Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Juan Armesto receives the Distinguished Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America

Immersed in the forests of central Chile and in the humid recesses of the Chiloé jungle, the UC academic and researcher and co-founder of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, Juan Armesto, found living inspiration to develop his scientific career and numerous contributions to society and to knowledge.
His studies on our biodiversity and ecosystems, the promotion of conservation, the creation of national and international research networks, and his commitment to environmental education for decades, are just some examples of the extensive career of Professor UC Juan Armesto. IEB photo

His studies about our biodiversity and ecosystems, the promotion of conservation, the creation of national and international research networks, and his commitment to environmental education for decades, are just some examples of the vast career of the also president of the Senda Foundation. Darwin , who was selected to receive the Robert H. Whittaker Distinguished Ecologist Award, from the Ecological Society of America (ESA), this year 2021.

This international recognition is given to ecologists who have made outstanding contributions to the discipline, through their discoveries, and / or their work in education, sustainability, fostering diversity, and commitment and passion for the profession.

“This year’s award winners have demonstrated remarkable leadership and creativity,” said Kathleen Weathers, ESA President. “On behalf of the Ecological Society of America, I congratulate the winners and thank them for their significant contributions to building both ecological awareness and the community of ecologists and ecologists,” she added during the announcement.

The ESA Whittaker Prize only recognizes a researcher who is not a citizen or resident of the United States, recognition that just went to Professor Juan Armesto, an academic at the Catholic University of Chile.

“I am very honored and excited to receive this award from the Ecological Society of America. It is very relevant to obtain recognition from our peers and to know that they appreciate the work we have developed around science and knowledge of the Chilean forests. But also, I believe that this is an award for the trajectory in the development of long-term ecological research, through institutions such as the IEB and Red LTSER-Chile , where we have contributed to the study of major environmental problems, and to the challenge of preserving biodiversity in the context of climate and global change. In all these tasks, many scientists are contributing to help mitigate the impacts ”, commented Juan Armesto.

“It is very relevant to obtain recognition from our peers and to know that they appreciate the work we have developed around science and knowledge of the Chilean forests” -Juan Armesto, UC academic

The IEB researcher also indicated that all this work has been possible thanks to the existence of national and international networks, with which it has been possible to address the problems from both a local and global perspective.

The encounter with the forest
It was not precisely in childhood that Juan Armesto made contact with the green scenes that have inspired him so much. His school stage was lived in Iquique, but already at that time he felt a great closeness to biology. It was only during his undergraduate studies at the University of Chile that a notable interest in ecology and forests was awakened in him. In those years too, he received the inspiration of professors such as Eduardo Fuentes, Claudio Donoso and Humberto Maturana, and that of his peers, among whom was Julio Gutiérrez, a researcher at the IEB.

“My first studies on forests were in central Chile, exploring the sclerophyllous forest. We were young and there was no budget, so the closest thing was to investigate these fantastic coastal ecosystems, in places like Zapallar. My arrival in the forests of Chiloé was much later, after I completed my doctorate in the United States, studying plant succession. I remember that in the 80s it was when I first entered a Chiloé forest and that was really wonderful. Since I set foot there, the inspiration was alive ”, recalls the researcher.

“My first studies on forests were in central Chile, exploring the sclerophyllous forest. We were young and there was no budget, so the closest thing was to investigate these fantastic coastal ecosystems, in places like Zapallar. My arrival in the Chiloé forests was much later, after I completed my doctorate in the United States, studying plant succession “- Juan Armesto, UC and IEB academic.

During all these years, Juan Armesto has not only explored the corners of our rain forests, deserts and mountains of Chile. He has also contributed enormously to the creation of various entities: he was founder of the Biogeochemistry Laboratory of the Catholic University of Chile , co-founder of the Chilean Network for long-term socio-ecological studies (LTSER-Network Chile) , and of the Senda Biological Station and Foundation. Darwin , and as co-founder of the IEB.

His contributions to the teaching and dissemination of science have also been notable, being one of the first to bring environmental research and education to the Island of Chiloé. For more than 20 years he worked with local schools and provided training to landowners, government officials, park rangers and foresters interested in conservation, governance of local watersheds, management and resolution of environmental problems in rural communities.

His work has also allowed to deliver evidence and contributions to decision makers, working closely with the Ministry of the Environment to report on monitoring and management of the Biosphere Reserves of Chile , thereby seeking to advance government regulation, legislation environment and assessment of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The academic from the UC and the University of Concepción has written numerous scientific articles that, together, have more than 15,000 citations in the fields of ecology, conservation, forestry, biogeochemistry, ecosystem science, social sciences, education, politics and more. He has also participated in the creation of books on ecology, both academic and aimed at the general public. The latter, considering one of its great premises: “that ecology must reach the heart of society.”


The task ahead
What challenges does ecology face today in the current context of the degradation of our planet, a health crisis and other environmental problems that afflict us? What is left to do?

“If ecologists can contribute something, it is to help raise awareness of what we have done so far, and change the way we see the world, to move forward through a more comprehensive development” – Juan Armesto, UC academic and Senda Darwin Foundation

Juan Armesto believes that the task ahead is arduous and that we need to regain balance and vital interaction with nature, our great home. “Nobody wants their children to grow up in a polluted and degraded world. We all want to be in a beautiful, green environment, with hummingbirds, butterflies and other animals interacting. However, what we have done is destroy those links and we must rediscover how to link with the world beyond our species. That is why, if ecologists can contribute something, it is to help raise awareness of what we have done so far, and change the way of seeing the world, to move forward through a more comprehensive development. Without a doubt, we must recognize our ability to destroy or change landscapes,

The IEB scientist also points out that it is urgent to work for equitable access to nature and knowledge about it. “We are trying to ensure that ecology reaches everyone, so that the entire society can have a part of its heart there. The world really needs it ”, he concludes.

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