NatureNet Science Fellows Program

Meet the Class of 2018

Now in its sixth year, the NatureNet Science Fellows program — in partnership with leading research universities — has awarded two-year fellowships to 40 promising early career scientists. Fellows are integrating the Conservancy’s broad and longstanding scientific capacity in biology and ecology with engineering, materials science, nanotechnology, geography, economics, chemistry and physics. They are then challenged to develop an applied research program, with concrete and practical conservation implications. To do this, Fellows are taking creative and innovative approaches to problem solving and pursuing unconventional collaborations to enhance research and effect change. The NatureNet program then supports these efforts with professional development trainings in science communication, facilitation, and leadership to magnify the impact of each Fellow’s work.

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 2018 NatureNet Fellows and their Projects

Robert Higgins (University of Pennsylvania)- Novel separations of rare earths
TNC Mentors: Timm Kroeger, Global Science and Martha Rogers, Center for Sustainability Science
University Mentors: Eric Schelter
Rare earth ions are used for technologies from data storage to wind turbines; unfortunately, purification of these ions from one another is a difficult and environmentally taxing process that requires multiple iterations. To address these challenges, Robert is investigating new methods to separate rare earths from waste materials and minerals in an environmentally friendly, single step process using their intrinsic magnetic properties.

Jacqueline N. Kariithi (Princeton University)- Promoting sustainable intensification of agriculture

TNC Mentor: Felix Kamau, Africa Program
University Mentor: Daniel Rubenstein
Jacqueline's research will examine the ‘yield to cost’ outputs from growing cereal crops in the Mt Elgon region of Kenya by comparing traditional methods for increasing agricultural production verses sustainable and climate resilient methods. The ultimate goal is to produce evidence that can assist local farming communities in identifying sustainable production methods that result in increased productivity and improved livelihoods.

Megan Kelso (University of California- Los Angeles )- Mitigating climate change and improving food security

TNC Mentors: Edward Game, Global Science and Heather Tallis, Global Science
University Mentors: Miriam Marlier, Kyle Cavanaugh, and Daniela Cusack
Megan studies Indonesian mangroves, which are stunningly diverse coastal wetland forests that support critical fisheries and store carbon more effectively than almost any other ecosystem. Her research quantifies how mangrove conservation would impact local food security and carbon storage by comparing the benefits from mangroves to those from shrimp aquaculture ponds, the main alternative land use driving loss of mangroves in Indonesia.

Collin Phillips (Northwestern University)- Impacts of climate and hydropower development on river flow
TNC Mentors: Hector Angarita, Northern Andes and South-Central America Conservation Programs
University Mentors: Aaron Packman and Chris Paola
Large increases in river hydropower are projected for future energy needs and these low-carbon energy sources represent important components of climate change mitigation strategies, however the installation of dams can result in significant negative impacts on river ecosystems. Phillips will explore how rivers within the Magdalena River basin, a complex and critical natural resource in Columbia, route water, sediment, and nutrients to provide a general framework for minimizing the impacts of hydropower development and climate change on river ecosystems.

Diana Rypkema (Cornell University)- Coping with extreme climate in conservation planning
TNC Mentors: Tracy Baker, Africa Program
University Mentors: Suresh Sethi and Patrick Sullivan
Rypkema will work with the Africa Program to assess regional risks to human well-being and biodiversity posed by climate change, evaluating possible management strategies and regional development scenarios to meet stakeholder goals while supporting both human and environmental needs.

Danica Schaffer-Smith (Arizona State University)- Adapting to climate change in intensified agricultural watersheds
TNC Mentors: Julie DeMeester, North Carolina Chapter
University Mentors: Soe Myint and Rebecca Muenich
Danica’s research investigates the nutrient pollution risk associated with intensified agriculture, such as concentrated animal feeding operations, under ongoing climate change related events like increased flooding and hurricanes. She also considers where nature-based land and water management interventions should be implemented to most effectively improve water quality and prevent flooding.


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