrla, Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coordinator, UMSL

Julie Schoettley, Community Volunteer

Sarah Trulaske, Community Volunteer

Virgil V. Van Trease, Eagle Wealth Management, LLC

Catherine Werner, City of St. Louis Planning & Urban Design Agency

Nancy Ylvisaker, Former President, Bellefontaine Cemetery & Arboretum