Ecologist committed to sharing knowledge


Dr. Paul Schmalzer examines soil at the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary.

Jennifer H. Monaghan

On a recent Saturday morning, Dr. Paul Schmalzer led a small group of walkers to explore the botanical wonders of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, one of Brevard County’s most ecologically diverse areas.

Walking slowly along the sandy path, Schmalzer enthusiastically identified plants in a friendly, often humorous way and readily answered questions using scientific and common names. He also pointed out a few birds, such as the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay.

His commentary was suitable for all levels of knowledge.

Schmalzer explained that he leads such hikes because he wants others to be aware of the area’s biodiversity.

“I think it’s important that more people see and experience the biological diversity (that exists here), because as a scientist I think biodiversity matters….” he said. “It’s a message the public will understand better if they experience it more, if they see what’s out there firsthand. If you know what to look for, you see a lot more.

“In areas like the (Malabar) scrub, not everybody finds them appealing initially, but they are rich in the species that occur there,” Schmalzer said. “Not everything is showy, but there are a lot of subtle elements to biodiversity that many people will appreciate if they get to see them.”

Schmalzer, a plant ecologist with the Kennedy Space Center, is the recipient of the NASA KSC Engineer/Scientist of the Year Award for 2018 in the contractor category. A graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville with a doctorate degree in ecology, Schmalzer joined the staff at KSC in 1982 and has worked for the ecological program there since then.

In addition to his career at KSC, Schmalzer spends a considerable amount of time in numerous roles as a volunteer with the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program and as a member of the Florida Native Plant Society Sea Rocket Chapter.

Schmalzer’s personal and career goals are intertwined. He said his aim is to do his part to help promote the preservation, conservation and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida.

“I have a long-term commitment both to the native plant society and the EEL program, both valuable organizations and programs,” he said. “It’s part of my career. I am a plant ecologist, and this goes along with what I do and understand.”