Joshua Tewksbury Named Director of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

April 6, 2021
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Joshua Tewksbury, the interim executive director and U.S. global hub director of Future Earth, has been named director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), effective July 6.

Tewksbury is an ecologist with more than two decades of research in conservation and biodiversity, as well as nearly a decade of executive leadership experience at international research institutes. At Future Earth, a global research program dedicated to sustainability and global change, Tewksbury leads a network of tens of thousands of scientists and manages a wide range of conservation research projects, staff, programs and partnerships.

Headquartered in Panama City, Panama, STRI furthers the understanding and public awareness of tropical biodiversity and its importance to human welfare. Tewksbury will oversee more than 400 employees, an annual budget of $35 million and the institute’s research facilities throughout Panama and field sites in Africa, Asia and the Americas. In addition to its resident scientists and support staff, STRI’s facilities are used annually by some 1,400 visiting scientists, pre- and postdoctoral fellows and interns from around the world.

“Dr. Tewksbury’s career in conservation science demonstrates a longstanding commitment to working across disciplines, as well as geographic borders,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “He is an experienced, forward-looking leader, with the vision to guide the impactful biodiversity research the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has advanced for more than a century.”

In his current role at Future Earth, Tewksbury oversees dozens of interdisciplinary research projects, from assessing threats to biodiversity to understanding the relationship between human and environmental health. He has also founded initiatives like the Earth Leadership Program, which supports skills development for academic researchers working to address sustainability challenges. Previously, from 2012 to 2015, he was the founding director of the Luc Hoffman Institute, a global research center within World Wildlife Fund International focused on conservation science.

Tewksbury is also co-founder and executive editor of Anthropocene magazine, a publication that highlights sustainability solutions. He holds faculty positions at the University of Colorado Boulder and George Mason University’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy. He also has an appointment as senior scholar with Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology.

The future of the tropics is the future of our world, and there is no other single institute that has done more for our understanding of tropical ecosystems than STRI,” Tewksbury said. “I am honored, humbled and excited to be joining the Smithsonian and to be given the opportunity to lead the world’s premier tropical research institute at a time when the importance of the tropics, and its cultures, has never been greater.”

Over the course of his research career, Tewksbury has published more than 85 scientific papers on topics in conservation, climate change and natural history, including the relationships and diversity of tropical plants, animals and fungi. He holds a bachelor’s degree in field biology from Prescott College and a doctorate from the University of Montana in organismal biology and ecology.

Tewksbury succeeds Matthew Larsen, who served as STRI’s director from August 2014 until his retirement in June 2020. Oris Sanjur, associate director for science administration at STRI, has served as acting director since then, successfully leading STRI over the past nine months.

Members of the search committee included Charles Alcock, director, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Lisa Barnett, director of development, STRI; Phyllis D. Coley, distinguished professor of biology, the University of Utah; Gladys Navarro de Gerbaud, chair, Fundación Smithsonian de Panamá; Fernando Santos Granero, senior research anthropologist, STRI; Steven Hoch, chair, STRI advisory board; Steven L. Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute; and Rachel Page, research biologist, STRI.

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Alise Fisher

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