University Park, Pa. — A research team led by Charles Fisher, professor of biology at Penn State, has received a Cooperative Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Fisher's research team was among 14 groups to receive the award, which is one of the Department of the Interior's highest honors. The Cooperative Conservation Award recognizes conservation achievements that involve collaborative activity among a diverse range of entities, such as federal, state, local and tribal governments; private for-profit and nonprofit institutions; other non-governmental entities; and individuals.
Fisher received the award for his work on sea-floor communities that live in association with hydrocarbon seepage and hard grounds in the deep Gulf of Mexico. With a goal of understanding the structure and biodiversity of the communities and their relationships to the complex geology and geochemistry of the region, he and his team mapped 14 previously undocumented deep-sea sites, characterized the sites' chemistry and geology, studied the animals, and sampled the microbial communities on the sea floor. This knowledge will help the group predict the occurrence of sensitive seep and coral communities in the deep sea based on geophysical, geochemical, and satellite data collected from on and above the surface of the ocean. In general, the work has provided to regulatory agencies and energy companies essential information on the ecology and biodiversity of deep-sea communities. The research is critical for the conservation of these habitats, especially as oil and gas wells are drilled in deeper parts of the Gulf.
In addition to the Cooperative Conservation Award, Fisher has received numerous honors for his research and teaching, including the Penn State C. I Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2001, the Penn State Faculty Associates Award in 1997, a Collaborative Instructional and Curricular Innovation Award from Penn State in 1996, and a Presidential Young Investigator award from the National Science Foundation in 1991. Fisher also was recognized among "The Year's Best" by Popular Science magazine in 1997 for making one of the year's top 100 discoveries in science and technology.
Fisher joined the Penn State faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor and was named associate professor in 1995 and professor in 1999. He earned his doctoral degree in biological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1985 and his bachelor's degree in biology at Michigan State University in 1976.