Conservation Future: Announcing the 2013 NatureNet Fellows

Image credit: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Image credit: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Nine young scientists — with specialties ranging from energy infrastructure to urban ecology, Kenyan pastoral techniques to nanotechnology — have been named as inaugural NatureNet Science Fellows, a Nature Conservancy partnership designed to help kick-start conservation toward addressing the challenges facing people and nature in the 21st century.

“NatureNet Fellows builds on the Conservancy’s deep tradition of partnering with the academy to bring the best possible science to conservation,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Conservancy, which has joined with six of the world’s premier universities — Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale — to establish the fellowships.

“The Conservancy is eager to take advantage of the fresh thinking the Fellows will bring to our work, especially as it enhances our positive impact on human well-being.”

“These early-career scientists have outstanding skills and creativity in many of the areas conservation needs today,” added Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the Conservancy. “These fellows will help the Conservancy lead in developing solutions relevant to the lives of billions of people on the planet.”

The fellows begin their two-year assignments this fall, working within the Conservancy’s U.S. and international programs. Jointly mentored by a Conservancy expert and a senior scholar from one of the partner universities, each fellow will pursue research that promises to deliver crucial answers around sustainable food production systems, clean water supplies, energy futures, and urban ecology.

“I feel extremely excited and privileged to be part of the first cohort of NatureNet Science fellows,” said Wilfred Odadi, whose NatureNet fellowship project will focus on developing smart livestock grazing management and off-take strategies in northern Kenyan rangelands. “This fellowship provides me with a perfect opportunity to conduct research that could potentially significantly contribute towards enhancing human livelihoods while conserving the natural environment.”

“With NatureNet Fellows, The Nature Conservancy signals to the world that conservation now needs to base its work not just in ecology and biology, but in an interdisciplinary approach to science and evidence,” added Roy Vagelos, a founding funder of the NatureNet Fellowship program, a member of the Conservancy’s board of directors and a former president, CEO and chairman of Merck & Co. “I’m looking forward to seeing the fellows push the Conservancy in new and necessary directions as it works to solve global sustainability challenges around energy, water and agriculture.”

The 2013 NatureNet Science Fellows and their projects:

1. Dan Auerbach, Cornell, water funds
Explore and implement methods for water fund assessment and prioritization to help determine where and how conservation investments should be made to yield the greatest returns in water quality and quantity. Mentors: Alex Flecker (Cornell), Heather Tallis, (The Nature Conservancy).

2. Daniel Karp, Stanford, agriculture and conservation
Develop strategies for reconciling conservation with agricultural production, particularly through a predictive framework for how biodiversity-driven ecosystem services change in farming landscapes. Mentors: Mary Ruckelshaus (Stanford), Peter Kareiva (The Nature Conservancy).

3. Rob McDonald, The Nature Conservancy, urban conservation
Develop a conceptual framework that shapes “conservation for cities” and then communicate this framework to a broad audience of urban planners, municipal officials, conservation practitioners, and academics. Mentors: TBD.

4. Joanna Nelson, Stanford, water funds
Contribute hydrological modeling tools and expand current monitoring strategies so that water funds can held accountable for delivering on their promise of cleaner water through conservation. Mentors: Mary Ruckelshaus (Stanford), Adam Freed (The Nature Conservancy).

5. Wilfred Odadi, Princeton, Kenyan pastoralist sustainability
Developing smart livestock grazing management and off-take strategies that enhance pastoral livelihoods and environmental conservation in northern Kenyan rangelands. Mentors: Dan Rubenstein (Princeton), Tim Tear (The Nature Conservancy).

6. Efrat Sheffer, Princeton, agriculture, biodiversity and nitrogen
Explore how landscape-scale interactions between agricultural systems, abandoned fields and natural ecosystems affect biodiversity and local-scale nitrogen cycles—and determine the consequences of these interactions for downstream pollution or even “dead zones.” Mentors: Simon Levin (Princeton), Giulio Boccaletti (The Nature Conservancy).

7. Anne Trainor, Yale, energy infrastructure and nature
Provide the means to implement future energy infrastructure —both traditional and renewable — across a variety of landscapes while minimizing impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. Mentors: Oswald Schmitz (Yale), Joe Fargione (The Nature Conservancy).

8. Stephanie Wear, The Nature Conservancy, oceans and wastewater
Identify and bring together solutions to address water quality issues in ways that benefit both public health and coastal habitats. Reducing sewage is good for reefs and people. Mentors: TBD.

9. Sen Zhang, University of Pennsylvania, nanotechnology and sustainable energy
Developing nanotechnology for efficient and sustainable sources of energy and fuel. Mentors: Chris Murray (Penn), Jimmie Powell (The Nature Conservancy).

“NatureNet Science Fellows is a unique collaborative program where fellows from a select number of our major research universities and leading conservation NGOs like The Nature Conservancy embark on a interdisciplinary program to pursue practical solutions to our most critical conservation and environmental issues,” said Steven A. Denning, co-chair of the Conservancy’s board of trustees and a founding funder of the NatureNet program.

“This fellows program is combining the best of both academia and action-oriented NGOs to generate the sort of conservation science breakthroughs that can offer implementable solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges.”

We will report on the progress of the fellows’ projects on Cool Green Science. To learn more about the NatureNet Science Fellows Program and its university partners or how to apply for next year’s fellowships, go to the NatureNet Science Fellows homepage.

Bob Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy and the editor of the new Cool Green Science. A long-time editor and writer, he was previously the Conservancy's associate director of digital marketing. He now blogs here about the Conservancy's scientific research and on-the-ground work as well as larger conservation science and science communications issues.



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