Amazon River a rich subject for 3D lecture

March 25, 2013

Dr. Mark Yates
Dr. Mark Yates
Canoeing along the Amazon River during a three-week visit to the Brazilian rainforest, Dr. Mark Yates was amazed when a flock of spectacularly colorful macaws flew overhead.

“Not one or two, but a whole flock! It was a surreal feeling,” recalled Yates, an ecologist and forestry specialist now in his second year as Assistant Professor of Biology at LaGrange College.

The macaw encounter was just one of many Brazilian experiences that left Yates feeling awed and virtually speechless.

“I found myself saying, ‘Wow!’  a lot. I fell in love with the ecosystem of the tropical rainforest. The Amazon is such a massive waterway, and the area is home to a vast number of species of animals and plants.  As an ecologist, it was awe-inspiring.”

Now, Yates aims to share those “wow moments” as the next lecturer for “Rhythms of Brazil,” the college’s ongoing 3D Journeys lecture series.  His talk on “The diversity and ecology of the Brazilian rainforest,” will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Turner Hall.  All sessions in the 3D series are free, stand on their own and are open to anyone interested in learning.

Yates said he plans to keep the lecture “as broad as possible,” providing an overview of the overall ecosystem, while also touching on current issues, like deforestation, potential medicinal discoveries linked to plants unique to the Amazon region and what he calls “the challenge of this century”  – continuing to improve the lives of the Amazon people without having adverse impact on the environment.

“For scientists, this is the cutting edge.  There is still so much we don’t understand, a lot we have to learn before it’s too late.”

Yates’ fascination with the Amazon region reflects his love of nature, which ultimately led to his earning an undergraduate degree in biology from Furman University, a master’s degree in forestry from Clemson and a Ph.D. in forest ecology from the University of Missouri.

It’s a calling he found at an early age.  A native of Athens, Ga., Yates is the son of a forester who worked for the forest service and passed along his love of the outdoors. Like his father, Yates worked for the forest service before returning to school for his doctoral studies.

Foresters, the professor points out, were “the first ecologists,” because, “The way you manage a forest is to manage the whole system.”

The majority of his scholarly research has focused on animals associated with forests, including bats and termites. The specialization in animals is not unusual in forestry, he notes.

 “The way we manage animals is to manage their habitat.”

At LaGrange College, Yates teaches introductory and advanced biology courses, including a recent class in conservation biology. He hopes to develop courses in natural resources management and mammalogy.  He also chairs the Sustainability Council and helps education majors prepare to teach courses in “science literacy.”

Yates welcomes the 3D Journeys lecture as a “liberating” opportunity to share a favorite topic with people who aren’t technically students, but still want to learn.

“I think it’s a fantastic program ... We have higher institutions of learning not just for students but for society as a whole. I am happy to share in that.”

A Dutch-treat lunch, with Brazilian options, will be available in Pitts Dining Hall following the session.

Parking is in the Vernon Street lots, near the pedestrian bridge, with a tent for shelter and shuttle service to the door.

For information, call (706) 880-8244 or email

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