Academics at Prescott College
Peter M. Sherman, Ph.D.
Graduate Chair of Environmental Studies
Graduate Chair of Environmental Studies
Peter Sherman is a systems ecologist studying the world's most complex and sustainably-functioning ecosystem: the tropical lowland rainforest. More specifically he has published on and how animals influence plant species diversities and community structures. Recently, Peter has begun to apply his system's level understanding of nature's most complex and sustainably-functioning ecosystem to the business and industrial sectors. Peter has lectured widely giving keynote addresses throughout Southern California to business schools, MBA programs and chambers of commerce about how businesses can become more sustainably-functioning by mimicking age-old solutions tried and tested over evolutionary time by nature. He also continues to work with urban planners architects and developers as the only academic member of the Sustainable Communities Initiative Council of the Urban Land Institute charged with advising Southern California in smarter development and growth.
Before working on ecological systems, Peter studied the behaviors of wild animals and has published scientific articles on the slave-raiding ants of the Chiracahua Mountains of Arizona, the economics of web building in spiders of upstate New York, the distributions of alligators in Texas swamps and effects of the giant land crabs on plant diversity in Costa Rica's Corcovado National Park. Peter's work in the rainforest has also been featured in several publications including Discover Magazine's "Ecological Breakthroughs". In addition to studying animals in the rainforest, Peter is a widely published nature photographer with photographs in magazines such as Discover and the family of National Wildlife magazines including several covers and fold-out posters, literary journal covers, and nationally-distributed posters from the National Wildlife Federation through Walmart.
Peter’s great passion, however, is teaching. Over the years he has created and taught tens of courses held both in the classroom and field. His focus has always been on creating transformative educational opportunities through immersion experiences and inquiry-based, education-centered approaches. Among his favorite courses to teach are mixed research methods, ecology for environmental scientists, introductions to environmental studies and sustainability, environmental photojournalism, field-based rainforest ecology, nature photography, and project-based design studios.
Peter has traveled rather extensively and has led biking/climbing tours of France and Switzerland and nature tours of the Peruvian Amazon, Mexico and Costa Rica. Additionally, Peter has frequently taught graduate-level field biology courses in Costa Rica for the Organization for Tropical Studies based at Duke University as well as leading undergraduate-level adventure courses to some of Costa Rica’s most remote and wild places for the Universities of Redlands, Arizona and Michigan. Previously, Peter has been a member of Park City Utah's National Ski Patrol, a volunteer for the fire department of Charlo, Montana, a back-country ranger and river patroller for the North Cascades National Park, and a taxi driver in New York. When his body still functioned properly, he was a serious (playful) competitive Ultimate Frisbee player.
Peter received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1986; his M.A. in animal behavior and comparative animal physiology from Binghamton University (SUNY) in 1992, and his Ph.D. in rainforest systems ecology from the University of Michigan in 1997. Peter has been a professor since 1998 and has taught at the innovative liberal arts colleges of Marlboro in Vermont and Deep Springs College in California where he was the Herbert Reich Professor of Natural Science. He has also taught at the research one University of Arizona for six years and through Duke University’s Organization for Tropical Studies. Until his arrival to Prescott College in 2010, Peter was an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Redlands where he loved the one-on-one opportunities to work with students as they explored the natural world through primary research. Peter lives in Prescott with his wife (Mariana Altrichter, one of the world's foremost experts on wild boar and jaguar and the indigenous peoples who hunt them; and herself a teacher at Prescott College) and his 4.5-year old daughter "Ceiba Azul" named after a tropical tree thought to have magical powers by the Mayan peoples and their 2.5 year old child “Suli Alba” named after an Indonesian lullaby his mother sang to him.
School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan Ph.D., 1997. Behavioral Ecology and Tropical Community Ecology & Conservation. Advisor: David Allan; Committee: Gary Fowler, Barb Smuts, Earl Werner, Donald Zak
State University of New York at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) MA, Biology, 1992. Physiological Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Committee: Stimson Wilcox, Nancy Stamp, David Sloan Wilson, David Murrish
Oberlin College. BA, June 1986. Major: Microbiology
Tropical Behavioral and Community Ecology My work addresses the previously polarized debate on the relative control of top-down or bottom-up mechanisms for influencing community composition and structure. I investigate the effects of a faunal population on distributions and diversity of trees, and the cycling of nutrients through a tropical rainforest system. Dissertation: "Direct & Indirect Effects of Herbivorous Land Crabs on Seedling Density, Organic Carbon Distributions, and Rooting Profiles in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica" (1993 - 2003)
Behavioral Ecology Using the orb-weaving spider’s web itself as a quantifiable indicator of both the spider’s behavioral and energetic energy allocation during its nightly foraging activity, I addressed a foundational tenet of behavioral ecology that greater foraging success leads directly to greater reproductive output. Master's Thesis: “The Orb Web: An Energetic and Behavioral Indicator of the Foraging & Reproductive Behaviors of the Orb-Weaving Spider Lariniodes cornutus, (Araneidae)” (1988 - 1990)
Chemical and Behavioral Desert Ecology We discovered, identified and described a chemical secretion produced (and associated behavior) by newly-mated queens of the parasitical slave-raiding ant Polyergus breviceps used during chemical manipulation of the host species during colony takeover. w/ H. Topoff, Am. Museum Nat. Hist. (1986)
Cognitive Ethology Broken-wing display by piping plovers, Charadrius melodus, w/ C. Ristau Rockefeller U.; (1985)
Education Software Development in Molecular Biology I conceived, designed and produced an interactive, educational computer software package. "An interactive guided tour of the cellular metabolic pathways" for introductory and upper-level biochemistry students of the UM. Published and distributed by Insight Media, New York.
Ecosystem Ecology, Animal Behavior, Experiential Education, Documentary Photography, Sustainability, Ecological Economics,
Widely Published Wildlife Photographer
Tour Guide: Amazon River (Peru, 4x), Inca Trail (Peru), France (biking), Switzerland (climbing)
Backcountry Ranger: North Cascades National Park, Washington State
Ski Patrol and Avalanche Rescue: Park City, Utah
Ultimate Frisbee competitive leagues 15 years
Taxi Driver: NY
EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)
Stoker, P., Willett, C., Altrichter, M., & P.M. Sherman. 2012. Coyote Habitat Use in Joshua Tree National Park. Southwestern Naturalist 57(2): 214-216.
Lindquist, E.S., Krauss, K.W. Green, P.T., O’Dowd, D.J., Sherman, P.M., & T.J. Smith (alphabetical after two primary authors). 2009. The role of land crabs: key factors in tropical coastal forests recruitment. Biological Reviews 84: 203-223. Cambridge Philosophical Society.
Sherman, P.M. 2006. Faunal effects on ecosystems: Land crabs influence distributions of organic carbon and roots in a mainland neotropical rainforest. International Journal of Tropical Biology 54(1): 149-161.
Sherman, P. M. 2003. Effects of land crabs on leaf litter distributions and accumulations in a mainland tropical rainforest. Biotropica. 35(3): 365-374.
Sherman, P. M. 2002. Effects of land crabs on seedling densities & distributions in a mainland neotropical rainforest. Journal of Tropical Ecology 18: 67-89.
Altrichter, M. & P. M. Sherman 1999. Distribution and abundance of the American alligator(Alligator mississippiensis) in the Welder Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Texas Journal Science 51(2):139-146.
Sherman, P. M. 1994. The orb web: An energetic & behavioral estimator of a spider's foraging and reproductive strategies. Animal Behaviour 48: 19-34.
Sherman, P. 2009. “Sustainability: A vision for higher education. Presentation to staff retreat of the Schools of Business and Education of the UR.
Sherman, P. 2007 - 2008. “Sustainability: The Next Industrial Revolution”. Numerous Invited KeyNote Presentations to Schools of Business and Chambers of Commerce in Southern California and New York.
Sherman, P. 2007. “Sustainability: The Next Industrial Revolution”. Keystone Address: Induction Ceremony Whitehead Honors Society of the University of Redlands’ School of Business. 2007 and 2008
Sherman, P. 2007. “Sustainability: A role for small business and schools of business”. Presentation to the faculty of the University of Redlands School of Business.
Sherman, P. & P. Burkhardt. 2004. Developing inter-collegiate field-based experiential curricula. Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning. Evergreen State College, WA
Sherman, P. & P. Burkhardt. 2003. Prospecting for inquiry-based education within a conventional curricular structure. Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning. Hampshire College, MA
Sherman P. 2003. Effects of animals on plant diversity. University of California Riverside. Invited Speaker.
Sherman, Peter 2001. Faunal effects on floristic community structure and diversity. Ecological Society of America, Madison, Wisconsin
Sherman, Peter 1997. Faunal effects on ecosystems: Land crab effect nutrient and rooting profiles. Ecological Society of America, Albequerque, NM.
Sherman, Peter 1997. Faunal effects on ecosystems: Land crabs of Corcovado National Park. Alwyn Gentry Best Presentation at Conference Award Association for Tropical Biology.
Sherman, Peter 1997. Animals, Ecosystems & Human Development. Charles A. Lindbergh Foundation 20th Anniversary. Invited Speaker.
Sherman, Peter 1996. Faunal effects on ecosystems: Land crabs manipulate coastal rainforest seedling community composition and carbon distributions. Ecological Society of America, 1996.
Sherman, Peter 1992. The Orb Web: An energetic and behavioral indicator of the foraging and reproductive behaviors of the orb-weaving spider Nuctenea cornuta, (Araneidae). Herbert Levi, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Invited Speaker.
Sherman, Peter 1992. The Orb Web: An energetic and behavioral indicator of the foraging and reproductive behaviors of the orb-weaving spider Nuctenea cornuta, (Araneidae). First Place Presentation Award 16th American Arachnological Society's International Meeting., NH.
Sherman, Peter 1990. Dynamic foraging behaviors of the orb-weaving spider Nuctenea cornuta. Animal Behavior Society Nat'l Meeting , NY.
Sherman, Peter 1989. Dynamic optimization by the orb-weaving spider Nuctenea cornuta. Am. Institute for Biological Sciences & Ecological Society of America Annual Conference. Canada Paper Award – Second Place: 8th Annual State University of NY’s Biological Sciences Symposia. 1988.
Numerous presentations to elementary, middle and high schools about natural history, the art of exploration and discovery through research, slave-raiding ants, parasites are our friends!?, spiders weave the strangest things etc.
2009 Faculty Research Grant UR.
2000 University of Arizona’s Small Faculty Grants
1997 Alwyn Gentry Best Presentation at Conference Award International Conference of the Association for Tropical Biology.
1996 University of Michigan graduate school’s Pre-doctoral Fellowship
1995 National Science Foundation’s Dissertation Improvement Grant
1995 The Charles A. & Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation
1995 Harry S. Guggenheim Fellowship in Conservation
1995 University of Michigan's Outstanding Teaching Award”
1994 Rackham Dissertation Grant, University of Michigan
1994 Hewlett International Dissertation Grant, Hewlett Foundation
1992 First Place Presentation Award 16th American Arachnological Society's International Meeting., NH.
1988. Paper Award – Second Place: 8th Annual State University of NY’s Biological Sciences Symposia.
Ecological Breakthroughs: Discover Magazine June 1998: Eco-Crabs. Peter Sherman
Pete and Ted's Excellent Adventure, LSA Magazine Fall 1997. Cover Story of the University of Michigan's Alumni Magazine.