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The Nat Redoubles Commitment to Conservation with Newest Hire

October 25, 2022

Dr. Michelle E. Thompson to Translate Museum’s Science into Conservation Action

SAN DIEGO—After an international search, the San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat) is pleased to announce Michelle E. Thompson, Ph.D. as its newand first—Exequiel Ezcurra Director of Conservation Biology.  

This is a newly created, endowed position made possible through philanthropic support from a group of anonymous donors and start-up funding from the JiJi Foundation. The role is a key part of the museum’s strategic plan to lead with its science to help preserve biodiversity in our region. 

Thompson will steer The Nat’s conservation research strategy and serve as its public face for conservation and environmental justice. Her posting will transform the Museum’s ability to have direct conservation impacts in Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula 

“During this critical time for the future of biodiversity in our region, The Nat is tackling the challenge of species and habitat declines head on,” said Judy GradwohlThe Nat’s president and CEO. “Michelle’s ability to translate data and science into action will accelerate our work to address the region’s conservation needs, set priorities, and engage the community throughout our mission area and beyond.”  

The Nat has been doing the research that makes conservation possible for 148 years—studying threatened species, documenting how our natural world is changing, and drawing focus to diverse areas needing protection. This new position will help The Nat take a more proactive role in applying its science to today’s most pressing issues. 

“Natural history museums can play a large role in conservation—they are doing cutting edge science and using knowledge about the past and present to present solutions for the future,” said Thompson. “The Nat has a long history of regional research, collections, and collaborations which are invaluable tools for identifying southern California and Baja California’s greatest conservation challenges and providing recommendations for action.” 

Thompson’s first few months will focus on prioritizing regional conservation needs by working with The Nat’s scientists and external partners, and defining how museum research can aid decision makers and key working groups.   

A Southern California native, Thompson comes to San Diego from the Keller Science Action Center at The Field Museum in Chicago. She served as the lead conservation ecologist and was part of the Rapid Inventories Team, working with decision-makers and local communities to create new protected areas and inform land management decisions in the Amazon. Fluent in Spanish, her experience working on transnational conservation research and policy will translate well to the U.S.–Mexico conservation landscape.  

The position was funded by anonymous donors and named in recognition of Mexican ecologist and conservationist Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra, who served as the director of the museum’s Biodiversity Research Center for the Californias from 1998-2000, and again from 2005-2009. Additionally, he has served as director of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS). He is now a professor of plant ecology at UC Riverside and sits on The Nat’s Board of Directors 

“Exequiel is an integrative thinker who has made remarkable contributions to conservation in our binational region, and he embodies what we want this position to be,” said Gradwohl.  

About the San Diego Natural History Museum  

The San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat) is one of California’s oldest and most respected cultural and scientific institutions. Founded in 1874 by a small group of citizen scientists, the Museum works to preserve and protect this amazing place we call home. The Museum is located at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 in Balboa Park. For more information, call 877.946.7797 or visit Follow The Nat on Twitter and Instagram and join the discussion on Facebook.  



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