MADRID – The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Ecology and Conservation Biology category has gone in this eleventh edition to Gretchen Daily and Georgina Mace, two “visionary” ecologists who have developed vital tools facilitating science-based policies “to combat species loss.”
At Stanford, Daily is Bing Professor in Environmental Science in the Department of Biology at the School of Humanities and Sciences, and a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. In 2006, she co-founded the Natural Capital Project at Stanford.
At the heart of both Daily and Mace’s approach, the awards committee writes, is a “recognition of the value of the services provided by nature,” which are habitually taken for granted and, for that reason, excluded from the costs of growth. “While they have never worked directly together, their impact on global conservation has been strongly synergistic,” the committee continues. “The two are leaders in documenting the alarming declines in global biodiversity in the midst of our planet’s sixth extinction crisis,” and have developed “policy and economic instruments for effective biodiversity protection.”
Daily (Washington DC, United States, 1964), and Mace (London, United Kingdom, 1953) of University College London, are at pains to point out the gravity of today’s biodiversity crisis: “We are destroying so much of nature that we are on a suicidal course. We have to recognize the role that different elements of nature play in sustaining our lives before it is too late” says Daily. That said, the committee perceives in both what chair Emily Bernhardt calls, “the effort to shine a light not just on the difficulties before us but the ways they might be overcome, creating a space for solutions.”
Daily has made the concept of ecosystem services the basis of an innovative instrument for conservation decision-making: a software program called InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs) that allows the value of the goods provided by nature to be factored in decision-making, and is now in use by organizations in 185 countries.
InVEST compares different environmental scenarios to provide an understanding of the real cost – including all consequences – of draining a wetland or removing the mangrove cover along a coast. The open-source software is free to access and has been developed with experts in multiple areas – including social sciences and economics – under the aegis of the Natural Capital Project. The Natural Capital project works with over 250 research groups and collaborators around the world.
As an example of an InVEST user, Daily points to China. Since deforestation caused severe flooding in the late 1980s, the country has spent huge sums on reforesting and restoring vast tracts of land, with resource allocation guided by InVEST.
“Both Georgina and I have worked to help decision-makers understand and implement science-based policies,” she continues. “The goal is to bring nature’s values into our formal decision-making, in order to protect it.”
Despite the scale of the challenge, both laureates are clear that we cannot give in to despair: “Conserving world nature is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” Mace affirms. “People have developed and evolved by building an intimate relationship with nature, and it is not at all clear that we can survive and thrive on a changing planet unless we take that relationship seriously. The good news is that all the analyses suggest we have the scientific tools necessary to reverse the current biodiversity crisis.”
“We all, as individuals and a society, depend utterly on nature for almost every aspect of our survival, wellbeing and happiness,” Daily concurs. “If we consider what Earth looks like from outer space, it’s that tiny blueish sphere in the deep black cosmos. It’s the only place we know of with life, and it’s life that has created the conditions that allow people to thrive.”
Gretchen Daily (Washington DC, United States, 1964) earned a BS and PhD in Biological Sciences at Stanford University. Her academic career has also taken her to centers like the Worldwatch Institute in Washington (United States), the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Germany) or the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In her time at Stanford, she has held appointments as Associate Professor (Research) and Senior Fellow in the Institute for International Studies. In 2006 she helped set up the Natural Capital Project, a partnership initiative centered at Stanford with core partners at the University of Minnesota, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and non-governmental organizations World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.
Her publication record extends to over 200 papers in international journals and a total of thirteen books, notably The New Economy of Nature, of which she is coauthor. A member of the editorial board of The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology, she has also served on the boards of other publications like Ecological Economics and Ecosystems.
The jury in this category was chaired by Emily Bernhardt, Jerry G. and Patricia Crawford Hubbard Professor in the Department of Biology at Duke University (United States). The secretary was Pedro Jordano, Research Professor in the Department of Integrative Ecology at the Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC (Spain). Remaining members were Paul Brakefield, Professor of Zoology and Director of the University Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom); Anna-Liisa Laine, Professor of Ecology in the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich (Switzerland); Joanna Lambert, Professor of Environmental Studies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder (United States); and Rik Leemans, Professor in Environmental Systems Analysis at Wageningen University (the Netherlands).
The BBVA Foundation is aided in the evaluation process by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the country’s premier public research organization. The Foundation and CSIC jointly appoint the evaluation support panels charged with undertaking an initial assessment of the candidates proposed by institutions across the world and drawing up a reasoned shortlist for the consideration of the award committees. CSIC is also responsible for designating each committee chair.
The CSIC Technical Committee in this category was coordinated by María Victoria Moreno, the Council’s Deputy Vice President for Scientific and Technical Areas, and formed by: Eulalia Moreno, Coordinator of the Natural Resources Area and Research Professor at the Arid Zones Experimental Station (EEZA); Ángel Ruíz, Coordinator of the Agricultural Sciences Area and Research Professor at the Mountain Stockbreeding Institute (IGM); and Anna Traveset, Research Professor in the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA).
The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, established in 2008, recognize and reward contributions of singular impact in science, art and the humanities, privileging achievements that significantly expand the frontiers of the known world, open up new fields, or emerge from the interaction of various disciplinary areas. Their eight categories are congruent with the knowledge map of the 21st century, ranging from basic sciences to key challenges for the natural environment by way of domains at the crossroads of disciplines – Biology and Medicine; Economics, Finance and Management – or the supremely creative realms of music and the opera.
More information: www.frontiersofknowledgeawards-fbbva.es
Contact: Sarah Cafasso, Communications Manager, Natural Capital Project