Conservation Scholars: Peter Raven

12 01 2009

This series on takes a page 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.

Our tenth Conservation Scholar is Peter Raven


When I was about eight years old, I was inspired by the beauty and interest of the insects and plants of California. I didn’t know what kind of a career might be possible, but as I went through high school and college, inspired by my participation in the Student Section of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I gradually came to understand that is was possible to spend my life studying the magnificent biosphere that is all around us. I then began to realise that we were facing a huge problem, with a rapidly increasing human population, increasing consumption, and inappropriate technologies driving a majority of the species that share this Earth with us to extinction. The opportunities we have now will never be as rich in the future, and I do what I can to take advantage of them.

Major Publications

  • Raven, P. H. (1980) Research Priorities in Tropical Biology. Committee on Research Priorities in Tropical Biology, National Research Council. U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
  • Raven, P. H. (1988) We’re Killing Our World, The Global Ecosystem in Crisis. MacArthur Foundation Occasional Paper, December 1987.
  • Raven, P. H. (2002) Science, sustainability, and the human prospect. Science 297, 954-958
  • Dirzo, R. & Raven, P. H. (2003) Global state of biodiversity and loss. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 28, 137-167
  • Raven, P. H. & Berg, L. R. (2007) Environment (Sixth Edition). John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ

Questions and Answers

1. Could you briefly describe some conservation initiatives undertaken by the Missouri Botanical Garden in tropical countries and their positive outcomes to date?

In the California-sized island of Madagascar, the Missouri Botanical Gardens employs about 50 citizens, who, along with two foreign science advisors, work out conservation futures for protection and the sustainable use of the biosphere. Over 90 % of the species of plants and animals there are found nowhere else, and our skill and diligence in dealing with them will determine how many survive for our use, or enjoyment, or simply because we have no right to destroy them. We are making a significant difference there and in many countries for the lives of people.

2. How can we, as conservation scientists, work to ensure that protected areas in tropical regions function as more than just ‘paper parks’?

Mainly by understanding and living with the people there, to insure that their priorities and ours are the same. Information is very important in managing parks properly, and in conserving biodiversity between parks and protected areas, but it must have demonstrated meaning to the people who live there. We must all work hard to adopt an international attitude based on caring on people everywhere.

3. Is it possible to strike a balance between development and preservation in developing nations?

It is not only possible, it is necessary, and the opportunities for striking that balance are greater now than they will ever be in the future. People must be able to improve their lives, but the resources available must be used sustainably or there will not be a satisfactory and sustainable future for anyone else. We need new ways of thinking in order to develop this balance properly, and there are relatively few models for us.

4. Is cross-disciplinary research the future for conservation science, and if so, how might it be achievable in practice?

We need to know a great deal more than we do at present about the functioning of ecosystems, and of the complexes of species that make them up. Productive agriculture in suitable places is part of the key, and sustaining biodiversity between protected areas, which must contribute to the sustainability of the whole region, is likewise of great importance. The alleviation of poverty must be undertaken not only as a matter of social justice, but because without it there can be no sustainable future.

CJA Bradshaw

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



One response

26 10 2010
An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests « CIFOR's blog

[…] Peter H. Raven, PhD, President Emeritus Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, USA  Susan M. Cheyne, PhD, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, UK; Orang-utan Tropical Peatland Project, Director of Gibbon and Felid Research […]

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