International Tropical Ecology Expert Paulo Brando Joins YSE Faculty
Paulo Brando, an internationally recognized expert of tropical ecosystems, is joining YSE this fall. His research explores the causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon and the associated consequences to climate, ecological stability, and the potential future pathways of forests.
When Paulo Brando was growing up in Brazil, he’d hear stories about the importance of his uncle’s work on behalf of the Yanomami, the largest community of Indigenous peoples in the South American Amazon. His father, a civil engineer, and his mother, who ran a tourism business, also instilled in him a sense of responsibility and awe about the surrounding environment and nature. By the time he was a teen, Brando had no doubt about what he wanted to do: environmental conservation.
Brando, an internationally recognized tropical ecosystem research scientist, is now bringing his expertise in ecology, forestry, and carbon capture to the Yale School of the Environment. He will be joining the faculty in December as a research associate and then, in January, as an associate professor of ecosystem carbon capture.
His research explores the causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon and the associated consequences to climate, ecological stability, and the potential future pathways of forests. To do so, he uses methods that combine field manipulation experiments, ecological models, and remote sensing.
At YSE, Brando’s work with students will use the techniques of remote sensing and field observations to analyze the changes in tropical forests.
His tenure-track appointment is supported by an endowment for the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture. In the position — the second of two YSE faculty positions supported by YCNCC — he will continue to conduct research relevant to nature-based climate solutions and also will work with other faculty members to develop the direction and mission of the Center as a member of the YCNCC Scientific Leadership Team.
“We are thrilled to welcome Paolo Brando to the YSE community. As a renowned scholar on tropical ecology, his research has brought international attention to the impact of climate and land-use change on vital tropical ecosystems, such as the Amazon,” Dean Indy Burke said. “We look forward to collaborating with him on natural climate solutions.”
Brando’s previous academic experience includes an appointment as assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a visiting professor at the Brazilian State University of Mato Grasso. He also has worked as a research scientist at IPAM Amazônia (Amazon Environmental Research Institute) and the Woodwell Climate Research Center.
“His work on the drivers and impacts of deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon will complement existing strengths at YSE, while adding new dimensions, including a focus on fire ecology and agricultural expansion and intensification in the tropics,” says Liza Comita, YSE professor of tropical forest ecology and co-director of YCNCC.
Brando began his work in the field of forest engineering while attending the University of São Paulo in Piracicaba, Brazil. He earned his PhD in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida. He examines not only how forests affect the environment and climate change through carbon storage, but also how climate change caused by agricultural practices impacts the health of forests and the environment.
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“What happens in the tropics doesn’t stay in the tropics. It affects the global climate system. Can forests continue to store and capture carbon as climate and uses of land change? What can we do to increase their ability to keep functioning like a huge carbon sink? These are some of the big questions related to carbon capture in forests and natural ecosystems in general,” Brando says.
His work has taken him high up into the canopy of the Amazon forests, scaling trees to obtain measurements. He also conducted groundbreaking research during the massive Amazon fires in 2019 and 2020 that occurred under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who weakened environmental policies and enforcement. He examined the impact of the fires — which cause the release of carbon stored in the trees — on climate change and helped to get the word out internationally about what was happening in the Amazon.
While the situation can seem grim at times, he tells students there also are many reasons to be hopeful.
“In this field there is no room for pessimism. There's only room for optimism, even if you are in the worst moment of history, or the best moment of history, because we can always improve from there,” he says. “Conservation can be very frustrating from time to time, but we have come so far. Stakeholders, Indigenous peoples, land managers, and governments are seeing the problems, and science is providing the information. Now, we need the energy that young people can provide to really push through to the finish line.”