Nyeema Harris Wins 2023 IDEAL Award

Nyeema C. Harris, Knobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land Conservation at YSE, was honored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) with the 2023 Inspiring Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Acceptance and Learning (IDEAL) Award. The award recognizes commendable leadership in advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, acceptance, accessibility, and learning in the biological sciences community.

“Dr. Harris’ work is tremendously important. We applaud her steadfast dedication both to science and the diverse community of practitioners who are its foundation,” Scott Glisson, CEO of AIBS, said.

Harris’ research explores carnivore behavior and movement and ecology and conservation in urban systems and national parks at a global scale, with ongoing projects throughout the Americas and Africa, specifically. She examines spatial and temporal variations in species interactions, how networks are structured, the ecological consequences of species loss and land-use change, and mechanisms that promote coexistence between carnivores and humans. She directs the Applied Wildlife Ecology (AWE) Lab at YSE, which aims to promote human–wildlife coexistence around the world in urban, agricultural, and protected landscapes while demonstrating a commitment to public engagement and inclusivity. She co-founded the Black Ecologist Section of the Ecological Society of America and recently completed a National Science Foundation-funded project centered on environmental literacy in urban youth in Detroit.

"My approach has always been to operate from a place of integration, where my DEIJ efforts are fundamental in my scholarship, pedagogy, and engagement,” Harris said.

Harris received the award at the AIBS Council of Member Societies and Organizations meeting November 30, 2023. It was presented to her by previous award winner Steward T. A. Pickett, a plant ecologist and senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Nyeema Harris

Nyeema Harris

Knobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land Conservation

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Jaye Wilson Honored with Rising Black Scientist Award

Through her research, YSE student and National Science Foundation graduate research fellow Jaye Wilson aims to improve recycling systems to increase yield for high-value products and help industries develop more sustainable business practices. She shared her scientific goals and how her family, community, and STEM experiences sparked her interest in the field in the essay “Resilient wings, tangible impact: My journey from chrysalis to change-maker in STEM,” which earned her a Rising Black Scientists Award.

“The RBSA is a deeply personal achievement that represents a collective aim for a future where diversity in thought and background is not just recognized but celebrated as the bedrock of academic and societal advancement,” Wilson said. “For me, it is a beacon of encouragement to continue being a restorative force in my field, fostering creativity and innovative thinking.”

The award, first established in 2020 and given by Cell Press, Cell Signaling Technology (CST), and the Elsevier Foundation, provides funds to support professional development for talented and motivated Black Scientists. Winners have their essays published in iScience and receive $10,000 to support their research as well as a $500 travel grant.

“Through their stories and accomplishments, this year’s winners of the Rising Black Scientists Awards are examples of excellence to us all,” said John Pham, editor-in-chief of Cell. “My colleagues and I at Cell Press are inspired by them, and we are proud to be sharing their stories.”

Wilson and her fellow honorees, Kevin Brown Jr. of California State University San Marcos; Senegal Mabry of Cornell University; and Akorfa Dagadu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were chosen from more than 350 applicants from across the life, health, physical, and earth, environmental, and data sciences.

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Jaye Wilson

Saving Tropical Forests

About 60% of the world’s tropical forests, which store 25% of the world’s total carbon, are degrading, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Less than half remain at high integrity. At the 30th annual International Society of Tropical Foresters conference held at YSE’s Kroon Hall February 2-3, conservationists examined the drivers of deforestation, how carbon and diversity markets can sustain them, and progress in protecting them.

At the first day of the conference, which convened academics, practitioners, policy makers and community leaders from around the world, Marthe Tollenaar, ESG director at SAIL Ventures, a boutique investment firm based in The Hauge and Sao Paulo, noted how &Green Fund is helping to create returns on biodiversity credits, which she said are as attractive as conventional investments. Currently, she said, companies fund credits through their foundations instead of integrating them into their balance sheets and anticipating a return on investment.

While deforestation has slowed in the Amazon under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency, Ane Alencar, science director for IPAM, a research based environmental NGO in Brazil, said that more than half of deforestation occurred on public lands in 2021-2022 where forest clearance went unpunished. She said that land tenure, not agriculture is the biggest driver of clearing forests. In Indonesia, which has the largest expanse of rainforests in Asia, a drop in palm oil prices may have been a larger factor in slowing deforestation than government regulation, increased land security, sustainability efforts, and corporate commitments to conservation, said Kimberley Carlson, a land systems scientist and associate professor at New York University.

The Yale chapter of ISTF was established in 1992 and is housed at The Forest School at YSE. The annual conference is the longest running student-led conference at Yale.

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ISTF 2024 Conference

Plant-Animal Impact on Amazon's Degrading Forests

In the agricultural frontier between Amazonia, which covers about 40% of the South American continent, and Cerrado in the South American savannas, climate change, defaunation, and fragmentation are degrading forests.  One factor in the types of forests that will survive these threats is the interaction between animals and plants. A YSE-led team of scientists was awarded a $2.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study to these critical plant-animal interactions and how they impact the resilience of tropical forests.

As part of the study, the team, which includes Paulo Brando, associate professor of ecosystem carbon capture; Liza Comita, professor of Tropical Forest Ecology and co-director of the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture; Craig Brodersen, professor of plant physiological ecology; and scientists from 13 institutions, will produce Amazon-wide modeling projections of how fragmentation and defaunation may impact the future trajectory of forests in the region.

The Amazon, home to 25% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, has already lost about 20% of its original area.

“If the animals were to disappear from tropical forests, how would that shape the future of those forests, as well as their capacity to provide key ecosystem services such as carbon storage and water cycling?” Brando said.

The findings of the study will have broader implications, including better quantification of the services that animal species provide in keeping forests healthy; the consequences of forest collapse on forest-dependent peoples; and how future development in the region may impact the biodiversity of Amazonian forests, Brando said.

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An ant in the rainforest

Animal-plant interactions in the Amazon, which is home to 25% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, play a significant role in the resilience of the tropical forests.

Paulo Brando

Associate Professor of Ecosystem Carbon Capture