Meet Our Water Leaders

Jonathan Higgins, Ph.D.

Jonathan Higgins, Ph.D.

Director of Conservation, Global Water Team

Jonathan Higgins has been involved in freshwater science and conservation for over 30 years. He currently supports The Nature Conservancy’s global water priorities, working with field programs and partners in developing and testing new conservation methods and tools; setting priorities for where and how to work; and monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of efforts at the individual site, basin and global levels.

Jonathan has provided significant support to the Laurentian Great Lakes basin and several large river basin projects, including China’s Yangtze, Colombia’s Magdalena, the United States’ Mississippi, and Gabon’s Ogooué rivers, and to Water Fund projects in North, Central and South America and Africa, in addition to national freshwater conservation and management efforts. 

Jonathan is active in panels, partnerships and educational opportunities that support research, development and implementation of freshwater conservation and management strategies, measures and monitoring approaches.

Before joining the Conservancy in 1995, he acted as the senior scientist and project manager for water quality and biological monitoring of Laurentian Great Lakes. There, he led a team of biologists and chemists in field surveys onboard The Lake Guardian research vessel, and was involved in developing new sampling and analysis methods.

Jonathan has provided technical assistance to over 70 regional conservation assessments across North, Central and South America, the Pacific islands and Asia. He has published numerous articles on ecosystem classification, conservation planning and water quality monitoring techniques and applications.  Jonathan holds a BA in biology from Grinnell College in Iowa and an MS in wetland plant ecology and PhD in population ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Illinois-Chicago.  He is an avid fly fisherman, gardener, cook, and jazz pianist, and authors the provocative Straight, No Chaser column in TNC’s Science Chronicles.

"I grew up fishing the waters of the Upper Midwest, and their beauty and bounty caught me. Ideas and opportunities abound to ensure that rivers and lakes sustain their magnificence and the wealth of services they provide to people. We have to work together to make that happen." - JONATHAN HIGGINS



Bremer, Leah L., Dan A. Auerbach, Joshua H. Goldstein, Adrian L. Vogl, Daniel Shemie, Timm Kroeger, Joanna L. Nelson, Silvia P. Benítez, Alejandro Calvache, João Guimarães, Colin Herron, Jonathan Higgins, Claudio Klemz, Jorge Leóne, Juan Sebastián Lozano, Pedro H. Moreno, Francisco Nuñez, Fernando Veiga, Gilberto Tiepolo. 2016. One size does not fit all: Natural infrastructure investments within the Latin American Water Funds Partnership. Ecosystem Services 17: 217–236

Juffe-Bignoli, D., Harrison, I., Butchart, S. HM., Flitcroft, R., Hermoso, V., Jonas, H., Lukasiewicz, A., Thieme, M., Turak, E., Bingham, H., Dalton, J., Darwall, W., Deguignet, M., Dudley, N., Gardner, R., Higgins, J., Kumar, R., Linke, S., Milton, G. R., Pittock, J., Smith, K. G., and van Soesbergen, A. (2016) Achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 to improve the performance of protected areas and conserve freshwater biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 26: 133–151. doi: 10.1002/aqc.2638.

Thieme, M. L., Sindorf, N., Higgins, J., Abell, R., Takats, J. A., Naidoo, R., and Barnett, A. (2016) Freshwater conservation potential of protected areas in the Tennessee and Cumberland River Basins, USA. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 26: 60–77. doi: 10.1002/aqc.2644


Martinuzzi, S., V. C. Radeloff, J. Higgins, D. Helmers, A. J. Plantinga, and D. J. Lewis. 2013. Key areas for conserving United States’ biodiversity likely threatened by future land use change. Ecosphere, 4(5):art58.

Higgins, J.V., and Zimmerling, A. (Eds.) 2013. A Primer for Monitoring Water Funds. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy.


McDonald RI, Olden JD, Opperman JJ, Miller WM, Fargione J, Higgins, J. et al. (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. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050219

Thieme, M.L., J. Rudulph, J. Higgins, and J.A. Takats. 2012. Protected areas and freshwater conservation: A survey of protected area managers in the Tennessee and Cumberland River basins, USA. Journal of Environmental Management.  109: 189–199.  Available at:

Groves, C.R., M.G. Anderson, M. Cross, C. Enquist, Z. Ferdana, M. Game, E. Girvetz, A. Condor, K. Hall, J. Higgins, R. Marshall, K. Popper, S. Schill, S. Shafer. 2012:
Incorporating Climate Change into Systematic Conservation Planning. Biodiversity and Conservation. DOI 10.1007/s10531-012-0269-3

Telles, P., P. Petry, T. Walshurger, J. Higgins, and C. Apse. 2012. Portafolio de Conservacion De Agua Dulce Para La Cuenca Del Rio Magdalena – Cauca. The Nature Conservancy and CorMagdalena 199 pp.


Konrad, C. P. A. Warner, and J. Higgins. 2011. Science for Sustainable Rivers: evaluating dam re-operations for freshwater conservation. River Research and Applications DOI:10.1002/rra.1524

Higgins, J. V.
, C. P. Konrad, A. Warner, and J. T. Hickey. 2011. A framework for monitoring, reporting and managing dam operations for environmental flows. Version 1.0.  SRP measures working group.


Kittel, T.G.F., B. B. Baker, J.V. Higgins, and J.C. Haney. 2010. Climate vulnerability of ecosystems and landscapes on Alaska’s North Slope.  Reg. Environ. Change.  DOI 10.1007/s10113-010-0180-y

Heiner, M., J.V. Higgins, X. Li and B. Baker.  2010.  Identifying freshwater conservation priorities in the Upper Yangtze River Basin.  Freshwater Biology.  DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2427.2010.02466.x

Khoury, M., J. Higgins, and R. Weitzell. 2010. A Freshwater Conservation Assessment of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Using a Coarse- and Fine-Filter Approach. Freshwater Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2427.2010.02468.x.


Farrell, T., Harrison, I., Allan, D., Braun, D., Emerton, L., Higgins, J., McIntyre, P., Revenga, C., Stassnny, M., Totten, M. 2009. Life depends on it: Fresh Water. Chapter 11, in: The Wealth of Nature: Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity, and Human Well Being.  Editors: J. A. McNeely, R. A. Mittermeier, T. M Brooks, F. Boliz, and N. Nash. CEMEX Conservation Series, ILCP Publishers, Arlington, VA, USA.  367 pp.

Higgins, J. V., and Catherine Duigan 2009. So much to do, so little time: identifying priorities for freshwater biodiversity conservation in the United States and Britain. In: Assessing the conservation value of fresh waters – an international perspective.   Editors: P.J Boon. & C.M. Pringle. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press. 293 pp.

Higgins, J.V. 2009.  The National Fish Habitat Action Plan: a partnership approach to protect and restore fish populations.  American Water Works Association, April, pp 20-22.


Jennings, M. D., J. V. Higgins, J. Hoekstra, and T. Boucher. 2008.  A Comparative Measure of Biodiversity based on Species Composition. Biodivers Conserv 17:833–840

Robin Abell, Michele L. Theime, Carmen Revenga, Mark Bryer, Maurice Kottelat, Nina Bogutskaya, Brian Coad, Nick Mandrak, Salvador Contreras Balderas, William Bussing, Melanie L. J. Stiassny, Paul Skelton, Gerals R. Allen, Peter Unmack, Alexander Naseka, Rebecca Ng, NikolaiI Sindorf, James Robertson, Eric Armijo, Jonathan V. Higgins, Thomas J. Heibel, Eric Wikramanayake, David Olson, Hugo L. Lopez, Roberto E. Reis, John G. Lundberg, Mark H. Sa baj Perez, and Paulo Petry 2008. Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Biogeographic Units for Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation. BioScience 58(5) 403-414

Michael Heiner, Li Xinhai1, Wu Ruidong, Jonathan Higgins. 2008. Putting biodiversity on the map – an overview of the China Biodiversity Conservation Blueprint Project.  Living Forests 14: 37-42.

Jeanne L. Nel, Dirk J. Roux, Robin Abell, Peter J. Ashton, Richard M. Cowling, Jonathan V. Higgins, Michele Thieme and Joshua H. Viers. 2008. Progress and challenges in freshwater conservation planning. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. Published online in Wiley InterScience (


Higgins, J.V., J. Touval, R. S. Unnasch, S Reichle, D. C Oren, W. R. Waldman, and J. M. Hoekstra. 2006. Who Needs to Spend Money on Conservation Science Anyway? Conservation Biology, 20(6) 1566-1567.

Higgins, J.V., and R. Esselman. eds. 2006. Ecoregional Assessment and Biodiversity Vision Toolbox. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.  This can be accessed at:


Silk, N. and K. Ciruna eds. D. Allan, R. Bjorkland, D. Braun, M. Bryer, R. Esselman, J. Higgins, M. Khoury, and C Pringle. 2005. A Practitioner's Guide to Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation. Washington, DC.: Island Press.
Madden, C.J., D. H. Grossman, and K. L. Goodman (J. V. Higgins, contributing author), 2005. Coastal and Marine Systems of North America: A framework for an ecological classification standard: Version II. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

Poff, N L, E H Stanley, C. M. Pringle, M Bowman, C Frissell, A Harig, J Higgins, R Abell, K Groves, J Ruch. 2005.  "Opportunities to incorporate science in freshwater conservation action and advocacy: the NABS-NGO dialogue".  Note in the Journal of the North American Benthological Society.

Higgins, J. V.
, M. Bryer, M. Lammert and T. FitzHugh. 2005 “A Freshwater Classification Approach for Biodiversity Conservation Planning”.   Conservation Biology 19(2) 432-445.


Higgins, J. V., T. Ricketts, J. D. Parrish, E. Dinerstein, G. Powell, S. Palminteri, J. M. Hoekstra, J. Morrison, A. Tomasek, and J. Adams. 2004. Beyond Noah: Saving Species is Not Enough.  Conservation Biology 18(6): 1672-1673.

Bryer, M., L. Pinder, J. Higgins, G. Freitas, et al. 2004. Classificacao dos Ecossistemas Aquaticos do Pantanal e da Bacia do Alto Paraguai.  The Nature Conservancy, Brasilia, Brazil.


Higgins, J. V. Maintaining the Ebbs and Flows of the Landscape – Conservation Planning for Freshwater Ecosystems.  Chapter in: Groves, C. R. and contributors. 2003. Drafting a Conservation Blueprint: a Practitioner's Guide to Regional Planning for Biodiversity. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.


Groves, C. R., D. B. Jensen, L. L. Valutis, K. H. Redford, M. L. Shafer, J. M. Scott, J. V. Baumgartner, J. V. Higgins, M. W. Beck and M. G. Anderson. 2002. Planning for Biodiversity Conservation: Putting Conservation Science into Practice. BioScience 52(6) 499-512.

Jonathan Higgins, Ph.D.

Director of Conservation, Global Water Team