IEP Lead Scientist Loves Algae
Science is a way of life for Dr. Anke Mueller-Solger, the first Lead Scientist of the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP). “My husband is a scientist, too, and I love our ongoing scientific debates at the dinner table,” Mueller-Solger said in a recent interview with Science News. “Things I do and see at home also often give me ideas for my scientific work and vice versa.”
The IEP Lead Scientist provides scientific leadership and coordination to the IEP program-a team of State and Federal agencies and university and private scientists that monitors and does scientific research in the Delta. As IEP Lead Scientist, Mueller-Solger also works with the CALFED Science Program to tie IEP science and monitoring into the larger scientific program relating to the Bay-Delta ecosystem.
Mueller-Solger was born in the Rhine River town of Speyer, Germany, but spent most of her childhood 100 miles farther north in Bonn-then the West German capital-where her father worked for the government and her mother was a schoolteacher. She received her Vordiplom and Diplom (the German versions of a BS & MS) in Biology from the University of Goettingen, alma mater to the fairytale Brothers Grimm and also home to the German Culture Collection of Algae, one of the three largest culture collections of algae in the world.
“This is where I initially fell in love with algae and aquatic ecology,” Mueller-Solger said. “Rowing along German rivers as a member of my high school rowing crew might have also contributed.” She came to California as a college exchange student in 1990, intending to stay for only a year, but then couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work and eventually conduct her PhD research at the UC Davis Limnological Research Station at Castle Lake near Mount Shasta. Afterwards, Mueller-Solger received a great postdoctoral opportunity in the Delta, and then job opportunities with the Department of Water Resources and IEP. “And now I’m married here with house, kid, and cats-it seems I’m here to stay,” she said.
Science News recently caught up with Mueller-Solger to discuss her IEP work.
SN: As Lead Scientist for the IEP program, what’s your vision for the program?
M-S: I see a very bright future for the IEP as the central hub for coordinating and carrying out high-quality, relevant, and timely monitoring and applied ecological research in the San Francisco estuary and its watersheds.
Partnering with the CALFED Science Program, I hope to foster and engage in an open dialogue among all Bay-Delta scientists, managers, conservationists and stakeholders that clarifies needs, expectations, opportunities and roles, and leads to an IEP that is both more responsive to existing information needs and more anticipatory of future information needs. This future IEP has a clear, rightful place in the emerging Bay-Delta governance structure and a clear role in the various Bay-Delta management and conservation plans. Sustained long-term monitoring will always be complemented by shorter-term monitoring and research projects, often in adaptive management settings.
There is a strong commitment by the IEP member agencies to support both monitoring and research with stable and appropriate resources. IEP scientists feel respected by their peers and managers, free to carry out their scientific investigations and share all results without fear of bureaucratic interference and political retribution, and proud to be a part of the IEP and the greater Bay-Delta science and management community. They will be especially proud when it becomes clear that new adaptive management approaches guided by IEP science results will have led to better outcomes for all creatures depending on the Bay-Delta ecosystems for their livelihoods, from humans to smelts, and water and environmental crises have become a thing of the past.
SN: Can you tell us about some of the work you’ve done in IEP?
M-S: The main focus of my academic and agency work has been on aquatic food webs-from lakes to rivers and estuaries. I started working in the Delta about 10 years ago as a postdoc for a CALFED project about the sources and fate of organic carbon in the Delta. I also worked on floodplain projects in The Nature Conservancy Cosumnes preserve and the Yolo Bypass. Lately, my main focus has been on the IEP’s Pelagic Organism Decline (POD) investigation. I am the current chair of the POD Management Team which constructs the POD work plans, oversees the more than 50 study elements, and synthesizes, reports, and presents the results. As lead scientist, I am now also involved with general IEP communication, coordination, and management tasks related to the IEP’s scientific activities and with continually developing and improving the IEP so it can best fulfill its role in the ever-changing universe of Bay-Delta science and management.
SN: What are you most passionate about in your work—both personally and scientifically?
M-S: I love to learn and share what I have learned. I love understanding patterns and connections and how things work. The most important thing for me is to always keep my mind and senses open, to take nothing for granted, and to try to come up with creative solutions. I am passionate about basing solutions and actions on solid evidence as well as moral and ethical considerations that include humans and the whole fragile planet we call home. I passionately believe that science and scientists play an essential role in assuring our continued survival and well-being, and that all life on earth is intricately connected in a complex global ecosystem. As an applied ecologist, I hope to find out more about these connections and about how we can manage and protect natural systems so that important components and connections are not lost.
“I passionately believe that science and scientists play an essential role in assuring our continued survival and well-being, and that all life on earth is intricately connected in a complex global ecosystem.”
I’m also passionate about being respectful, humble, friendly, and fair. To me, this is really part of the ‘scientific way of life.’ Politically motivated, agitating personal attacks and grand-standing have no place in the scientific culture I Iove and espouse. I am hoping and working for a world where more or maybe even most people adhere to this culture. I think it would be a better world.
CALFED Lead Scientist Cliff Dahm said Mueller-Solger’s strengths are her “enthusiasm, intelligence, efficiency and interdisciplinary breadth.” But the one word that best describes her, he said, is “tenacious.”
In addition to her IEP and DWR work, Mueller-Solger has also been involved with numerous CALFED projects and workshops. She was instrumental in organizing the CALFED Science conferences from the very beginning and served as conference co-chair for the 2006 and 2008 conferences.
Although Mueller-Solger misses her family and friends in Germany, she doesn’t miss the many grey and muggy days. “I love California weather,” she said, “even the really hot days. And I like California’s diverse nature and interesting, informal, lively people.”
When she’s not working, Mueller-Solger spends time with her husband and three-year-old daughter. She also enjoys hiking, gardening and reading and someday hopes to find the time to join an orchestra again and play the cello.