Why I Do Science: Joe R. McBride

Joe R. McBride

My introduction to science began in junior high school when my biology teacher, Mr. Bradley, inspired a life-long interest in research. The idea that we could test assumptions through experimentation opened a whole new world for me.

My undergraduate work at the University of Montana and my graduate work at Berkeley focused this interest on forest ecology. As a graduate student, I started a career-long pursuit of the effects of land use on plant successions—changes in the structure of plant species over time. I followed patterns of livestock grazing, fire history, air pollution, and stream-flow regulation in a variety of California vegetation types. I have established field plots, analyzed aerial photography, and conducted greenhouse and laboratory experiments.

A compelling aspect of this work has been the evolution of my techniques. Often, my initial approach has led to subsequent experiments in basic plant physiology that I had not anticipated, but turned out to be essential to understanding what was taking place in the field. While I have always intended my findings to be of practical application to vegetation management, somehow parts of it have crossed into the realm of basic science.

Teaching also has been a great stimulus for my research and has kept me up to date. I have always felt an obligation to present currently evolving concepts, and students have been a valuable source of feedback on my work.

My interest in history has led to a number of studies on the development of urban forests in California and the way in which urban forests in Europe and Asia were reconstructed following the devastation of cities during World War II. I am currently investigating the potential impact of global warming on urban forests in California.

Joe R. McBride is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, and in the College of Environmental Design. He is a fellow of the Society of American Foresters and a recipient of Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award, among numerous honors.