Honoring Our Roots
Astronomy had Galileo. Physics had Isaac Newton. Biodiversity has Robert E. Jenkins.
NatureServe has selected the founder of the natural heritage network, Robert E. Jenkins, Ph.D., as the first recipient of the NatureServe Conservation Award in recognition of his innovation, creativity, and demonstrated leadership in advancing science-based conservation. The award was presented to Jenkins April 26 at Biodiversity Without Boundaries 2010 in Austin, Texas.
“My original vision was simply to accumulate a knowledge base of constantly updated information about the biota and ecosystems as a basis for conservation action. You can’t imagine how little we had to go on in 1970—essentially nothing demonstrably reliable existed as to accuracy, currency, or even underlying intent,” Jenkins said, reflecting upon his early work.
As vice president for science at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, Jenkins made that vision a reality. And then some. He transformed the methods by which TNC established land protection priorities and guided the creation of a biological inventory of the Americas, introducing heightened scientific rigor to TNC’s land-acquisition choices.
He created the foundations of natural heritage methodology: the concept of mapping plant and animal occurrences, the coarse filter/fine filter concept, and the multiscale ranking system still used today by NatureServe and hundreds of partners. He guided the design and evolution of our database management systems, which won the 1993 Smithsonian-ComputerWorld award for outstanding contributions in the arena of natural resources.
In accepting the award, Jenkins presented a history of the NatureServe network, and reflected on its value. “I’m glad to receive the award, not for the honor, but because it is essentially for the invention of the methodology and the establishment of the public-private partnership that has made its deployment possible. These are things of lasting importance.”
Jenkins’ innovative approach to conservation has withstood the tests of time and application. His demonstrated leadership and tireless efforts to forge an expansive network of programs that employ standard methodology has transformed conservation action, and will continue to provide reliable and relevant biodiversity information for the indefinite future.