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Thomas Lovejoy Receives Conservation Award

December 4, 2013

By Michele McDonald

Thomas Lovejoy

Thomas Lovejoy. Creative Services photo

George Mason University Professor Thomas Lovejoy’s lifelong work to protect biodiversity prompted the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) to award him with its “International Award of Excellence in Conservation” this week.

“It is a special honor to be recognized by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas — a vibrant and noteworthy institution,” says Lovejoy, a professor of environmental science and policy. The World Wildlife Fund also honored him earlier this year.

“Tom Lovejoy truly deserves this award,” says S.H. Sohmer, BRIT’s president and director. “Tom’s work in the field of conservation is a remarkable study of how one person can make a difference through the creative application of knowledge. He has been engaged for decades in helping conserve the Amazon rainforest; and his other programs, like his innovative debt-for-nature swap concept and his conservation biology initiatives, are helping save Earth’s precious biodiversity.”

Lovejoy’s career spans multiple decades and includes many game-changing contributions to research on the severe impact of land use on biodiversity and ecosystems. He began his career in the mid-1960s, researching ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest. This led to the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, the largest long-term experiment in the history of landscape ecology. Now in its 33rd year, the project was responsible for showing that fragmentation of animal habitats is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, along with climate change.

Lovejoy was one of the first to point out that the Amazon rainforest was in crisis, and he was a pioneer in educating the public about this problem. His work in policy included the first published projection of global extinction rates.

Lovejoy also developed “debt-for-nature swaps,” in which a portion of a nation’s foreign debt is forgiven in exchange for investments in conservation. Debt-for-nature swaps are now among the largest sources of financing to support international environmental projects.