Smithsonian Scientists Receive Prestigious Ecology and Conservation Award

February 3, 2009
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Outstanding leaders in tropical biology and conservation, William F. Laurance, senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Thomas E. Lovejoy, research associate at the Institute and Biodiversity Chair at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, have received the 2008 Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology, announced Jan. 30 in Madrid, Spain.

The pair were recognized for their contributions toward an understanding of the consequences of habitat fragmentation, the impact of global change on tropical forests and for their development of fundamental political strategies to stem the tide of tropical deforestation.

“Laurance and Lovejoy, a dynamic scientific team, promote conservation research in imperiled tropical forests in the Amazon and worldwide, catalyzing the efforts of countless others to achieve conservation goals,” said Cristián Samper, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who nominated them. “Their clear communication of research priorities and findings inspires decision-makers and the broader public to establish and conserve the large, interconnected forest reserves vital to life-supporting ecological processes at both local and global scales.”

Nearly three decades ago, Lovejoy convinced the Brazilian government to support the establishment of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in central Amazonia. The project, managed by the Smithsonian and Brazil’s National Institute of Amazon Research, INPA, continues to supply direct scientific evidence that small patches of forest do not sustain the same diversity of plants and animals as do larger patches and to illuminate the processes leading to the demise of fragmented forests.

Laurance and Lovejoy also work tirelessly to promote training of Amazonian students and conservation professionals, and they are actively engaged in ongoing conservation efforts in the region. In 2001, Laurance led an effort to project the future condition of forests in Brazilian Amazonia, which led to widespread international alarm about planned road-building projects for the region.

“Our work would not have been possible without close collaboration with scientists and government officials in Brazil, across Latin America and in other countries,” said Lovejoy.

The project and affiliated researchers, students and visiting scientists have produced more than 520 technical and popular publications—many of which were authored or co-authored by Laurance and Lovejoy—as well as 55 doctoral dissertations and 63 master’s theses. Among these are more than 20 articles published in the leading journals Science and Nature and eight major edited books, including such seminal works as “Tropical Forest Remnants,” by Laurance and Richard Bierregaard; “Lessons from Amazonia,” by Bierregaard, Lovejoy and others; “Climate Change and Biodiversity,” by Lovejoy and Lee Hannah; and “Emerging Threats to Tropical Forests,” by Laurance and Carlos Peres.

Lovejoy and Laurance have initiated and promoted some of the most important and creative conservation initiatives in Amazonia and elsewhere in the tropics, such as debt-for-nature swaps—the idea of exchanging foreign debt for investments in local conservation measures. Their solutions to tough conservation problems have become models for tropical-forest management and international conservation programs across the planet.

The Ecology and Conservation Biology Award is one of eight awards granted by the BBVA Foundation each year. The size of the cash awards, totaling 3.2 million euros, and the range of disciplines in the arts and sciences they represent, place the BBVA prizes in the same category as the Nobel prizes.

STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Web site:

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