ECU News Services


Symposium to honor retiring distinguished biology professors
On Aug. 28, the ECU Department of Biology will host a symposium in honor of two Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professors, Drs. Mark Brinson and Robert Christian, who are both retiring this fall.

The free, public symposium, “Wetlands at Risk: New Scientific Insights into Critical Ecosystems,” will feature five guest lecturers from 1 - 4:30 p.m. in the Science and Technology Building, Room C207, and is co-sponsored by the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy.

Mark Brinson
“With their international prominence in wetlands research, these talented scientists played critical roles in establishing ECU as a leading institution for coastal research. We are delighted to have this opportunity to honor them,” said Jeff McKinnon, biology chairperson. “This symposium will both highlight the important contributions of Brinson and Christian and give the general public a chance to learn about an area of great interest, with recent threats to Gulf wetlands from the BP spill and the longer-term threat of climate change.”

Brinson came to ECU in 1973 after completing his doctoral degree from the University of Florida. He has taught courses in ecology, wetland ecology and management, restoration ecology, introductory biology and environmental biology. He has directed 24 master’s theses and one doctoral dissertation.

“My 35 plus years at East Carolina University have been extraordinarily rewarding, both personally and professionally. Strong and sustained support from the university, college and biology department, and from individual faculty, students and staff are the envy of my colleagues at institutions elsewhere,” said Brinson.

Throughout his career, Brinson has authored or co-authored many publications pertaining to his research, including 49 journal publications, more than 60 reports and book chapters, as well as five book reviews. Over the past 37 years, he has received approximately 40 research grants that total more than $2 million.

“My work as an ecosystem ecologist has benefitted from the rich diversity of habitats in eastern North Carolina, and from the opportunity to study wetlands throughout the USA and abroad. I look forward to several more active years of research on the ecology and management of wetlands and of professional service on various committees and boards,” said Brinson.
Robert Christian

Christian received his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia in 1976. He came to ECU in 1981, after serving as an assistant professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. While at ECU, he has taught many courses, including principles of biology, principles of microbiology, microbial ecology and marine community ecology. He has directed 17 master’s theses and two doctoral dissertations.

“The Biology Department at ECU has been my academic home for the past 29 years. It, and the university, have provided me an environment that has suited my personality and allowed me to pursue all aspects of my goals as a professor,” said Christian. “I thank all of the students, faculty, staff and administrators who have helped make it, what I hope is, a respectable career.”

While teaching, Christian has conducted research in the areas of coastal ecosystems, particularly salt marshes, estuaries and coastal lagoons along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. More recently, he has been involved in studies of headwater streams within the coastal plain. Throughout his career, he has published or co-authored more than 60 journal publications and 40 book chapters, and he has participated in more than 125 presentations in his areas of research. Brinson also has received 34 research grants that total more than $3 million.

At the symposium, McKinnon will provide introductory remarks at 1 p.m., followed by 30-minute presentations and a final question and answer session. Leading off the event, professor Pierluigi Viaroli from the University of Parma in Parma, Italy, will present “A Long Journey in Coastal Lagoons and Wetlands Along the Po River and the Adriatic Coast: From Ecology to Friendship, and Back to Ecology.”  Dr. Linda K. Blum of the University of Virginia will present “Salt Marshes and Sea-Level Change: Where Millimeters Matter.”

Dr. Aaron L. Mills, also from U.Va., will present “Coastal Riparian Forests and Wetlands: The Final Filter.” Ronald E. Ferrell, senior scientist at PBS&J Corp. in Raleigh, will discuss “Wetlands and the Clean Water Act: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Rounding off the presentations, Dr. Robert R. Twilley, professor of coastal sciences at Louisiana State University, will discuss “Oil, Hurricanes, Floods and Wetland Loss: Calibrating the Risks of the Mississippi River Delta.”

For additional information, please contact McKinnon at 252-328-5258 or

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This story appeared originally in the Aug. 27, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at