About

In Brief

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate broadly synthetic research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted oceanographic research for 18 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow focusing often on the deep sea.  He founder and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular ocean themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

Leadership

I am a natural leader with a proactive, transformational, and participatory management style. I am a certified facilitator through MG Rush’s Facilitative Leadership Training.  In my current role at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, I serve as the Assistant Director of Science overseeing the management of all the center’s supported science programs including 1,000 visiting scientists, 15 postdoctoral fellows, 5 graduate fellows, and 3 sabbatical scholars annually. I have worked to develop strong postdoctoral and graduate fellow programs that focus on strong mentorship, incorporate outreach, and help build better researchers and members of the scientific community.  My position requires successfully connecting disparate disciplines to achieve scientific synthesis. I work in conjunction with our board of directors to define the center’s strategic course and have developed several new initiatives during my tenure including an outreach program to minority serving institutions and a program promoting writing about evolutionary science on the web. I am also proactive in generating funds to maintain the center including grants to NSF, foundations, and corporations.  Last year, I helped secure funding for two center initiatives that provided training for young scientists and continued our center’s outreach efforts.  This year, I secured funds from the Sloan Foundation to establish an Evolution of the Indoor Biome and the Lounseberry Foundation to establish a Mining Encyclopedia of Life initiatives at the center.

In addition to my commitment to my current posting at NESCent, I strongly believe that a true leader in the scientific community must demonstrate their dedication to the field through service. I currently serve as reviewer for multiple journals and review grants for several agencies and foundations.  I served as an Academic Editor and eventually a Marine and Aquatic Section Editor for PLoS One.  I have served as editor for the Journal of Biogeography and currently for Proceedings of the Royal Society, B.  Additionally, I have been a member of 30 oceanographic expeditions, including an Antarctic expedition. Multiple times I have successfully served as chief scientist facing considerable logistical challenges that required proper planning, crisis management, and teamwork.

Outreach

My accomplishments demonstrate an integration of research and public outreach with an emphasis on science communication.  My research continues to generate considerable press from outlets including Wired, Fox News, Discovery Channel, and NPR. My public writing is regularly featured in COSMOS, American Scientist, io9, Mental Floss, and Wired.  My online writing on our ocean’s future  and how geology impacts presidential elections were included in The Best of Science Writing on Blogs in 2007 and 2013. I also serve as chief editor for Deep-Sea News (DSN), a group blog I founded in 2005 to discuss ocean science and culture. DSN is considered the most popular marine blog on the web, receiving upwards of 500,000 visitors a month and multiple awards for outreach and activism. DSN has been featured content for Seed Media, NPR, Charlotte Observer, MSNBC, Fox News, Science, Nature, Discovery Channel, Wired, and National Geographic. DSN was also featured in the Columbia Journalism Review.  I also often serve as consultant to mainstream media including ABC News, Wired, Talk Nation Radio, Forbes, Mother Nature Network, and NPR.  I continue also to provide social media outreach training and consulting to a wide variety of scientists and scientific departments.

Research

Generally I see myself as a marine marcoecologist/macroevolutionary biologist or a marine evolutionary ecologist.My research focuses on how energy variation, over both spatial and temporal gradients, drives diversity, novelty, and complexity in marine organisms. Energy, in the form of temperature and food, is intrinsically linked to climate, so my research also addresses how the intricate workings of biological systems will respond to climate change. My approach relies upon using a variety of methodologies, including theoretical, field, experimental, wand synthetic database work, to build general theory. I strive to link these by building eco-evolutionary quantitative models to both compare biological processes and create null expectations. The core of my research focuses on marine invertebrates and the bulk of my work is on deep-sea systems, at depths below 200 meters, an exceptional system to explore how fluctuations/limitations in energetics impact species, populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Combining empirical datasets with theoretical models that account for ecological and evolutionary processes, I have addressed how functional diversity is tied to community assembly across the Atlantic Oceans and reflects energetic processes in Proceeding of the Royal Society, B. My work also (McClain and Boyer 2009, Proc Roy Soc B) demonstrates species diversity is correlated with size range across metazoan phyla implying a link between body size variation and niche diversity, most likely related to energy availability (McClain et al. 2012, Evolution). My current work examines how spatial variation in chemical energy availability impacts the ecology of species in terms of body size (McClain et al. 2012, Evolution), biological complexity (Finnegan et al. 2011 Paleobiology), and reproductive strategies (McClain et al. 2012, in review).  Using the Metabolic Theory of Ecology and multiple empirical datasets, I have also strived to build a physiological framework for the impacts of climate change, both in terms of temperature and carbon availability, on marine systems across scales of biological organization (McClain et al. 2012, PNAS).

My research has greatly benefited from interacting with scientists from a variety of research backgrounds. These experiences have broadened my own research to encompass universal questions that cross disciplinary boundaries.  I collaborate repeatedly with biologists working on other systems including: my postdoctoral advisor James Brown (a leading terrestrial ecologist); my dissertation committee member Michael Foote (a prominent paleobiologist); Jonathon Payne, Phil Novack, and Seth Finnegan (also paleobiologists); David Clague (a marine volcanologist), Allen Hurlburt (terrestrial ecologist), and John Bruno (a coral reef ecologist).  Clearly, my own work exemplifies this commitment to reaching across barriers to address common questions (e.g. McClain et al. 2006 J Biogeograph, McClain et al. 2007 Glob Ecol Biogeograph, McClain and Nekola 2008 Evol Ecol Res, Payne et al. 2009 PNAS, Finnegan et al. 2011 Paleobiology, Harnik et al. 2012 Trends Recent Ecol Evol). In addition, my current position as Assistant Director of Science at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center has provided me with the challenging opportunity to coordinate multidisplinary programs and teams in order to address outstanding questions in evolutionary science.  Through these projects I have seen collaborative efforts yield novel and high impact science.

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