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Emrich Honored with ESA Award

Scott Emrich headshotAssociate Professor Scott Emrich has received the 2024 George Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America.

The Mercer Award, established in 1948, is given annually for an outstanding ecological research paper published within the past two years with an early-career lead author.

Emrich was a co-author of “Rapid plant trait evolution can alter coastal wetland resilience to sea level rise,” published in Science in January 2023.

Ecosystems Responding to Global Change

The study calls attention to the significant, yet often overlooked, role of rapid evolution in shaping how ecosystems respond to global change. Examining a dominant coastal marsh sedge, the research reveals how genetically-based variation in a plant’s traits—specifically traits affecting root growth—can evolve rapidly and influence a marsh’s resilience to sea level rise.

The research team used a unique approach, growing “resurrected” plants from decades-old seeds recovered from marsh soils and employing an ecosystem modeling approach to demonstrate that genetic variation observed among the plants and rapid evolution can affect the ecosystem’s ability to store carbon and build soil elevation. In turn, these functions directly impact the wetland’s capacity to keep pace with rising sea levels, a key factor in its long-term persistence.

Emrich will be formally recognized during a ceremony at the ESA’s annual meeting in August in Long Beach, California. ESA, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,