Ecologist explores principles underlying maintenance of biodiversity
Scientists now widely agree: We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and it is being caused by human activity. From habitat destruction resulting from deforestation, to disease spread through international travel, numerous anthropogenic activities are driving a decline in biodiversity. Species extinction is particularly devastating to the planet as a whole because biodiversity provides critical carbon storage, without which our already high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will continue to rise. Jon Chase, a world-renowned ecologist, sees hard science as an opportunity to effectively support conservation efforts and combat global warming. “My conservation heroes were scientific leaders first, and this provided them with the pulpit they needed to lead conservation initiatives,” he says. His work aims to discern the fundamental principles and patterns that govern biodiversity so we can focus conservation efforts where they will have the greatest impact. A greater understanding of the scientific complexities of biodiversity will allow conservationists to, for example, restore habitats in a more targeted way, emphasizing locations and species most critical to the system as a whole. He is also developing groundbreaking tools to better analyze biodiversity data, including its response to both natural and anthropogenic ecological changes. Chase’s contributions to ecology have garnered him a number of high-profile grants and several awards that recognize both his research and teaching. Most notably, in 2008, he was the recipient of the George Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America, an honor bestowed for the publication of an exceptional ecological paper by a scientist under age 40. Ultimately, Chase’s research will allow us to better preserve biodiversity in the face of a growing population and a changing world.