Rob McDonald

Rob-McDonaldDr. Robert McDonald is Senior Scientist for Sustainable Land-Use for The Nature Conservancy. Dr. McDonald researches the impact and dependences of cities on the natural world, and is the lead scientist for the Conservancy’s urban conservation program, under the leadership of its director Laura Huffman. Dr. McDonald has recently led a NCEAS Working Group into how global urban growth and climate change will affect urban water availability and air quality. He also researches the effect of U.S. energy policy on natural habitat and water use. Prior to joining the Conservancy, he was a Smith Conservation Biology Fellow at Harvard University, studying the impact global urban growth will have on biodiversity and conservation. Dr. McDonald has also taught landscape ecology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, helping architects and planners incorporate ecological principles into their projects. He earned his Ph.D. in Ecology from Duke University.


Rob's Posts

Urban Water Footprint: Extensive and Expensive

A new global database of urban water sources developed by the Conservancy’s Rob McDonald highlights just how far water travels and how much it can cost to get it there.

Posted In: Science
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Lou Reed Made Me a Conservationist

Nature Conservancy scientist Rob McDonald recounts how a Velvet Underground song written by the late Lou Reed helped inspire his lasting love of the outdoors.

Posted In: Conservation Essay
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Farming, Adapting to Climate Change & the Limits of Imagination

A new study from Conservancy scientists says irrigation needs are going to increase significantly under future climate change projections. Can farmers be equally radical in how they respond to these drier conditions?

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Population Bomb or Population Crash: A Tale of Two Worlds

One of my biggest frustrations with the press in this online era is the pressure to pick one simple story to describe an incredibly complex issue.

An ongoing story line for journalists and bloggers is how rapid population growth is posing numerous problems for society and the environment. This story line has been around a while: it traces its modern form to Paul Ehrlich’s famous book The Population Bomb, and it has been critiqued for just as long.

In the last several years, there has been a wave of stories written from the opposite perspective. The rate of population growth is actually falling, and Europe and Japan are actually losing population, so the real problem is the population crash.

This is a catchy story, because it fits into the “everything you thought you knew about X was wrong!” category.

Jeff Wise, in a piece in Slate, carried this story line to its absurd conclusion, suggesting (I hope somewhat in jest) that if this trend of falling birth rate continued, “in the long term—on the order of centuries—we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity.”

Both stories have an element of truth.

More to the point, each story is true for one of two very different worlds.

Posted In: Science
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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

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noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

Innovative Science

Investing in Seagrass
Marine scientists and fishers alike know that grass beds are valuable as nursery habitat. A new Conservancy-funded study puts a number to it.

Drones Aid Bird Conservation
How can California conservationists accurately count thousands of cranes? Enter a new tool in bird monitoring: the drone.

Creating a Climate-Smart Agriculture
Can farmers globally both adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change? A new paper answers with a definitive yes. But it won't be easy.

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