Underscored: importance of providing ecosystem services and mitigating climate change

Written by Sue McMurray

Improving our understanding of risks to threatened species populations worldwide is the ambition of Jan Schipper, a University of Idaho graduate student. He is the recent winner of the William T. Hornaday Conservation Award, a national award from the American Society of Mammalogists that recognizes Schipper’s significant contribution as a student to the conservation of mammals and their habitats.

“It is truly an honor to receive the Hornaday Award from the American Society of Mammalogists,” said Schipper. “I hope my research and conservation ethic will be positive examples for others and inspire in them the same passion I feel for the preservation of imperiled species and habitats.”

Schipper currently is a graduate student in a joint doctoral program between the University of Idaho and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica, and is part of the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program funded by the National Science Foundation.

For the last three years, he led an initiative to assess the conservation status of the world’s 5,500 mammals, a program managed jointly between the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which produces the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Schipper both leads and works with numerous interdisciplinary teams around the world to improve species conservation by addressing issues of habitat loss, hunting, invasive species, and global economic and climate change.

“Jan is an inspiration to other graduate students,” said Michael Scott, senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Idaho professor of wildlife biology. “He has contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the natural history and ecology of jaguar and its prey species, arboreal mammals, the conservation status of mammals globally and of their habitats globally and regionally.”

Schipper is an exceptional student by any standard, said Scott. While working toward his doctorate, Schipper authored or coauthored numerous articles in prestigious peer reviewed journals such as Nature, Science and Bioscience. During this same period, he published several book chapters and presented results of his research to professional, international society meetings such as the recent International Mammalogical Congress in Mendoza, Argentina. He also conducted workshops to prepare conservation and threat assessments of native mammals and or their habitats across Central and South America, Southeast and Central Asia, and Europe. In addition he has led efforts to develop conservation plans, together with local governments and Indigenous Territories in Talamanca, Costa Rica, and the Guianan Ecoregion complex.

“Very early in his career he understood the importance of conducting management and policy relevant research and sharing the results of that work, early and often, with those in a position to use it,” said Scott. “He is very good at presenting complex information in ways that make common sense.”

Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a vice president of IUCN, agrees.

“Jan’s work is not only enormously significant for mammal conservation, but it also underscores the importance of providing ecosystem services, mitigating climate change and benefitting human well-being,” Mittermeier said. “What makes Jan’s achievement even more compelling is that in the midst of all this, he has continued to serve as director of Proyecto de Conservacion de Aguas y Tierras (ProCAT), a fledgling conservation nongovernmental organization that he founded, which has rapidly expanded operations from Costa Rica to Colombia and now further afield.”

Schipper is scheduled to defend his doctoral dissertation in December, but results of his work are already being used now to inform management and policy decisions in Costa Rica and elsewhere, and have been reported in news outlets such as Scientific American, Science News and the BBC; on radio in Costa Rica and Spain; and in newspapers around the world.

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