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Julia Jones Oral History Interview, December 3, 2020

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Julia Jones Oral History Interview, December 3, 2020


Julia Jones, Professor of Geography at OSU and long-time participant and leader in the Andrews Forest LTER program, has specialized in landscape ecology and analysis of long-term records, and has led several inter-disciplinary education and research programs associated with the forest.

Jones begins the interview by defining an ecosystem as a set of biotic and abiotic interactions which are inherently dynamic – a mix of ordered and stochastic, and generally resilient. She describes her own research approach as mainly analysis of long-term data, including from experimental treatments others had imposed. The analysis is a form of model fitting to historic data; this may be a combination of inductive and deductive approaches to testing of alternative ideas. She elaborates on types of models, modeling approaches, and ways in which analytical (not physical) experimentation is involved. She contrasts her approach in hydrology to that of civil engineers who use and refine simulation models in their design work. As background, she discusses the long-term experimental watershed studies of how forests, logging, and roads affect streamflow at Andrews Forest. She describes her educational trajectory through economics and then optimization modeling in an engineering context, underpinned the wish to address socially relevant problems.

Work on soils in east Africa and a faculty position at U California Santa Barbara somehow led to working with streamflow records from the Andrews Forest. She is puzzled that it is unusual to be analyzing long-term data and so much modeling is done without use of such data. Her own research path has been following where questions lead by observing natural systems, including those manipulated by humans. She describes the thread as leading from one paper to another. Objectivity can be challenging when working on systems that you love, but there are rules for reaching a balanced evaluation. Brief comment on truth and the scientific method are post-modernist, she says, and the notion of laws of nature has relevance in physics, but not so much in ecology because of the complexity involved. This leads to discussion of her work with mathematicians and computer scientists and their varied views of modeling complex natural systems. She describes complexity in terms of the constant change occurring in physical and biological systems at multiple scales in response to different forces. She places this in the context of changes in ecological thinking over that previous 50 years, including inception of NSF’s LTER program as an intention to address complexity and dynamism of Earth systems. Curiosity and wonder are two big motivations for her. An early interest in art feeds into her work as a scientist because of the parallel importance of keen observation and accessible communications shared by those practicing art and science.

Speaking generally about the practice of science by the Andrews Forest community, she finds that natural history is an essential part of all long-term ecological research program and associated education efforts. Society’s current fascination with electronics increases the importance of getting students out into the natural world to directly connect with ecosystems, which she has done through teaching. Students seem to enjoy it, but are surprised to get a natural history view of the world. Next, she describes some of the learning process over the course of the 70-year history of experimental watersheds and the 200-year log decomposition experiment at Andrews Forest – the constant flow of discoveries. Ecosystem modeling has been a part of the Andrews program, but has not been as much of a focal point for collaboration as the long-term field experiments. Ecosystem modeling has been advocated by NSF and proposal reviewers, but it’s not clear what the intentions are and how to be successful with it.

The interview concludes with discussion of accomplishments of the Andrews program, but starts with one failure – several unsuccessful efforts to produce a science synthesis book. The most recent attempt featured the changing research landscape as influenced by changing trends in science, new tools, societal change, and big disturbance events. This presents a moving target for synthesis. She goes on to mention the familiar big stories – old growth, dead wood, forest-stream interactions. In forest hydrology, where she has placed most of her focus, the science has yielded a rich set of discoveries complicated by climate change, which looms as the next big science frontier. Summing up, Jones feels that scientists are drawn to the forest and its community because of the satisfaction of sharing discovery and learning from one another.


Julia Jones


H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Oral History Collection (OH 28)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


December 3, 2020


Sara Khatib


Born Digital Video




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Sara Khatib


Julia Jones


Interview conducted over Zoom

Original Format

Born Digital Video



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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