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Robert McDonald

Robert McDonald

Senior Scientist, Urban Sustainability

Rob is a senior scientist for urban sustainability at The Nature Conservancy. He researches the impact and dependence of cities on the natural world, and is the lead scientist for much of the Conservancy’s urban conservation work. He currently leads a global team of scientists mapping where the cities of the world get their water, and evaluating their dependence on ecosystem services and their vulnerability to climate change. He is also working on a book, entitled “Conservation for Cities,” which documents the role green infrastructure can play in the well-being of urban residents. Another major research interest is the effect of U.S. energy policy on natural habitat and water use.

Prior to joining the Conservancy, Rob was a Smith Conservation Biology Fellow at Harvard University, studying the impact global urban growth will have on biodiversity and conservation. He also taught landscape ecology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, helping architects and planners incorporate ecological principles into their projects. He holds a B.S. degree in biology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Ph.D in ecology from the Duke University.

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Farming, Adapting to Climate Change & the Limits of Imagination

Population Bomb or Population Crash: A Tale of Two Worlds

After the End of Nature: An Essay

The Green Conundrum: Can Small Actions Add Up to Collective Change?

Jevons Paradox: When Doing More with Less Isn’t Enough


Cool Green Science: Cities and Climate After Sandy: How Should We Prepare? (video)

Scientific American: Climate Change Could Leave 1 Billion Urbanites High and Dry by 2050

The New York Times: Study Warns of Energy Sprawl

NPR: Renewable Energy Needs Land, Lots Of Land



McDonald, R.I. and E. Girvetz. 2013. Two Challenges for U.S. Irrigation Due to Climate Change: Increasing Irrigated Area in Wet States and Increasing Irrigation Rates in Dry States. PLOS One. 8(6): e65589. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065589.

McDonald, R.I. 2013. The implications of urbanization for conservation and biodiversity protection. In S. Levin (ed.). Encyclopedia of biodiversity, 2nd edition, Elsevier, New York, NY.


Girvetz, E., R.I. McDonald, M. Heiner, J. Kiesecker, G. Davaa, C. Pague, M. Burnin, and E. Oidov. 2012. In Hilty, J.A., C. Chester, and M. Cross (eds). Climate and conservation: Landscape and seascape science, planning, and action, Island Press, Washington, DC.

Vaux, H. D. Balk, E. Cook, P. Gleick, W. Lau, M. Levy, E. Malone, R.I. McDonald, D. Shindell, L. Thompson, J. Wescoat, M. Williams, R. Matthew, M. Walser, L. Helsabeck, M. Majmundar, S. Freeland. 2012. Himalayan glaciers: Climate change, water resources, and water security. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

Christensen, J., R. McDonald, C. Denning. 2012. Ecological urbanism for the 21st century. Chronicles of Higher Education. January 22.

McDonald, R.I., J. Olden, J. Opperman, W. Miller, J. Fargione, C. Revenga, J. Higgins, J. Powell. 2012. Energy, Water and Fish: Biodiversity Impacts of Energy-Sector Water Demand in the United States Depend on Efficiency and Policy Measures. PLoS One 7(11): e50219.


McDonald, R.I. and P. Marcotullio. 2011. Global effects of urbanization on ecosystem services. In J. Niemelä (ed.). Handbook of Urban Ecology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

McDonald, R.I. 2011. The coming global urbanization: What it means for freshwater provision. Journal of the American Water Works Association. October: 20-21.

McDonald R.I., Green P., Balk D., Fekete B., Revenga C., Todd M. & Montgomery M. 2011. Urban growth, climate change, and freshwater availability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15):6312-6317. Media coverage: Agence France Presse, EFE, Xinhua, El Pais, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Scientific American.

McDonald, R.I., and T. Boucher. 2011. Global development and the future of the protected area strategy. Biological Conservation 144: 383-392.

McDonald, R. I., I. Douglas, N. B. Grimm, R. Hale, C. Revenga, J. Gronwall, and B. Fekete. 2011. Implications of fast urban growth for freshwater provision. Ambio 40:437-447.


Denning, C., R.I. McDonald, and J. Christensen. 2010. Did land protection in Silicon Valley reduce the housing stock? Biological Conservation 143:1087-1093.

McDonald, R.I., R.T.T. Forman, and P. Kareiva. 2010. Open space loss and land inequality in United States’ cities, 1990-2000. PLoS One 5(3):e9509.


McDonald, R.I. 2009. The promise and pitfalls of systematic conservation planning. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science 106(36): 15101-15102.

McDonald, R.I., J. Fargione, J. Kiesecker, W. Miller, and J. Powell. 2009. Energy sprawl or energy efficiency: climate policy impacts on natural habitat for the United States of America. PLoS One 4(8):e6802. Media coverage: New York Times, NPR, Bloomberg News. The term was picked up in the Congressional debate on climate change, and was the subject of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

McDonald, R. I., R. Forman, P. Kareiva, R. Neugarten, D. Salzer, and J. Fisher. 2009. Urban effects, distance, and protected areas in an urbanizing world. Landscape and Urban Planning 93:63-75.

McDonald, R. I. 2009. Ecosystem service demand and supply along the urban-to-rural gradient. Journal of Conservation Planning 5: 1-14.

McDonald, R.I. 2009. Ecopolis: architecture and cities for a changing climate (book review). Landscape Ecology 24(6): 849-850.

Robert McDonald

Senior Scientist, Urban Sustainability

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