Conservation Scholars: Norman Myers

24 09 2008

This new series on takes a page (quite literally) out of our book Tropical Conservation Biology (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw) – therein we produced a series of ‘Spotlights’ describing the contributions of great thinkers to conservation science. Each highlight of a Conservation Scholar includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on the person’s particular area of expertise. I will publish the 10 Conservation Scholars produced in the first edition of the book here on, followed by highlights from many other notable conservation scientists thereafter.

Our first Conservation Scholar is Norman Myers


My graduate education was based on systems ecology and resource economics, with lots of demography, sociology, ethics, forestry, and lengthy et cetera thrown in. By the time I had completed my PhD at Berkeley, I was solidly disposed to specialise in being a generalist. I also decided that I was not a team player, and that I would be better off as a lone-wolf consultant in Environment and Development. I strongly recommend to anybody embarking on a career to find one that keeps their options open. In a former age it was okay to say at age 20 that you wanted to spend the next 50 years being a lawyer or a doctor or something of that sort. But today things are different. Within just another 10 years, the world will have changed out of sight, and you will have changed too, so you might well encounter a need to change horses in mid-career. I actually entered postgraduate school at the advanced age of 35, having been a colonial officer for my first career, a high school teacher for my second, a professional photographer for my third, a journalist/book writer for my fourth, and, after Berkeley, a consultant. At age 72, I am pondering what I could try for a sixth career.

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. Have ‘biodiversity hotspots‘ proven to be a useful concept for applied conservation?

Yes, the biodiversity hotspots thesis has (if I might indulge my immodesty) proved to be an especially useful concept for applied conservation. At any rate, it has attracted funding to the tune of US$850 million from the World Bank, Conservation International, the MacArthur and Moore Foundations, and numerous NGOs. For fully two decades before I first formulated the hotspots thesis in the mid-1980s, I had been struck that conservation bodies had been spreading their all-too-inadequate funds in terms of a bit for this species, a bit for that species, and so on, and not really making a big enough impression with any species (for the most part at least). There were no logically derived priorities in play. Note that my hotspots thesis is but one way of postulating a priority ranking, and there are a lot of others, despite protests from some quarters that I was seeking a monopoly over conservation options.

2. Which tropical hotspots are in most urgent need of protection and management?

The hotspots in most urgent need of protection and management are Madagascar, Philippines, Sundaland, Atlantic Coastal Forest of Brazil, the Caribbean, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats/Sri Lanka, Eastern Arc and Coastal Forests of Tanzania/Kenya and Mediterranean Basin.

3. Do you think that the current media focus on climate change is shifting emphasis away from the more immediate, direct threats to biodiversity such as deforestation?

No. The current media focus on climate change should surely be complementary to long-standing and more immediate threats such as tropical deforestation. But note that all major environmental issues of today are intricately interlinked; for instance, deforestation can often increase the warming effect of climate change (bare earth absorbs more heat than thick vegetation).

4. What are the most urgent research problems now facing tropical conservation biology?

I consider that the urgent research problems facing tropical conservation biology are: (1) What are the socio-economic and politico-cultural factors that serve as root causes of deforestation (e.g., perverse subsidies)? (2) What are some interdependencies at work, e.g., how far does forest conservation and reforestation in temperate and boreal zones merely shift logging pressure onto tropical forests? (3) Which sectors of tropical biotas could serve as evolutionary hotspots, i.e., communities that can foster “bounce back” processes, notably speciation, when the current biotic crisis has played itself out?

5. In your opinion, in what condition will tropical ecosystems be at the end of the 21st century?

I fear that tropical ecosystems will be, by the end of the 21st Century, badly battered at best, due to population pressures, socio-economic forces, and political incompetence and/or ignorance and/or corruption. But year 2100 is far too distant – as is 2050 – for one to make any informed or rational prognosis.

CJA Bradshaw

(with thanks to Navjot Sodhi, Barry Brook, Ward Cooper, Wiley-Blackwell and Norman Myers for permission to reproduce the text – buy your copy of Tropical Conservation Biology here)

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One response

25 09 2008
News Roundup | a Conservation Blog

[…] today: “Spotlights,” in which he focuses on conservation luminaries, starting with Norman “Hotspots” Myers. If you want more from Dr. Myers, there’s an extensive interview with him over at […]

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