An Interview with Stuart Pimm

Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and the director of SavingSpeciesWe caught up with Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Stuart was on his way to Peru to continue his groundbreaking work as director of SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that funds local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity.

How does NatureServe help your work to save species?

I am a huge fan of NatureServe. I feel very passionate about it, because I use NatureServe data all the time to find high concentrations of species with small ranges—and that helps me to prioritize, to determine where to protect biodiversity globally. As we speak, I have 4-5 students using NatureServe data. That work is often published in scientific journals, but it is not just an intellectual exercise; NatureServe information actually helps me make tactical decisions.

How do you turn NatureServe information into action on the ground?

I combine NatureServe’s scientific data on species’ ranges with information on land cover, elevation models, and remote imaging to determine exactly where my organization, SavingSpecies, needs to invest if we are to stem the extinction crisis. For example, I can see that the Atlantic Forest of Brazil harbors an exceptional number of endemic species, and when I combine that with images of isolated fragments of forest, I can see exactly where we should invest in reforestation. So, I look to see which local groups are working there and my organization funds them to buy land and reforest it. That model has been fantastically successful in connecting forested habitats, protecting and restoring them, in places like the Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. It’s CPR for the planet.

What would happen if NatureServe didn’t exist?

We would be doing conservation blind. You can’t do effective conservation if you are groping around in the dark. You have to focus on places that matter. And it can’t just be in someone’s backyard. It has to be targeted on the most important places for biodiversity, for the planet. That’s where NatureServe comes in.

Do you have a favorite species?

Well, of course there are the big charismatic species – the “lions, tigers, and bears” – and sure, I love them; but 90% of endangered species are the little things that live in very special places, the Andes, the Southern Appalachians, the Atlantic Forest. It’s where the rare wild things are. It’s more than a single species. It is a concentration of many unique species that makes these places my favorites.

What are the most important things for conservationists to do going forward?

We must continue our passion for protecting the most important places. And to find those important places, we need to develop good maps – not just for birds and mammals, but for reptiles, fish, insects, and many other species. That is why NatureServe is so vital. NatureServe is the organization that is providing that critical knowledge so that we can understand the threats, identify the opportunities for success, and save this wonderful planet of ours.