Earlham College | A national liberal arts college in the Midwest
COVID-19 news, plans and updates | READ MORE
Skip to Content
Dan Atwater
Assistant Professor of Biology

Dan Atwater is a father (hi Nate and William!), spouse, aikido teacher, visual artist, runner, auto enthusiast and community ecologist. He grew up at the University of Kansas and went to school there. Next, he worked at the Cornell Vet School studying clinical genetics, and after that he went to grad school in Montana to study plants. He still loves Montana and Montana plants. Later he toiled as a postdoctoral researcher in Reno, NV; College Station, TX; Blacksburg, VA; and Raleigh, NC. In 2018 he joined the biology faculty at Earlham and is loving it.

I wear a lot of hats at Earlham: I teach biology, manage the greenhouse and herbarium, and I also teach aikido classes and advise the Earlham Aikido Club as the Head Instructor of Indiana Ki Aikido, whose dojo is located on campus.

Contact Info

Campus Mail
Drawer 3



143 Stanley Hall

Office Hours
Open door

Website Link


  • Biology
  • Art, Nature and Conservation Applied Minor
  • Sustainable Agriculture Applied Minor


  • Ph.D., University of Montana
  • B.S., University of Kansas

Selected Courses:

BIOL 110: Ecological Biology
BIOL 226: Biological Diversity
BIOL 350: Field Botany
BIOL 455: Population and Community Ecology
AWPE 142: Introduction to Aikido

Broadly speaking, I study plants. More specifically, I study how plant populations grow and change over time and space (this makes me a population ecologist), and how changes in plant populations mediate and are mediated by interactions among plants (making me a community ecologist). I am motivated by a fascination with how patterns emerge from complex, interconnected, and constantly evolving ecological systems. I like to use ecological models to explore small-scale processes — such as competition among individual plants — and how they influence global-scale patterns — such as the species diversity on a continent.

I am involved in many projects with varying degrees of activity and student involvement. In the summer I work mostly in the field. During other times of the year I am found on my computer running models. Student opportunities exist to pursue diverse questions, such as:

  • How does within-species diversity affect the species diversity and productivity of plant communities?
  • How does competitive ability evolve in plant communities?
  • What are the evolutionary and ecological responses of plant communities to invasion?
  • How and why do invasive species change ecologically when they cross continents?
  • How can we better forecast the future impact of invasive plants?

For a complete list of works, please see http://danatwater.com/cv/#publications

As I see it, life is short and precious, and I want to make my own life matter. I teach at Earlham because I get to foster the development of a generation of thinkers and leaders who will save the world. I also get to make my own contribution to improving human understanding of the natural systems that I love.

Earlham students are diverse. They are engaged, demanding, angry, mindful, frightened, earnest, intelligent, and, above all, motivated to make their world better. They challenge me to be better and to take them farther.

My favorite time is spent with my wife and two sons. I also teach Aikido, make 2-D visual art (mixed drawing/painting media), photograph plants, run marathons, and work on cars. I love backpacking, although I rarely make time for it these days. I like to be busy!

Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Earlham College
801 National Road West
Richmond, Indiana
1-765-983-1200 — Main Switchboard
1-800-EARLHAM (327-5426) — Admission


Earlham admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.