The Donald B. Zobel Fund

The Fund

The Donald Zobel Fund will support extracurricular activities to aid the botanical education of undergraduate students in the Department.

Donald B. Zobel

Dr. Donald B. Zobel retired in 2003 after 35 years in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University.  He began his formal training with a BS from North Carolina State University in 1964.  At Duke University, he developed his long-term interests in water relations and plant distributions, with an MA in 1966 and a PhD in 1968.  That year, he left his familiar mid-Appalachian environs to accept an appointment as Assistant Professor at this Pacific Northwest university and for a chance to expand his ideas to new species and new forests.

The trees of northwestern coasts and mountains were quite suitable for investigations in water relations and other autecological studies.  For example, the intriguing Port-Orford-cedar benefited from Dr. Zobel’s attentions.  As an expert on this species and its relatives, he influenced both ecological understanding of plant physiological ecology and the management of this narrow endemic.  His status in the field is reflected in the two encyclopedias that carry entries on conifers that come from his pen.

Dr. Zobel’s research in later years expanded geographically and topically.  The eruption of Mount St. Helens provided a unique opportunity to study the recovery of plants from burial by volcanic debris.  He showed that ecophysiology and growth form are responsible for unexpected patterns of recovery.

A Fulbright award to Nepal in 1984-85 and an Indo-American Fellowship to India in 1991 helped cement long-term collaborations with colleagues in Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, and Kumaun University, Naini Tal.  The fruits of these collaborations include publications on the role of water relations in the distribution and behavior of Himalayan trees.  He has been on the advisory board of the ecological society of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation since 1992.  He also was an author of an ecology text, “A Practical Manual for Ecology,” published in Nepal and widely used there in the training of students.

Dr. Zobel has been advisor or co-advisor to 25 Masters students and six Doctoral students at Oregon State and in Nepal and India.  Some of his students have gone on to influential positions in resource management agencies, others have risen to high posts in academia.  Dr. Zobel has also had profound impacts on students through his classroom teaching.  His Plant Autecology course is legendary in being worth every bit of the work it entailed.  Other courses in plant ecology, plant physiology, plant water relations, and plant geography bore his trademark dedication to giving students sound science, hands-on experience, and fundamental and thorough understanding.

Recent years have seen Dr. Zobel move in still new professional directions.  A series of Honors College courses (which he continues to offer in retirement) and a residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology with his wife Priscilla have explored links between ecological science and history, literature, and art.

by Mark Wilson