“Understanding the role that church forests play in the provision of ecosystem services is critical,” wrote Colgate biology professor Catherine Cardelús and two colleagues in a letter published in Science, the world’s leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary.

Cardelus found that church forests are an unusually integral part of the dominant religion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. “Within each church forest, an Orthodox priest, monks, and disciples live,” she said. “Increasing desertification and deforestation is threatening what forests remain.”

Her work in Ethiopia was funded in part by a grant from Colgate’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute.

Cardelús, assistant professor of biology, conducts research in a variety of settings: the Adirondacks, Costa Rica, and most recently Ethiopia. She has received a number of prestigious grants and awards, including a 2010-2012 NSF Research Initiation Grant for the Experimental Study of Canopy Nutrient Limitation on Ecosystem Processes and Community Structure.  And for 2008-09, she received an NSF Research Starter Grant to explore the nutrient dynamics of herbaceous taxa from temperate and tropical regions.

On her Colgate faculty page, Cardelús summed up her work: “I am interested in one of ecology’s fundamental questions: What are the patterns of species richness? I am also particularly interested in the link between biodiversity and ecosystem function and how changes in the environment via warming or increased nutrient deposition may affect it.”