BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards

Ecology and Conservation Biology 1st Edition (2008)


Thomas E. Lovejoy and William F. Laurance

Galardonado Ecología y Biología de la Conservación 2008

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology is shared by Thomas E. Lovejoy and William F. Laurance for their contributions to understanding the effects of land use change on biodiversity. The work of these two U.S. biologists has significantly influenced conservation science and practice.

Thomas Lovejoy and William Laurance’s research in Amazonia has allowed us for the first time to measure the manifold consequences of habitat fragmentation for the integrity of tropical forests, and to scientifically simulate how they will cope in future. Moreover, their work has revealed many unexpected features of habitat fragmentation, such as dramatically increased mortality in forest trees, with far-reaching consequences for the preservation of forest biodiversity and carbon pool dynamics.

Laurance and Lovejoy, researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, launched the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP) in the late 1970s. The BDFFP’s study area spans more than 1,000 km2 of virgin forest, including a series of experimentally isolated fragments. Researchers there track the “before and after” of ecosystem fragmentation with regard to the abundance of species, obtaining novel data of immense value.

The jury also applauded the two researchers for their analyses of the impact of global change phenomena on tropical forests, and for developing the crucial conservation policy mechanism for protecting natural landscapes known as “debt-for-nature swaps” (forgiveness of countries’ foreign debt in exchange for nature preservation). Also, Lovejoy and Laurance have trained new generations of Amazonia researchers, ensuring the skills and knowledge are in place to carry on their work. Indeed their conservation practices have become benchmarks of their kind.

Amazonia draws close to the point of no return

Thomas Lovejoy declared himself “deeply honored” to receive this prize, the more so as the achievement being recognized is “basically an attempt to understand biological diversity and to ascertain how we can co-exist with the marvelous variety of life to be found in the tropical rainforest”. This researcher’s scientific studies leave little room for doubt: “Amazonia is now perilously close to the point of no return. Ecosystem degradation is advancing much faster than we imagined, though we must take hope from the ambitious conservation initiatives that are now starting up”.

William Laurance greeted the award as “a fantastic recognition, from an organization like the BBVA Foundation devoted to knowledge generation, for many years of research in the Brazilian tropical forest”. His and Lovejoy’s chief objective during this time has been to understand the consequences of ecosystem fragmentation, “but lately we have observed how this threat is ‘conspiring’ with other pernicious processes like climate change and deforestation. We need to understand how this interaction comes about”.


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