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Founder Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy

Known as the “Godfather of Biodiversity,” Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy was a world-renowned champion for global conservation efforts and conservation biology research grounded in sound science. He is credited with having brought the global tropical deforestation problem to the fore as a public issue, and was the first person to use the term “biological diversity” in 1980 (along with Edward O. Wilson).

He received his B.S. and Ph.D. (biology) from Yale University.


Dr. Lovejoy directed the program of World Wildlife Fund-US from 1973 to 1987 and was responsible for its scientific, western hemisphere, and tropical forest orientation.  From 1985 to 1987 he served as the Fund’s Executive Vice President.


Dr. Lovejoy founded the public television series Nature in 1982, and for many years served as principal advisor to the series.  This program is the most popular long-term series on public television.


In 1984, Dr. Lovejoy originated the innovative concept of debt-for-nature swaps, the exchange of international debt for conservation projects.  To date, over three billion dollars in conservation funds have been made available with this mechanism, for projects in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines, Madagascar, Jamaica, and Zambia, among many others.


He was appointed Assistant Secretary for Environmental and External Affairs for the Smithsonian Institution in 1987.  As Assistant Secretary, he supervised the membership programs, the Smithsonian Magazine, the Smithsonian Press, the Office of Government Relations, the Office of Development, the Office of Telecommunications, the Office of International Relations, and the Visitor Information and Reception Center. From 1994-2000 served as Counselor to the Secretary for Biodiversity and Environmental Affairs for the Smithsonian Institution. He retains a link to the Smithsonian as Research Associate of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.


In 1988, Dr. Lovejoy served briefly on the White House Science Council.  From 1989 to 1992 he served on the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) and from 1992 to 1998 was Co-Chair for the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) under the Executive Office of the President’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).  He is past president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, past chairman of the United States Man and Biosphere Program, and past president of the Society for Conservation Biology.


In 1993, he was chosen by the U.S. Secretary of Interior to be the Science Advisor.  Among many responsibilities, he participated in the coordination of the new agency called the National Biological Survey.  He served as Scientific Advisor to the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program from 1994 to 1997.


In 1998 he became Chief Biodiversity Advisor for the World Bank as well as Lead Specialist for the Environment for the Latin American region on a reimbursed detail basis.


In 2001 he became Senior Advisor to the President of the United Nations Foundation (created by Ted Turner and located in Washington). In 2014 he was appointed Senior Fellow by the UN Foundation.


From 2002-2008 he was the President of The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, a non-profit institution dedicated to improving the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy through multi-sectoral collaboration among industry, government, academia, and environmental organizations. In 2008, he took up the Heinz Center Biodiversity Chair until the organization’s close in 2013.


In 2008 he became chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) until June 2013.  GEF is the largest international source of environmental funding. Serves now as Special Adviser to the current Chair of STAP.


In 2009 he was appointed Conservation Fellow by the National Geographic Society.  In 2017, the Society made him Scientific Advisor to their Chief Scientist.


In 2010 he was elected University Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. He also serves as Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation.


A tropical biologist and conservation biologist, he had worked in the Amazon of Brazil since 1965. His Ph.D. thesis (1971) introduced the technique of banding to Brazil and identified patterns of community structure in the first major long-term study of birds in the Amazon.


He conceived the idea for the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems project, now known as the Amazon Biodiversity Center ( or Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project.  He founded the project in 1978 as a research collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Brazil’s National Institute for Amazon Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, INPA).  This program, considered a centerpiece of the newly emerging discipline of conservation biology, is essentially a giant experiment designed to define the minimum size for national parks and biological reserves as well as management strategies for small areas. 


For this work and and his many conservation initiatives in Brazil, he was decorated by the Brazilian government in 1988, becoming the first environmentalist to receive the Order of Rio Branco.  In 1998, Brazil awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Scientific Merit.  In April 2001 he received the John & Alice Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. He received the 2002 Lindbergh Award for work dedicated to a balance between the advance of technology and preservation of the environment. In 2008 he received the FBBVA Frontier of Knowledge prize in Ecology and Conservation Biology. In 2012 he received the Blue Planet Prize.


In 2016, Dr. Lovejoy was appointed by the U.S. Department of State as a Science Envoy, traveling to Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Indonesia and Malaysia to bring together country officials around policies that can protect and manage tropical rainforests as whole ecosystems across country borders.


He served on numerous scientific and conservation boards and advisory groups including: the New York Botanical Garden, Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, The National Zoo (including Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute), Eco-Health Alliance and Woods Hole Research Center.  He served for many years as Chairman of the External Advisory Board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Linnaean Society of London, and the American Ornithologists’ Union. 


He was the author of numerous articles and was author or editor of five books including Key Environments: Amazonia with G.T. Prance, Global Warming and Biological Diversity (Yale University Press) with R.L. Peters, Ecology, Conservation and Management of Southeast Asian Rainforests (Yale University Press) with R.O. Bierregaard, Jr., C. Gascon, and R. Mesquita, Climate Change and Biodiversity (Yale University Press) with Lee Hannah.

In 2018, established the Amazon Biodiversity Center.

Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy passed away on December 25, 2021.

On March 22, 2022 “Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet,” by John W. Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy was released.


On April 5, 2022, the National Geographic Society announced that Dr. Lovejoy would be posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal, the nonprofit’s highest honor.

Film credit: National Geographic

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