“Pioneer of the science of restoration ecology”
Daniel Janzen, the eminent tropical ecologist and conservationist who became one of the earliest adopters and staunchest advocates of DNA barcoding and the International Barcode of Life project (iBOL), has received the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for Ecology and Conservation Biology.
Announcing the €400,000 award in Madrid, the BBVA Foundation jury cited Janzen’s “pioneering work in tropical ecology and the conservation of tropical ecosystems” that had “moved us from a merely descriptive knowledge of tropical ecosystems to an understanding of their function”.
In the words of the citation: “Daniel Janzen is a supreme example of the complete ecological scientist, combining expertise in natural history with scientific rigor and innovative thinking. He has applied his knowledge to the practical question of biodiversity conservation, and in the process shaped tropical ecology as we know it today.”
The citation describes Janzen as one of “the pioneers of the science of restoration ecology” who has guided the restoration and conservation of thousands of hectares of a formerly degraded landscape and continues to lead an innovative research program with an emphasis on the conservation of tropical biodiversity through its integration with local cultures.
Among his most inspirational ideas, the jury said, was the recruitment of local residents as “parataxonomists”, in effect training inhabitants to recognize a wide variety of species, and to participate in large-scale biodiversity inventories based on DNA barcoding techniques.
For 40 years, he has worked in Costa Rica, where his work has focused on caterpillars, including the plants they eat and the parasites that eat them. For several years, he has been a prodigious contributor to Barcode of Life Data Systems and iBOL, collaborating in the DNA barcoding of more than 12,000 species.
The jury’s citation describes the scale of Janzen’s achievement as the driving force behind the creation of Área de Conservación Guanacaste in Costa Rica. “It started as 10,000 hectares of degraded land and was expanded to 163,000 hectares of a restored, functional forest ecosystem. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ACG is the working model for the entire Costa Rican national park system.”
Reacting to news of the award, Janzen said: “This award helps me and my wife [ecologist Winnie Hallwachs] to feel that some part of the greater community of scientists and non-damaging users of biodiversity do appreciate what we are trying to do, and have been trying to do since 1985.
“We will use the prize money to finance multiple research projects in taxonomy, ecology, and biodiversity development that other members of the team have not been able to finance for themselves; projects that are integral parts of our efforts to conserve wildlands in the tropics.”