Dan Atwater, Ph.D.

Assistant professor of biology

Email:[email protected]

Department: Biology

Program: Art, Nature and Conservation applied minor
Athletics, Wellness and Physical Education

Location: Stanley Hall Room 143
801 National Road
Richmond, Indiana 47374

About me

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

My favorite time is spent with my wife and two sons. I also 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!

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.


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

Research projects

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?

Scholarly interest

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.

Published works

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