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State of Biodiversity 2021

Conversations and convening around regional biodiversity.

Thinking about the state of our region’s biodiversity can leave a person feeling pretty grim. But with climate change and the environment back on the national agenda, we planned 2021's State of Biodiversity Symposium with a renewed optimism. We explored not only the challenges but the stories that make us hopeful around the topics of binational biodiversity, pandemic-era science, and statewide conservation efforts.

Previously a full-day event held at the Museum, the 2021 “deconstructed symposium” featured morning talks that took place on Zoom across four Thursdays in April. Spanish interpretation was offered during the live event.

April 1: Keynote address | Earth Optimism

Optimismo para la tierra

The earth is home to millions of different kinds of creatures whose futures, and ours, hinge on how we manage the planet over the next decade. Will we halt our destruction of nature and begin to restore it? The task may seem hopeless, but around the world people are making a difference. Dr. Nancy Knowlton, author of Citizens of the Sea and Sant Chair for Marine Science Emerita at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, shared these sources of inspiration, wisdom, and hope.

April 8: Binational Biodiversity and the Border

La biodiversidad binacional y la Frontera

Two countries, one bioregion. The Nat’s research area includes southern California and the Baja California Peninsula. We are fortunate to work alongside scientists and conservationists who are passionate about preserving biodiversity on both sides of the border. Panelists discussed trans-border contrasts and collaborations.

April 15: Pandemic-Era Science

Ciencia en la era pandemia

The past year sparked broad interest in infectious diseases, with particular attention to those viruses with origins in the animal world. In this wide-ranging panel, speakers discussed both the effect of biodiversity on disease and the effect of disease on biodiversity.

April 22: A Biodiversity Roadmap for California

Un mapa de ruta para la biodiversidad de California

The final session in our series of State of Biodiversity webinars covered a variety of initiatives that are underway to study, conserve, and protect California’s biodiversity.

Sessions and Speakers

Nancy Knowlton, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton is the author of Citizens of the Sea and the Sant Chair of Marine Science Emerita at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. She was also the founding director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD. She currently serves on the Global Board of The Nature Conservancy. Her research centers on the diversity and conservation of life in the ocean.

Speakers: Binational Biodiversity and the Border

Keynote Address | Earth Optimism

Daniel Thornton, Ph.D.

Dr. Daniel Thornton will address transboundary species and the need for international collaboration. He is an Assistant Professor at Washington State University. His research integrates field work, ecological theory, and spatial and statistical analyses to address questions concerning conservation planning and the impacts of climate and land use change on biodiversity.

Louise Misztal

Louise Misztal will discuss her work on cross-border conservation design and climate change adaptation planning. She is the Executive Director at Sky Island Alliance, where she is committed to crafting creative solutions to pressing conservation issues and building collaboration among diverse partners.

Lorena Villanueva-Almanza, Ph.D.

Dr. Lorena Villanueva-Almanza will share her research on transborder variation in Washingtonia palms. Passionate about plants and writing, she is the editor of Botany One, a weblog produced by The Annals of Botany Company. She works to protect ecosystems in the Baja California Peninsula and the US and to make science accessible on both sides of the border.

Arturo Ramírez-Valdez, Ph.D.

Dr. Arturo Ramírez-Valdez will show how political borders impact our understanding of marine resources, affect management goals, and (in many cases) undermine conservation efforts. He earned his Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he currently serves as a Staff Researcher working on questions related to marine conservation and resource management. He leads the Giant Sea Bass / Mero Gigante Project, a trans-disciplinary initiative designed to improve the management of this iconic fish species across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speakers: Pandemic-Era Science

Chelsea L. Wood, Ph.D.

Dr. Chelsea L. Wood will discuss recent quantitative findings that illuminate the surprising relationship between biodiversity and disease risk for the world's most burdensome infectious diseases of humans (including zoonotic and vector-borne diseases). She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Her research program explores the ecology of infectious disease in a changing world.

Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa, Ph.D.

Dr. Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa will share how a decentralized model for rigorous wildlife disease surveillance might address the global health risks associated with wildlife exploitation. She serves San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance as a Researcher and the 2020 Bud Heller Fellow in Population Sustainability. In her current work, she is focused on using field-based genomics techniques on rare species for in situ analyses of conservation genetics.

Erik Hofmeister, Ph.D.

Dr. Erik Hofmeister will discuss the potential effects of climate change on zoonotic diseases, commonly defined as diseases of animals that can be transmitted and cause disease in humans. He is a Research Virologist at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI, where he conducts research on West Nile virus, avian malaria, and the effects of neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides on wild birds.

Robert Montgomery, Ph.D.

Professor Robert Montgomery of the University of Oxford will explore how the COVID-19 quietus has impacted animal ecology and conservation. He is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Oxford GAV Conservation Venture Studio, where he works to address the most critical challenges facing the planet, including climate change, energy crises, food security, and biodiversity loss.

Speakers: A Biodiversity Roadmap for California

Hollis Woodard, Ph.D.

Dr. Hollis Woodard will speak about bumble bee biodiversity in the state, the status and trends of some of our species, and some of the projects being undertaken by her group and others to try to conserve them. She is an Assistant Professor of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside, where she leads a diverse lab group whose research is focused on understanding and conserving bumble bees.

Christa Horn

Christa Horn will discuss the potential for seed banking in plant conservation and California Plant Rescue's efforts to conserve the botanical diversity of our state. Christa serves San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance as a Conservation Program Specialist in Plant Conservation. In this role she works to conserve the rare plants of California through research and managing applied conservation projects.

Amy Vandergast, Ph.D.

Dr. Amy Vandergast will speak broadly about the protection of genetic diversity and its place as a fundamental component of biodiversity protection. She is a Research Geneticist at US Geological Survey (USGS) Western Ecological Research Center. Her lab conducts population genetic studies on a wide array of rare and endangered species in California and the desert southwest to support conservation and management.

Amber Pairis, Ph.D.

Dr. Amber Pairis will share her work on the Resilient Restoration project, which strives to promote Tribal resilience by developing knowledge and supporting actions that enhance persistence of cultural practices with a focus on preserving the ecosystems and plant species that are integral to Tribal communities. She is the Executive Director and Founder of the Climate Science Alliance and the Partnership Liaison at the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Thank you for joining us in 2021!

The 2021 Symposium is over, but the conversations continue. You can find recordings of our panels and Q&A on our YouTube channel.