The World According to Pimm
Stuart is also an author of several books, including 2001s The World According to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth. Thats sort of an assessment of what were doing to the planet, he says.
By Stuart Thornton
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Stuart is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is also a member of the National Geographic Society’s committee for the Big Cats Initiative.
“We are looking for ways of trying to figure out why in particular lions and cheetahs are declining and what we can do to reverse those declines,” Stuart says of his work with National Geographic.
Stuart says his parents introduced him to the outdoors at an early age. “Weekends and holidays we spent hiking and camping,” he says.
Stuart’s interest in the natural world took flight while growing up in Derbyshire, England. “Like many people, I started out as a young teenager with a passion for bird watching,” he says. “When you get involved in bird watching, you learn birds, and birds are a very obvious indicator of what’s wrong and what’s right with the world.”
After receiving his PhD from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Stuart went to Hawaii. There, he studied the ‘i’iwi, a black and red bird native to the islands. During months in the field, Stuart began to realize a lot of bird species on the islands were disappearing. “It changed my whole worldview,” he says. “I thought we scientists better be studying why species go extinct. It’s both a scientifically interesting question, but it’s also a morally mandatory question.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“I feel really hugely fortunate to be doing something to keep the wonderful world that we have going. That’s what is exciting for me. I’m not just going out there and studying it in some sort of academic way. My work has a sense of mission, of purpose, and that makes it so worthwhile.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
When encountering disappearing species and cultures, Stuart says, it can be difficult to stay optimistic. “I think the challenge in some ways is not to get depressed,” he says.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“What geography means to me is this connection between people and their environment. In that sense, I think conservation biology is an essential piece of geography.”
Stuart says mapping out lion and cheetah habitats in Africa is a big part of his work with the Big Cats Initiative. “What we are really trying to do is a couple of things at a couple of different levels,” he says. “One of them is that we are trying to map out savanna Africa.”
Stuart and his students at Duke University are using Google Earth to locate areas that were lion and cheetah habitat before the regions were overtaken by crop fields. “We, my students and I, have produced maps of Africa that are really quite alarmingly different to what other people have produced in the past,” he says.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CONSERVATION ECOLOGIST
Get outside! “If you are outdoors and you’ve seen what’s going on in your world, that gives you a huge leg up on what’s happening in the planet,” Stuart says.
Volunteer for a local conservation organization. “I think almost wherever you live there are local conservation groups of one kind or another,” Stuart says. “There are local groups that care about the places people live.”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry academic Adjective
person or thing having to do with school, particularly college or university education.
shocking or very surprising.
Big Cats Initiative Noun
National Geographic Society program that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education, economic incentive efforts, and a global public-awareness campaign to protect big cats and their habitats.
large, spotted cat native to Africa.
management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.
Encyclopedic Entry: conservation conservation ecology Noun
study of Earth's biodiversity, with the goal of protecting species, habitats, and ecosystems. Also called conservation biology.
Encyclopedic Entry: crop decline Verb
to reduce or go down in number.
to meet, especially unexpectedly.
conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.
no longer existing.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography Google Earth Noun
computer and mobile application used to access and explore virtual globes, maps, and other geographic information.
environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: habitat indicator Noun
sign or signal.
large cat native to sub-Saharan Africa and Gir Forest National Park, India.
symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.
Encyclopedic Entry: map moral Adjective
right, just, or good.
National Geographic Society Noun
(1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."
positive or favorable point of view.
(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.
type of tropical grassland with scattered trees.
group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.