Western Carolina University biology department faculty member James T. Costa is the new executive director of the Highlands Biological Station, a 21-acre interinstitutional facility of the University of North Carolina system.
Costa will direct all education and research activities conducted at the station, as well as oversee administrative areas such as maintenance and improvement of the station’s academic and residential facilities. He had served as interim director of the facility, located in the town of Highlands, since September 2005.
Costa has been a member of Western’s faculty since 1996, advancing through the academic posts of assistant and associate professor to full professor in the biology department. He was named H.F. and Katherine P. Robinson Professor of Biology in 2004, and will continue to hold that title and teach classes periodically at Western.
Costa also will continue as a research associate in entomology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, where he spent the 2004-2005 academic year as a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
An active researcher and writer, Costa has authored numerous scientific publications stemming from his research on insect behavior in the United States, Costa Rica and Mexico. His book “The Other Insect Societies” will be published by Harvard University Press in May.
A native of New York state, Costa earned his undergraduate degree in biology and philosophy at the State University of New York College at Cortland, studying biology and philosophy. He earned his master’s degree in entomology and community ecology, and doctoral degree in insect population genetics, at the University of Georgia. He then spent four years at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, first as a postdoctoral research fellow and then as National Science Foundation/Sloan postdoctoral fellow in molecular evolution, before joining Western’s faculty.
The Highlands Biological Station was founded and operated as a private institution for its first 50 years. The state of North Carolina began limited funding in the 1950s, and support by the National Science Foundation and the state permitted significant station expansion in the 1960s.
The station was purchased by the University of North Carolina in 1977 and officially became an interinstitutional center of the UNC system. However, the station has continued to be supported in part by member universities throughout the Southeast, whose students come to the facility to study and conduct research, and by the Highlands Biological Foundation, a non-profit organization. Approximately 10 percent of the station’s budget is provided by the foundation, most of which is used for scholarships and research grants.
In addition to its facilities for the training of students from colleges and universities around the country, the station is home to the Highlands Nature Center and Botanical Garden. The Nature Center, which is affiliated with the statewide Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative, offers summer programs on-site and outreach to local schools during the winter, emphasizing the natural heritage of the Southern Appalachians. The Botanical Garden, which is open to the public year-round, contains more than 500 labeled specimens of plants native to the area.
For more information about the Highlands Biological Station and its programs, and the Highlands Nature Center, visit on the Web at www.wcu.edu/hbs.