Tipping Points, Crises and Solutions

Wednesday, April 1 and Thursday, April 2, 2015 Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center Michigan State University
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Click above for a slideshow of photos from the Fate of the Earth 2015


The Environmental Science and Policy Program has launched a symposium series to explore the challenges and opportunities we face in enhancing human well-being while protecting the environment. This symposium will bring distinguished thinkers from around the world to explore what we know, what we need to know and what we must do as we move into a century of unprecedented environmental change, technological advancement and scale of human activity.

The event will include research focused seminars and discussion but will emphasize events and presentations that will speak to the broader MSU and Michigan community. In addition to live events and webcasts, the Inaugural Symposium will generate educational materials that can be used in classes and non-traditional education in the spring and beyond.


Student Poster Award Winners

This year's symposium included a research poster contest session to encourage the broad participations of high school students, undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral students. All posters were on display throughout the symposium, with judging taking place during the Scientific Colloquium on Day 2. Several cash prizes were awarded. For a full list of winners, click here.


This symposium is made possible through the generous endowment of

Barbara Sawyer-Koch and Donald Koch.


MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon addressed the Fate of the Earth audience.

Day 1: Public Symposium


John Critteden

John Crittenden
Director, Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, Hightower Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Sustainable Systems, Georgia Institute of Technology

Biosketch:Prof. John C. Crittenden is the director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems and a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  He holds the Hightower Chair and is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Environmental Technologies.  Prof. Crittenden received his Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and his Master’s and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan.  Since 1998 he has been the Associate Editor of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.  Prof. Crittenden was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2002 and the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2013.  He is the co-holder of five patents and the primary author of the text book, Water Treatment: Principles and Design, now in its third edition.  He is the author more than 162 articles in refereed journal articles and more than 100 book chapters, reports, and symposia.  Prof. Crittenden has been invited to speak and present around the world on sustainable urban systems and water treatment infrastructure.

Prof. Crittenden’s current research focus is on  sustainable urban urban infrastructure systems.  His colleagues and he are conducting research on alternative energy technologies, sustainable materials, advanced modeling of urban systems, sustainable engineering pedagogy, and urban form and policy. He also conducts research in various water treatment technologies (e.g., membrane, nanofiltration, advanced oxidation processes, photocatalytic oxidation, adsorption, etc.) and energy harvesting technologies (photocatalytic water splitting and aqueous phase reforming of biomass).


Title: "Developing Sustainable Urban Infrastructure to Solve Gigaton Problems"

Abstract: Gigaton problems refer to those most severe problems challenging humanity, which can often be measured at the “gigaton (billion tons)” scale (Xu et al., 2010). For example, the annual world energy consumption is around 12 billion tons of oil equivalent (Gtoe), 80% of that from nonrenewable fossil fuels. The combustion of these fossil fuels emits approximately 29 billion tons (Gton) of CO2. In addition, the world uses more than 14 Gton of materials each year, only about 5% of which are renewable (Ashby, 2012). These gigaton problems call for solutions which can meet the gigaton scale, or gigaton solutions. While every incremental solution that attempts to solve these problems is welcome, the magnitude of these problems should always remain in perspective. The Gigaton problem was created by the billion people in the developed world. By 2050 the world population may reach 10 billion people. Ensuring a secure and safe world requires that all global citizens have sufficient access to the resources necessary to lead useful and productive lives. In other words, the lifestyles of those in the developing world must start to resemble the lifestyles of those in the developed world. Therefore the magnitude of the Gigaton problem will be multiplied by 10 unless new approaches are found.



Gary Libecap

Gary Libecap
Professor, Corporate Environmental Management, Bren School for Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara

Biosketch: Gary Libecap came to the Bren School in 2006 after more than twenty years at the University of Arizona, Tucson, where, in addition to teaching business, law, and economics, often in a natural resource context, he developed and directed the nation's top-ranked entrepreneurship program. His interdisciplinary focus and expertise in issues related to entrepreneurship and sustainable business practices led to his critical role in developing the Eco-Entrepreneurship focus, a joint venture between the Bren School and the School of Engineering. Professor Libecap’s current research is focused on the legal, economic, and policy aspects of water allocation in the western United States. He has been president of the Economic History Association, the Western Economics Association International, and the International Society for the New Institutional Economics, and he holds high-level appointments at several top institutions around the country.

Title: Externalities, Crises and Collective Action

Abstract: Common pool resources (CPRs) potentially suffer from over exploitation that arise when parties do not bear the full costs of their actions. Fisheries are over harvested, oil pools and aquifers are over depleted, forests are over logged, and there are too many greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  These CPR problems are addressed successfully and rapidly in some cases, but not in others. In general we often observe delay and incomplete mitigation.  The high transaction costs of reaching agreement on collective action explains why this occurs. Mitigation imposes costs and provides benefits, but these costs and benefits are not proportionately distributed among the parties involved. Some bear more costs than benefits and some more benefits than costs and this leads to differential incentives to support collective action.  Four factors contribute to varying assessment of the benefits and costs of mitigation: uncertainty, different perceptions of the problem and preferences for taking action, differences in information about the problem and the costs of addressing it, and questions of compliance. Three Nobel Prize Winners in Economics provide guidance regarding how to analyze these issues: Ronald Coase (1991), Elinor Ostrom (2009), and Oliver Williamson (2009).  Smaller CPRs often have successful collective action: less uncertainty, similar preferences and perceptions, similar information, and compliance.  Larger CPRs have a mixed record: more uncertainty, different preferences, perceptions and information, and limited compliance.  The empirical record includes oil fields, aquifers, fisheries. Ironically, a crisis (collapse of the fish stock, plummeting primary oil production, jump in pumping costs and subsidence for groundwater) promotes collective action. A crisis narrows differences on the benefits and costs of taking action and lowers the transaction costs of collective action.  This empirical record of the role of crises may be instructive for major global CPRs, where collective action has not been forthcoming: protection of highly-migratory fish stocks and controls of GHG emissions.  Differences across countries in assessment of the benefits of mitigation and in willingness to bear costs have limited cross-national action. A crisis may be necessary to narrow international bargaining positions.  This analysis suggests that preemptive collective mitigation is unlikely and that successful international efforts may require a crisis, despite its costs.


Sunshine Menezes

Sunshine Menezes
Executive Director, Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

Biosketch: Sunshine Menezes fosters civic engagement and improved public understanding of science and the environment as executive director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (URI GSO). She also serves as co-lead of the Deep Carbon Observatory’s Engagement Team in her role as associate director for communication in the URI GSO Office of Marine Programs. Prior to her work to improve science and environmental news coverage with Metcalf Institute, Menezes worked on federal environmental and energy legislation in the office of U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. Menezes then developed state-level environmental policy as a Research Associate for the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant, where she was the lead facilitator and author of an innovative urban coastal zone policy designed to balance environmental protection, public access, and development objectives for the metropolitan Providence, Rhode Island region.

Title: Tipping the Scales Toward Effective Science Communication

Abstract: Over the past two decades, the scientific community has become more interested and committed to communicating its research beyond a traditional academic audience. At the same time, social scientists have increasingly recognized the importance of measuring how science is shared with non-scientific audiences, and the effectiveness of these different approaches. This talk will explore the drivers for this growing interest in science communication and identify some of the people and organizations leading the way toward better engagement with diverse public audiences.


Susanna Moser

Susanne Moser
Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, Director and Principal Researcher, Santa Cruz, California

Biosketch: Susi is an action researcher whose work focuses on the societal impacts of, and responses to, climate change, and on how to communicate global warming in a way that facilitates the necessary social changes. Since leaving academia proper, she has been working as an independent researcher with states, communities, federal agencies, philanthropic organizations, NGOs and universities on projects related to adaptation to climate change, resilience, effective climate change communication and public engagement. She has addressed these issues in the coastal, forest, public health, conservation and urban context, where she applies Donella Meadow’s leverage points concept and other systems thinking to her work.

Susi's work on communication for social change, climate change adaptation, and the interaction between science and policy continues to be deeply inspired by the truth-telling, courageous, and heart-filled modeling of Donella Meadows. She is trying to follow in those footsteps.

Title: Fate of the People: Tipping Toward Action

Abstract: The fate of the Earth, however dire it may look from here, is not a foregone conclusion. Nor can humans - who are an inextricable part of the Earth - extract themselves from that fate. This makes the fate of the Earth the fate of its people. Because of this inescapably linked fate, it is unlikely that people will continue forever with "business as usual" as if their actions didn't have a denigrating impact on the Earth system. In this early stage of changing the global environment, when many well-off and comfortable people, can still believe themselves immune to the changes they have wrought, it is easy to believe humans may "get away" with their environmentally damaging and socially exploitative ways. However, once things become far less benign, there is a good chance we will set in motion more serious responses to the changing environment and concurrent ecological and social impacts. Now, however, is the crucial time in which we decide how big of a problem we are creating for ourselves. This presentation aims to open a conversation about some possible pathways to deep, sustained, and effective climate action.


Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Resilience Centre

Biosketch: Claudia Pahl-Wostl is professor for resources management, an endowed chair of the German Environmental Foundation, at the Institute for Environmental Systems Research in Osnabrück, Germany.

She is an internationally well known expert in adaptive management, water governance and participatory integrated assessment and agent based modeling. Before moving to USF Claudia Pahl-Wostl worked for more than ten years in the field of mathematical modeling., integrated assessment and human ecology at the Swiss Federal Institute for Science and Technology, Zürich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology, EAWAG, one of the leading water research institutes in Europe.

Title: Governing the Transformation towards Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Abstract: Assuring the security of water, energy and food without jeopardizing the environment is an essential condition for sustainable development. Interdependencies between these sectors have often been neglected with the consequence that trade-offs rather than synergies have increased. Pushing human activities towards or even beyond the limits of environmental conditions has resulted in many regions in high vulnerability to environmental extremes, unsustainable land use patterns and degradation of ecosystems. Climate change and the concomitant increase of extreme weather events with massive consequences for human populations, economic assets and critical physical infrastructures have exposed weaknesses in current strategies to manage water and other resources. “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them” (Albert Einstein)  A radical paradigm shift is required to overcome prevalent mechanistic and technocratic strategies, which have proven to be inadequate for responding to recent challenges, because they have neglected complexity and the human dimension.
The lecture will give an overview over major global trends in the nexus of water, energy and food and their regional manifestations. It will summarize our current understanding of sustainability transformations, elaborate on potential and limitations how such transformations can be governed and highlight challenges for policy, business and civil society at large. 



Featured Keynote Speaker Andrew Revkin

Andrew Revkin

Andrew Revkin
Author, Dot Earth blog, The New York Times; Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding, Pace University

Biosketch: Andrew Revkin, the Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace University, has been writing about environmental and social sustainability for more than three decades, from the Amazon to the White House to the North Pole, mainly for The New York Times. He has won the top awards in science journalism multiple times, along with a Guggenheim Fellowship. At Pace, he teaches courses in blogging, environmental communication and documentary film. He has written acclaimed books on global warming, the changing Arctic and the assault on the Amazon rain forest, as well as three book chapters on science communication.

Drawing on his experience with his Times blog, Dot Earth, which Time Magazine named one of the top 25 blogs in 2013, Revkin speaks to audiences around the world about paths to progress on a turbulent planet.

Revkin is also a performing songwriter, was a longtime accompanist for Pete Seeger and recently released his first album of original songs, which was hailed as a "tasty mix of roots goulash" on Jambands, an influential music website. Two films have been based on his work: “Rock Star” (Warner Brothers, 2001) and "The Burning Season" (HBO, 1994).

Twitter: @revkin @dotearth

Blog and bio:

Title: Woe & Shame - Pursuing a Good Path in the Anthropocene

Abstract: Drawing on more than 30 years of experience covering global environmental challenges from the Amazon to the White House to the Arctic, prize-winning journalist, blogger and author Andrew Revkin will argue that humanity would benefit by moving beyond "woe is me" and "shame on you" reactions to this century's momentous environmental challenges. It's important to expose destructive behavior and grieve for ecological losses. But climate change and the global mashup of Anthropocene ecology are too big for conventional tools like laws, filters and fences.

The scope and drivers of these problems require a novel mix of urgency and patience, as well as a shift from goals that are unattainable numbers (350 parts per million, 2 degrees, and the like) to actions that build the capacities in individuals and societies that can bend curves of concern toward those goals.


His talk will build on ideas first laid out on Twitter in 2013:



Day 2: Scientific Colloquia

Ellen Gilinsky

Ellen Gilinsky
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Biosketch: Ellen Gilinsky serves since 2011 as the Senior Policy Advisor for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency. In this position Dr. Gilinsky addresses policy and technical issues related to all EPA Water programs, with an emphasis on science, water quality and state programs. Prior to this appointment she spent seven years as the Director of the Water Division at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), where she supervised a diverse array of water quality and quantity programs. She also served for five years at DEQ as Manager of the Office of Wetlands and Water Protection, helping to craft Virginia’s non tidal wetlands regulations and permitting program. In addition, Dr. Gilinsky has twelve years of experience as an environmental consultant at several regional and national environmental engineering firms, focusing on water issues. Dr. Gilinsky received her B.A. in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in Zoology, with a concentration in Aquatic Ecology, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been a Past President of the Association of Clean Water Administrators, held a gubernatorial appointment to the State Advisory Board of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center and served as an Adjunct Faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Departments of Biology and Environmental Studies.

Title: Keeping Our Waters Clean:  Setting Policies Informed by Science

Abstract: Effective environmental policy must  be based on strong science.  President Obama has emphasized the role of science in decision making in his Administration, and at the Environmental Protection Agency all of our rules and actions are based first and foremost on a foundation of good science.
Some examples of where science has led the way in policy implementation are EPA’s work on tackling nutrient pollution, as exhibited by the efforts of the Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi River Basin Hypoxia Task Force; development of the Clean Water Rule; and work on addressing the environmental impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.



Rick Horan

Richard D. Horan
Professor of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University

Biosketch: Rick Horan is an environmental and natural resource economist in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University.  His research examines economic and ecological tradeoffs within coupled human and natural systems, and how these tradeoffs influence the design of economic policies for managing these systems.  Much of this work addresses the theme of second-best management, whereby real-world restrictions on the available policy options may limit the economic and ecological gains from management.  Applications include water quality (specifically nonpoint source pollution), species conservation, and invasive species and pathogens. Rick spent the past four years as Editor of Resource and Energy Economics, and has previously served as an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Natural Resource Modeling.

Title: Bioeconomic Perspectives on Managing Multi-Stable Ecological Systems

Abstract: Tipping points or ecological thresholds are examined from the bioeconomic perspective that human-ecological interactions occur within a coupled system, whereby human economic behaviors both respond to and affect ecological changes.  Ecological thresholds are endogeously-determined within this framework, so that management involves simultaneously affecting ecological variables and thresholds.  The role of management institutions is of shown to be of increased importance in this setting.  Finally, the ex ante management implications of a possible random shock (e.g., a species invasion) that can lead to ex post multi-stability are explored.


Emilion Moran

Emilio Moran
John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University

Biosketch: Emilio F. Moran is John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University since 2013. He was previously Distinguished Professor and the James H. Rudy Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. He is the author of ten books, fifteen edited volumes, and more than 190 journal articles and book chapters. He is formally trained in anthropology, geography, ecology, soil science and satellite remote sensing. His work has focused on linking the social and natural sciences. His research has been supported by NSF, NIH, NOAA, and NASA. His most recent book, Environmental Social Science: Human Environment Interactions and Sustainability (Wiley/Blackwell 2010), addresses broad issues of human interaction with the environment and sustainability science. He is a past Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2010.

Title: Tipping Points in the Amazon Rainforest

Abstract: Up to 1975, deforestation in the Amazon Basin was less than 1%. Then the Brazilian government undertook a large scale effort at infrastructure development via roads to open up the Basin to economic development, settlement, and agropastoral uses. The rain forest, and the adjacent tree savannas started being cut and transformed into mostly cattle ranches. Then came soybeans which further accelerated the transformation of these ecosystems. It is now over 20% deforested, but with the impacts much higher due to excessive fragmentation, and selective logging activities. Climate scientists tend to agree that at 40% a tipping point may be reached at which substantial areas of the Basin will be unable to support rain forests and moist forests, and will turn to semi-arid savannas. The consequences for people and the environment will be discussed. 


Scott Page

Scott E. Page
Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Biosketch: Dr. Scott E. Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science and Economics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is also director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems and serves as external faculty for The Santa Fe Institute. In 2011, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science. His research focuses on the myriad roles that diversity plays in complex systems. For example, how does diversity arise? How does diversity impact robustness? Does it make a system prone to large events? Dr. Page is also the author of three books: "The Difference", "Complex Adaptive Social Systems" with John Miller, and "Diversity and Complexity."

Title: "Applying a Taxonomy of Tipping Points to Societal Collapse"

Abstract: Tipping point can be categorized on each of two dimensions.  First, they can be contextual, based on the environment changing, or active, created by a single action.  Second, they can be within class, a system can move from one equilibrium to another, or they can be across class, a system may move from random to periodic or from complex to equilibrium.   People often conflate these distinct notions of tipping points, when thinking about how to prevent something like environmental or societal collapse, need to be cognizant of the types of potential tipping points and how to prevent them.


Amy Pruden

Amy Pruden
Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor, Virginia Tech

Biosketch: Dr. Pruden's research passion lies at the cross-section of applied environmental microbiology and some of our greatest environmental engineering challenges, including: water sustainability and its balance with concerns such as antimicrobial resistance, emerging contaminants, and opportunistic pathogens; environmental implications of nanotechnology; and bioremediation of hazardous pollutants.   Dr. Pruden's research group incorporates strategic application various biomolecular tools, to advance our understanding and improve functionality of environmental engineering systems.

Title: How Do We Combat Antibiotic Resistance? Human Progress and the Laws of Nature

Abstract: The discovery of antibiotics and the development of infrastructure for delivering clean water are arguably two of the greatest victories for public health in the history of humankind.  Yet both of these achievements face a new era of challenges, threatening a large-scale reversal in much of the progress that has been made.  Accordingly, identifying solutions to these problems is something that is rising to the top of national and global agendas.  But what is/are the solution(s) and how do we identify them?  Here I make the case that the first step is recognizing and embracing the not only the complexity, but also the interconnectivity of such problems.  We must accept the reality that progress is non-linear.  In a sense, innovation is much like genetic mutation in the natural world, subject to natural selection and the laws of equilibrium. In the case of an innovation so important as the discovery of antibiotics, it is critical to assess all possible factors that contribute to the success as well as the failure of their implementation.  The role of anthropogenically-stimulated spread of antibiotic resistance through the water environment is one such realm where more attention is needed, especially in the context of water sustainability and reuse.  Systems-level research in epidemiology and ecology is needed in order to identify all possible routes by which antibiotic resistance may spread, while working synergistically with innovations in water treatment engineering that are already underway presents a logical path forward.


R. Jan Stevenson

R. Jan Stevenson
Professor of Zoology and Co-Director of the Center for Water Sciences, Michigan State University

Biosketch: Dr. R. Jan Stevenson employs his technical expertise in algal taxonomy and ecology to test ecological theory and to develop approaches for solving environmental problems. He is particularly interested in how ecological systems respond to environmental change. He also works with federal and state officials to develop protocols for ecological assessment and development of water quality criteria. Working with resource managers and policy makers often stimulates new directions for his research. One of these new directions is relating ecosystem services and condition in coupled human and natural systems.

Title: Ecosystem Services and Thresholds: Foundations of a Unified Approach for Ecosystem Management

Abstract: Nonlinear relationships are common in ecological systems and in socioeconomic systems as well.  Nonlinearities in ecological responses to human disturbance produce thresholds in coupled human and natural systems, multiple stable states, and a compelling case for a unified approach for ecosystem management. Thresholds in ecological responses along human disturbance gradients, whether observing nutrient effects on algal blooms or forecasting climate effects on ocean currents, help develop stakeholder consensus for management targets.  Thresholds are particularly important when they are related to valued ecosystem services. Challenges for management come in many forms, but resolving and anticipating thresholds responses are one set of issues that require an integrated approach. This approach involves using large-scale monitoring, strategic experiments, and process-based modeling.  Challenges for management also result from tradeoffs among ecosystem services, different valuation of ecosystem services in different cultures and economic conditions, and policies that require one-size-fits-all management. The practical solution to these challenges is an approach in which different water bodies, lands, and airways are managed for different ecosystem services in a way that provides the best benefits to local, regional, and global users of those services.  Thresholds in relationships among and within human and natural systems therefore provide management targets that can have broad stakeholder support for protecting ecosystem services.  A diversified management approach should provide a balance in ecosystem services that provide the greatest and most sustainable benefits for humans and natural systems at multiple temporal and spatial scales.  Thus ecosystem services and thresholds provide the foundation for a practical, globally consistent approach for ecosystem management.


Richard York

Richard York
Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon

Biosketch: Professor Richard York received his B.S. in Psychology from Southern Oregon State College in 1994, his M.S. in Environmental Studies from Bemidji State University in 1997, and his Ph.D. in Sociology from Washington State University in 2002. He joined the University of Oregon in 2002, and is now Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies. He is an environmental sociologist whose work combines human ecology and political economy. He is both a theorist and an empirical researcher, who primarily uses quantitative methods. One focus of his research is on how the structural characteristics of societies, including demographic, economic, and technological factors, influence levels of resource consumption and pollution emissions. Additionally, he examines the connections between animals and societies. He also studies the sociology, philosophy, and history of science.

Title: Thoughts on How to Avoid Being Eaten by a Dragon: Technology, Social Change, and Ecological Crises

Abstract: Too often, the main focus of efforts to address environmental problems is on the development of “green” technologies, such as wind and solar power and hybrid gas-electric cars, without consideration of how these technologies will be applied in existing political-economic systems. A problem with this approach is that the environmental implications of technologies depend on the social context in which they are deployed, which in practice means that “green” technologies are frequently ineffective at reducing ecological impacts.  Here, I consider what historical patterns regarding the ecological implications of various technological developments in the modern world-system can teach us about what types of social changes need to accompany technological developments if our environmental crises, including global climate change, are to be overcome.



Hillary Young

Hillary Young
Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara

Biosketch:Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. She worked for the UN Development Program for one year, before continuing on to pursue a Master's degree in Environmental Management at Yale University's School of Forestry and the Environment. She then worked for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, before returning to school for a Ph.D. in Biology at Stanford University, which she received in 2010. For her doctoral dissertation Hillary examined the far reaching effects, and mechanisms, of small changes in community composition on ecological structure and function of terrestrial communities in the central Pacific.

As a HUCE Environmental Fellow, Hillary will be continuing the work she started as a postdoctoral researcher at Smithsonian Institution and Stanford University, examining the effect of declines in large mammals in Africa on human disease risk. Declines in native large wildlife populations have been a great source concern to ecologists and conservationists for many years. However, we still have a very incomplete understanding of the indirect effects of wildlife reductions and subsequent land-use alteration and particularly how such changes may affect human well-being.  This is a prerequisite to deciding where and how to address this problem. With the support of hosts Dr. Charles Nunn (Department of Human Evolutionary Biology) and Dr. Marc Lipsitch (School of Public Health), she hopes to unite field ecology with epidemiology and models of land use change, to explore how loss of large mammals and associated land-use change can trigger an increase in human disease risk via indirect trophic effects of defaunation on host communities of small mammals and their ectoparasites.

Title: Understanding Effects of Defaunation on Ecosystem Function and Human Well-Being

Abstract: We are living amid a wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity change, including not only the loss of species and populations but also precipitous declines in the abundance of once common species.  These losses frequently have cascading effects on ecosystem function and human well being, through changes in provisions of fundamental ecosystem services. So profound are these effects, that defaunation is increasingly being recognized as a major driver of global change in its own right, rather than merely a symptom of this change.  However, much remains unknown about the effects of defaunation on ecosystem function, hindering our ability to make predictions and prescriptions for action. Here we focus on some of these gaps, specifically about how and when cascading effects are most likely to occur, when these cascades are likely to impact services most critical to human well-being, and what scale is most appropriate for examining these questions.