April 19, 2012 - "Evolution and Biodiversity Conservation: The Importance of Preserving Environmental Gradients in a Changing World" with Thomas B. Smith, Director of the Center for Tropical Research; Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLADr. Thomas Smith is founder and Director of the Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (formerly Institute of the Environment), and is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. He has more than 25 years of experience working in the rainforests of Africa, Australia, Latin America, and Hawaii. Dr. Smith oversees a host of research projects and directs the research of a large number of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers on projects based in tropical countries worldwide. A central focus of his research investigates how biodiversity is generated and maintained in tropical rainforests. Combining molecular genetics and field biology, he identified a new theory of how speciation occurs in rainforests. In a series of recent studies, he has shown that for a wide range of taxa in rainforests worldwide, the processes of diversification and speciation take place not only within "biodiversity hotspots" but also along environmental gradients or ecotones representing the transition from one habitat to another. The results of Dr. Smith's research point to new and more effective ways of prioritizing regions for conservation. In recent years his research has also focused on studying evolution in human-altered environments, the ecology of disease, and developing new approaches for mapping adaptive variation in species to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Dr. Smith is a frequent consultant for conservation organizations. Working with the World Bank and international conservation organizations, he has helped implement conservation programs and establish new national parks in tropical countries. His research has been featured around the world in print, on the radio, and in film. Over the years, his research has been supported by major research grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Smith holds a B.S. in Natural Sciences and an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California, Berkeley. He has received more than a dozen academic honors for his research, including being a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the American Ornithologists' Union, and he was a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar. He is currently a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.