NatureNet Science Fellows Program

Meet the Class of 2016

The Conservancy’s fourth cohort of NatureNet Science Fellows includes 8 promising, early career scientists whose work addresses the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. Each Fellow’s project is focused on a specific aspect related to mitigating or adapting to climate change, from clean energy technologies, to developing new science for carbon storage and climate-smart agriculture.

“The Conservancy leads in science for problem-solving,” says Heather Tallis, the Conservancy’s acting chief scientist. “The NatureNet Science Fellows, with their emphasis on combining rigorous science with applied questions in the field, help the Conservancy amplify its work. They give us the chance to field test new solutions in fields well beyond those we can work in alone.”

Representing many of the world’s premier universities, the Fellows in the 2016 cohort are working from Africa to North America, coral reefs to tropical forests, and from laboratories to farm fields on projects to:

  • Develop a simple, inexpensive and environmentally friendly methodology for recycling the rare earth metals that are vital to renewable and clean energy technologies;
  • Mitigate climate change by developing cost-effective ways to manage secondary forest succession to increase long-term carbon storage capacity by as much as 50 percent;
  • Develop a crop redistribution framework that optimizes ‘climate-smart’ agriculture by simultaneously maximizing food production and minimizing water use for irrigation.

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to the Conservancy’s mission, and to humanity,” says Roy Vagelos, a founding funder of the NatureNet Science Fellows program, a member of the Conservancy’s global board of directors, and a former president, CEO and chairman of Merck & Co.

“By design, the NatureNet Science Fellows program incorporates many disciplines – engineering, materials science, nanotechnology and physics – that have traditionally been outside the world of conservation science. This program is where the Conservancy partners with leading universities to incubate, experiment and develop the practical science the world needs to address the challenges of climate change.”

The 2016 NatureNet Science Fellows and their Projects:

Kyle Davis (Columbia University)
To increase the resilience of farmers and food production to climate change, Davis is developing a crop redistribution framework that optimizes agriculture based on the dual criteria of maximizing production (tons, calories or protein) while minimizing irrigation water use. The framework also incorporates measures to ensure new crop distributions remain economically viable for farmers.

Huayi Fang (University of Pennsylvania)
Fang is developing a simple, inexpensive and environmentally friendly methodology for recycling rare earth metals. The goal of his work is to stabilize and provide a sustainable supply chain for the rare earth materials that are critically important to the technologies used in the clean energy industry, including wind turbines, solar cells, batteries and electric motors.

Kelly Gravuer (Arizona State University)

Gravuer seeks to bolster participation in, and the effectiveness of, California’s cropland and rangeland climate mitigation programs by analyzing both the ecological effects of climate mitigation practices and the social factors that either promote or limit their adoption by working land managers, like farmers and ranchers.

Marc Mayes (Princeton University)
Mayes will help communities in semi-arid landscapes around the world adapt to climate change by using high-resolution remote sensing technologies (including UAVs) to assess and model how different land uses and a changing climate affect ecosystem services, including carbon storage, water supply and nutrient cycles.

Anna Sugiyama (Yale University)
Sugiyama seeks to mitigate climate change by developing a cost-effective methodology to manage secondary tropical forest succession that could increase long-term carbon storage capacity by as much as 50 percent. Her work explores if and how planting native trees that have both high wood density and low vulnerability to changing climate conditions can be balanced and optimized for cost, carbon sequestration and ecological function.

Daniel Swain (University of California-Los Angeles)
Swain uses sophisticated computer models to characterize climate change-driven precipitation extremes (drought and flood) and provide actionable, science-based insights for decision-makers who are responsible for adapting to regional changes in climate already underway.

Shannan Sweet (Cornell University)
Sweet uses technologies, including geospatial analysis and spectral image processing, to help farmers adapt to climate change by developing and incentivizing the adoption of “climate-smart” agricultural practices.

Kira Sullivan-Wiley (Brown University)
Sullivan-Wiley examines the indirect social and ecological consequences of Payment for Ecosystems Services programs to enable more thorough evaluation and quantification of the ways these programs (like Water Funds) can contribute most effectively to conservation and climate change mitigation.

The Conservancy’s NatureNet Science Fellows Program is made possible by the leadership and generosity of visionary donors, including Roy Vagelos and Steve Denning, who believe that conservation needs to base its work not just in ecology and biology, but in an interdisciplinary approach to science and evidence.

The NatureNet Science Fellows program is an investment in the Conservancy’s future relevance and effectiveness. The projects undertaken by the Fellows are where the organization is making some of its most important breakthroughs in climate change science with direct application across all of the Conservancy’s global priorities: lands, water, oceans and cities.

The materials science and engineering work of the Fellows is at the cutting edge of the foundational science the world needs for alternative energy, climate change adaptation, and clean water technologies.

Fellows working in sustainable agriculture, and soil and forest management for carbon sequestration are having and will continue to have profound effects far beyond The Nature Conservancy, from influencing national agriculture policy in the United States in favor of preserving habitats around farm fields to measuring the capacity of different soils to hold carbon.