posted by Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
Around the corner from my lab at Duke is a bright sun room – which also happens to be the office of the Extraordinary Professor Stuart Pimm. Now mind you, I don’t use Extraordinary loosely, it’s quite literally his title at the Conservation Ecology Research Unit in South Africa where he’s also a professor at the University of Pretoria.
I knew I liked Stuart from the moment I entered his office. While I had read many of his books and scientific papers, it’s always upon encountering someone firsthand that you’re able to get a sense of who they are. Walking in, I felt as if I’d entered the tropics – everything is green with life. Once I settled into the forest, I began to take note of the many interesting sorts of things he’s collected during his travels.. masks, artwork, baskets from around the globe, and so many books – some he’s authored with titles in other languages like Terras da Terra (Brazillian Portuguese for Lands of the Earth). Stuart showed me his very favorite photograph in which only the top of his safety helmet is visible in a small zodiac boat aside a very large blue whale. It’s hard to describe the feeling of entering this unusual space in an otherwise humdrum wing of the Levine Science Research Center on campus, except that it’s easy to imagine you’ve left Durham altogether by glimpsing into to the world of Pimm.
On the wall is a world map highlighting the places where species are considered to be in trouble – for the most part because of us. You see, Stuart is interested in extinctions and what can be done to prevent them. From elephants to jaguars, birds to antelope, his current research involves hotspots in the Florida Everglades, Brazil, southern Africa, Central America, and Madagascar. Now of course, there are many amazing scientists at Duke, so what makes Stuart so unique? Well, research aside, he succeeds in bringing critical issues to the attention of policymakers and the public in an engaging way. He understands people as well as ecosystems, and this has earned him respect across the great scientific and political divide.
And now the Extraordinary Professor has invited us all along on his next adventure in the Land Rover as we travel from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He’s to deliver the Plenary address at the 2007 Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) conference where I will also be giving a talk on Marine Ecosystem Based Management (EBM). [Check back for more on EBM tomorrow.]
Although it would be unfair to compare this intrepid scientist to anyone, for those who are not familiar with the field, I think it’s appropriate to suggest he’s the Indiana Jones of Conservation Biology. And when Indy invites you along on the expedition, do you really need time to think it over? Questions from readers on everything from diversity to conservation encouraged. I’ll be checking in as possible from the field and Chris will help me post a sort of travel diary over the coming weeks. Hope you’ll join us for adventures in that other hemisphere..