Public Release: 

Scientists get no-strings awards for biodiversity leadership

$900,000 for research in China, Ecuador, Madagascar, Peru, U.S.

Bay and Paul Foundations

New York City - The Bay and Paul Foundations have named the winners of their current round of Biodiversity Leadership Awards. The five no-strings-attached achievement awards, which total US$900,000, recognize excellent work which promotes the understanding and conservation of biological diversity, as well as the communication of diversity's value to the public and policy makers.

The winners' efforts include tracking the evolutionary history of animals in China such as pandas and monkeys; lobbying successfully for a new national park in Peru; studying lemur populations in Madagascar; organizing a cooperative among indigenous people in a biodiversity hotspot in Ecuador, and operating a respected clearinghouse for biodiversity advocacy and information.

The five awards go to six people whose projects are in China, Ecuador, Madagascar, Peru, and the United States. The awards are for US$180,000 each over a three-year period. Altogether, the Foundations have honored 13 recipients with awards totaling $2,340,000 since the program started in 1996.

The Leadership Award winners do not apply for the awards; they are nominated and chosen by a panel of eminent scientists. The awards carry no obligation on the part of the winners, but all have said they will use the award money to continue their work to save biodiversity.

The Bay and Paul Biodiversity Leadership Awards are among the world's largest efforts to reward and promote understanding and protection of biodiversity. The term, "biodiversity," is a contraction of "biological diversity" that has been defined as all the hereditarily-based variation among all life and at all levels, from genes to species to entire ecosystems.

The current group of winners:

  • Jane Elder is the executive director of the Biodiversity Project, Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. She and her small but energetic non-governmental organization have been pioneers in communicating biodiversity issues and concepts to the public and policy makers and among environmental organizations. Elder supplies these audiences with solid research (some of it based on public opinion polling), innovative ideas, and tested strategies with which environmental advocates may reach their many constituencies.

  • Judy Logback works to protect not only plant and animal biodiversity, but also the human inhabitants of one of Earth's most biologically diverse regions, the Upper Napo River area of Ecuador. Here the foothills of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin ecosystems overlap, and here residents of Quechua (also spelled Quichua and Kichwa) villages make their livelihoods in close cooperation with their environment. Logback, a 1995 cum laude graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, has formed the Callari Cooperative with families of the Upper Napo, and now the cooperative has a thriving business selling seeds and traditional crafts that are fashioned from the sustainable use of more than fifty plant species.

  • Lily O. Rodriguez and Debra K. Moskovits are largely responsible for the creation of Peru's newest park, the 5,225-square-mile Cordillera Azul National Park. The park is a place of lowland rain forest, jagged peaks, rounded mesas, abundant mammals, birds, and fish life, and very few human inhabitants. Although the area had long been known as a biologically unique area, its future was uncertain until the two women led expeditions to collect scientific data, which they then used to convince policy makers to designate much of the park as a Zona Reservada, protected from exploitation. Lily Rodriguez is now program director of the national park, and Debra Moskovits is director of environmental and conservation programs at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

  • Anne Yoder, a recent addition to the faculty of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A., studies Madagascar as an evolutionary laboratory for generating vertebrate diversity, with special attention to the island's lemur populations and their close relatives on the nearby African continent. Lemurs, which are generally small animals with opposable thumbs and prehensile tails, are among the most diverse primates on Earth, and Madagascar is a prime study site for them. One of Yoder's major contributions has been to establish a conservation biology training program for Malagasy faculty and students. This includes bringing promising researchers to her university lab in the U.S. for hands-on training in conservation techniques. Several of these students now have returned to Madagascar and are filling leadership positions in the nation's scientific community.

  • Ya-Ping Zhang studies the evolutionary history and genetic makeup of animals in his native China. As vice director of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, a component of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, his work takes him into the genomics (genetic structure) and diversity of pandas, monkeys, hares, small rodents, and fishes (many of them endangered species), as well as the origin and diversity of domestic animals - pig, cattle, dog, and chicken. Conservation of endangered species is one of the most important tasks facing science, and the diversity of more familiar animals used to feed a growing human population is of great importance. Zhang's work is helping to relate a species' genomics to its vulnerability to decline or extinction.

    The Bay Foundation and the Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Foundation are private foundations established by Charles Ulrick Bay, an industrialist and former U.S. ambassador to Norway from 1946 to 1953, and his widow, Josephine. The Foundations have made grants to educational and cultural institutions, museums, zoos, and schools.

    Their grants for species preservation research evolved naturally into a commitment to preserve biodiversity, which is in global decline due to a number of causes, most of them based on human exploitation of natural resources. Among the problems faced by Biodiversity Award winners and their colleagues have been global climate change, the effects of human incursions into formerly protected areas such as Amazonian and temperate forests, the challenge of supplying science-based information to decision-makers, damage inflicted by invasive and exotic species, and the specter of human-caused species extinction.

    In 1996, the Foundations inaugurated the Biodiversity Leadership Awards by honoring three winners. Five awards were given in the second round in 1999. Today's announcement brings the number of awards that have been made to thirteen.

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    EDITORS: For further information on the award process and winners and on the Foundations, for photographs of the winners, and to arrange interviews with the winners, please contact Fred Powledge at fredpowledge@nasw.org or 1-301-373-5466. For more information about the Foundations, their awards, and previous winners, see http://www.bayandpaulfoundations.org.

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