Desert ecologist Benjamin Wilder has been named interim director of Tumamoc Hill, an 860-acre ecological reserve and U.S. National Historic Landmark owned and operated by the University of Arizona.
Wilder assumed leadership duties on Oct. 10, succeeding Michael Rosenzweig, who had held the position since 2007.
"This is a dream come true for me," Wilder said. "Tumamoc is truly a shining example of excellence in desert research. I am eager to start working with our partners on the UA campus, the Tucson community, Pima County and the surrounding neighborhoods to help Tumamoc realize its incredible potential."
The UA officially purchased Tumamoc Hill in 1960 for the sole purposes of research and education. Under the UA's guidance, Tumamoc Hill has become one of the longest continually monitored ecological reserves in the world and a thriving hub of desert research.
Born and raised in Tucson, Wilder began his desert research career at the Desert Laboratory at Tumamoc Hill as an undergraduate student in 2004, when he took part in the UA Bufflegrass Control project. He also spent time as assistant curator of the UA Herbarium, while also working alongside Raymond Turner, Richard Felger and Martin Karpisac in the desert research unit of the UA's Office of Arid Lands Studies.
"I worked alongside many of my heroes when I was at the UA, where I became deeply connected to the legacy of Tumamoc," Wilder said.
He earned his bachelor's degree from the UA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and his Ph.D. from the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside. His dissertation research, carried out on the Sonoran Islands in the Gulf of California, expanded on his co-authored book with Richard Felger, "Plant Life of a Desert Archipelago," published by the UA Press.
Wilder returned to the UA in August 2015 to work with the Consortium for Arizona and Mexico Arid Environments, or CAZMEX. Wilder and CAZMEX director Christopher Scott work to provide funding for collaborative projects between the UA and Mexico that look to examine the unique ecology of the Sonoran Desert.
"We are very lucky to have Benjamin Wilder guide and refine the vision of Tumamoc in his role as interim director," said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science. "He possesses a unique combination of skills and experience to help preserve the future of this special site. At the same time, we owe a great deal of thanks to Mike Rosenzweig, who committed all his energy in maintaining the integrity of this ecological, archaeological and historical landmark."
Wilder also is the director of the Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers, or N-Gen, an organization that strives to create opportunities for collaboration across borders and disciplines and a more holistic understanding and appreciation of the Sonoran Desert. Wilder started N-Gen as a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside, with colleagues from Mexico, in order to create a community across disciplines and borders for a variety of desert-focused researchers. The grassroots organization has grown to more than 400 members since its initial meeting in 2012.
"The Sonoran Desert doesn't adhere to a border," Wilder said. "This kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration is essential to meet and solve the challenges we face in research and conservation."
Tumamoc Hill's ecological variety makes it one of the region's most popular walking and hiking spots — a unique aspect that Wilder takes seriously.
"The daily use of the road by thousands of walkers is an incredibly vital feature of the present and future of Tumamoc," Wilder said. "Our goal is to enhance the experience of those who enjoy spending time in this ecological preserve."