Transdisciplinary, place-based conservation for the 21st century.

I am an ecologist and conservation scientist with almost 20 years of experience working on the ground in Central America. My main research interests involve the role of matrix habitats (i.e., the usually degraded or human-managed lands beyond protected areas) in biodiversity conservation in the Neotropics. I am currently the Director of Conservation Science for Paso Pacífico, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods in southwestern Nicaragua. In my work I draw from diverse disciplines, from ecology to anthropology to economics, to develop evidence-based interventions that conserve biodiversity while strengthening local communities.

My philosophical approach to conservation science is grounded in my belief that humans are key members of the ecosystems we seek to protect, and that long-term success in our field is contingent upon ongoing, iterative processes of education and engagement of community members directly affected by conservation interventions. Protectionist approaches centered on excluding people from all protected areas will ultimately fail for social, political, and economic reasons; conservation that focuses exclusively on unmanaged, "pristine" habitat will fail for ecological reasons. Thus, the success of conservation is dependent upon building reliable, meaningful partnerships with local stakeholders.

The kind of engagement necessary to effect biodiversity conservation requires a long-term commitment to build relationships, understand social and ecological histories, and establish trust. This goes beyond a landscape approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of multiple conservation challenges, to a place-based approach that integrates multi-dimensional ecological, social, and cultural knowledge. As a result I have dedicated most of my career to working in Nicaragua, with a particular focus on the tropical dry forest ecosystems of Nicaragua's Pacific slope. This region is a microcosm of the many conservation challenges facing tropical ecosystems across the world, and as such provides a kind of laboratory for testing conservation approaches on the ground. Effective solutions that we develop in this context could be applied to face the greatest conservation challenges of the 21st century.

I received my Ph.D. in 2003 from New York University.  For my dissertation, I studied the ecology of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) living in a shade coffee plantation in Mombacho Volcano, Nicaragua.  This research demonstrated that shade coffee plantations can serve as core habitat for forest-adapted mammals.  From June 2003 to July 2004, I was a worked for the Saint Louis Zoo, based in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua.  I collaborated with indigenous Miskito and Mayangna residents in Bosawás to study the population status and subsistence hunting of large mammals and birds.  

In 2006, I began working with Dr. Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan on questions of biodiversity and its ecological function in agricultural systems in Central America. For my postdoctoral research, we collaborated on an investigation of bats in shade coffee plantations of Chiapas, Mexico. My research considered both the relationship between management intensity and bat assemblage structure and the effects of bat predation on arthropod populations and levels of herbivory in agroecosystems. I continue to collaborate with Dr. Perfecto's working group, although I now focus on collaborating with groups of master's students from SNRE to study the multi-faceted relationships between biodiversity and management of agricultural systems in southwestern Nicaragua. 

Although most of my research has focused on mammals, particularly bats and primates, the taxa I study include insects, frogs, sea turtles, parrots, and terrestrial mammals.

My Background