In less than half a century, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined to less than half their size. One in five of the plant species on earth is currently threatened with extinction in the wild, putting supplies of food and medicines at risk. And some scientists believe a sixth mass extinction event is underway on Earth, triggering the largest loss of species since an asteroid slammed into the planet 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and many other species.
If the statistics sound dire, that’s because they are. The situation is urgent and scientists say there’s no time to lose if they are going to try to reverse the cycle of loss and save Earth’s remaining species.
With this imperative in mind, internationally renowned biologist Jonathan Losos is coming from Harvard University to Washington University in St. Louis to lead the newly created Living Earth Collaborative. In establishing the collaborative, the university is joining forces with two of the nation’s leading institutions in the study and preservation of plants and animals — the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo — to create a new academic center dedicated to advancing the study of biodiversity to help ensure the future of Earth’s species in their many forms.
“The plight of our planet’s species is quite literally a matter of life and death,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “It is incumbent on research institutions like ours to step up and find ways to undo the damage that has already been done and work toward solutions to preserve against future loss. By bringing together these three world-class entities, the Living Earth Collaborative will harness the power of some of the top minds in the field of biodiversity to tackle our biggest global challenges, and place St. Louis at the forefront of this critical research endeavor.”
Beginning in January, the Living Earth Collaborative will be headquartered at Washington University under the direction of Losos, who will rejoin the Arts & Sciences faculty at Washington University in the new year as the inaugural holder of the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professorship, established last year by the university in honor of Danforth, the former chancellor, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. An internationally renowned scholar in the field of evolutionary biology, Losos is returning to Washington University, where he has deep roots and a long history, including as a member of the faculty from 1992-2006. He currently serves as the Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, and curator in herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His study of the behavioral and evolutionary ecology of lizards has taken him around the globe and firmly established his position as a leading international expert on the biodiversity of species.
Losos will be a prominent addition to an already strong cadre of biodiversity scientists in biology, anthropology and other fields across Washington University, which long has been recognized as a leader in the field, with honors including a No. 1 ranking alongside Princeton University in the National Research Council’s 2009 survey of doctoral programs in ecology and evolutionary biology.
“To have one of the most highly regarded researchers in the field of biodiversity joining the Washington University faculty is cause for great celebration,” said Barbara Schaal, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor at Washington University. “Jonathan Losos has dedicated his life and career to the study of living creatures, and we all should be grateful for his passion for preserving the world’s species and creating a better place for all of us to live. We are delighted to welcome him to Washington University.”