December 19, 2005
When it comes to limnology, Owen Lind wrote the book.
His textbook on limnological methods, first published in 1974, has been the primer for generations of aquatic scientists. A Baylor biology professor since 1966, Lind also lectures worldwide.
It was his contribution to the fields of water quality and ecology that led Mexican officials to contact him more than two decades ago to ask for his help with a growing problem at Lake Chapala, the country's largest natural lake.
"They knew the nature of the problem. It was eutrophication, the single greatest problem in water quality today," says Lind, who has a doctorate in zoology from the University of Missouri. Eutrophication is water pollution that is caused by excessive plant nutrients; in other words, the spread of toxic and nontoxic algae.
Lind's work in Mexico is a precursor to the work now being done at Lake Whitney in Central Texas and other projects being conducted at Baylor's two-year-old Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research, says Robert Doyle, the center's director and chair of biology at Baylor.
"Owen, against all odds, developed an international reputation because of extraordinarily good science," says Doyle, who, as a master's student, was the first to travel with Lind in 1983 to do research at Lake Chapala. "We have really gifted scientists at Baylor. Owen set a mean standard for us here in terms of scientific excellence."
Lind has been conducting basic ecological studies at Lake Chapala for more than 20 years, amassing a body of data that serves as a reference for other similar studies on improving water quality. Grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health have funded the work, in addition to other sources.
In 1993, Lind's wife and fellow limnologist Laura Davalos-Lind, MS '86, founded the Chapala Ecology Station (CES). She serves as its coordinator and travels widely to present on research being done there. The station is a study and research center that is a collaboration between Baylor and the University Autonomous of Guadalajara, where Davalos-Lind received her undergraduate degree. As a native of Mexico, she grew up vacationing on the banks of Lake Chapala, located near Guadalajara in the western part of the country. She estimates that 100 students from Baylor and about as many Mexican students had participated in the CES summer program as of 2003.
"The main benefit was to provide opportunities for Baylor students and faculty to have a global understanding of environmental problems and also to make connections," Davalos-Lind says of the CES center.
She wants students to be aware of how science is conducted in other countries and the unique problems that researchers outside of the United States may face. "Here and in Mexico, sometimes the only things we know [about people from other countries] are what we see on the TV," she says. "By going over there, they get to know each other as real people and see we have the same problems and same goals in our lives. There is a mutual respect."
In the last three years, Baylor's involvement in Mexico has shifted. Due to rising costs for those visiting CES, students no longer study at Chapala, but research is still being conducted there by Baylor faculty. Now, a new laboratory is being developed in Veracruz, a southeastern state.
At the invitation of administrators from the University Veracruzana in 2004, the Davalos-Linds met to discuss the establishment of a new research and teaching program that will study the significant river systems in that area and a tropical lake, Catemaco. The Mexican institution is renovating a building on its campus to house the laboratory and a future water studies center. The university already is home to the Center of Tropical Research, a pre-eminent site to study tropical ecology and biology and botany, Lind says.
The goal is to benefit the Mexican scientific community and the community at large represents Baylor's mission. "Whatever we do, we want to leave something behind. We show them how to publish, how to do world-class science," and do it affordably, Lind says. "U.S. science is high-tech and that comes at a high price. We try to show them how to do it with less cost."
Davalos-Lind hopes that Baylor students and faculty will take advantage of the opportunity to study and do research at Veracruz. "It's really fun, as a biologist or somebody who is interested in the environment, to go and see all this lush vegetation and things you have never seen before," she says. "I feel it's a privilege to go there and work on these places. They are disappearing so quickly in the world."