Sir Peter Crane, a geophysical sciences professor at the University of Chicago, will replace Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69 as the dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, University President Richard Levin announced in an e-mail message to the environment school community Wednesday afternoon.

“Sir Peter is a scientist of world-class stature, a proven leader of important institutions, and he is deeply committed to the conservation of the planet’s biodiversity,” Levin wrote. “We are fortunate to attract him to Yale, and I am deeply grateful to the search committee for identifying such an outstanding candidate.”

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Crane’s appointment — effective Sept. 1, 2009, two months after Speth was originally scheduled to leave — brings an end to the nearly nine-month-long search process for Speth’s successor. Upon Levin’s request, Speth said he will stay on for an additional two months in a “somewhat removed capacity” until Crane arrives in time for the fall semester.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Crane said he was honored to be given the opportunity to build upon Speth’s decade of hard work and investment in the school.

“I’m thrilled to be appointed to this position,” Crane said. “It’s fabulous to be able to carry on from where Dean Gus Speth has left off. He has built the school into a really wonderful center for environmental issues, and it is a huge honor for me to follow him.”

During Speth’s direction of the school since 1999, the percentage of women on the teaching faculty at the environment school has nearly doubled; the number of master’s degrees candidates on scholarships has increased by 20 percent, and those coming from minority backgrounds has almost doubled. Over the same period, course and seminar offerings have increased from about 90 to 138, and funding for the environment school has dramatically increased.

Speth said in an interview with the News on Wednesday that he is “very excited” about Crane’s appointment.

“I think he is a great scientist and a wonderful human being,” he said. “He will be a great dean.”

Levin selected Crane from a list of fewer than 10 recommendations put forth by an internal search committee in December. Professor of industrial ecology and search committee Chairman Thomas Graedel said he was pleased with Levin’s choice, since Crane had been the committee’s first choice for the position. Graedel added that Crane was highly regarded by the committee and described him as a “fine scholar and proven leader.”

Prior to his most recent teaching stint at the University of Chicago — he also taught in its Department of the Geophysical Sciences from 1992 to 1999 — Crane served as the director and chief executive of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the top botanical gardens in the world, from 1999 to 2006 . He also worked at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago from 1982 to 1999 and served as the museum’s director the last four years of his time there.

During his career as a professor, administrator and researcher, Crane has focused his work primarily on the diversity of plant life and the processes of plant evolution. He also studies the origin and early diversification of flowering plants. To date, he has written six books and close to 200 articles and essays .

In 2004, Crane, a British citizen, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for services to horticulture and conservation.

Crane’s academic focus, environment school lecturer Ann Camp said, will complement Speth’s emphasis on environmental advocacy and policy and will be a welcome change at the environment school.

“I personally am looking forward to our new dean because his interests lie much more along my own,” she said. “We’ve done the advocacy thing long enough, and it’s time to get back to academics.”

Professor Mark Ashton said he thought Crane was the ideal candidate to succeed Speth.

“He is just the right person to come after Dean Speth,” Ashton said. “Having someone who is strong in policy and leadership … like Gus, followed up by someone who is strong in the sciences, will be good. Peter will complement what Gus has done in a big way.”

After handing over the deanship to Crane in September, Speth said he plans to take time off to write and reflect, as well as prepare for his new teaching responsibilities at the Vermont Law School, which he will join July 1, 2010.