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Thomas B. Smith

Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Department: Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Keywords: Africa, Latin America, Environment, Ecuador

Thomas Smith is founding director of the Center for Tropical Research, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (formerly Institute of the Environment), and is a professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. He has more than 30 years of experience working in the rainforests of Africa, Australia, Latin America, and Hawaii. Prior to his retirement, Professor Smith oversaw a host of research projects and directed 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 has investigated 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 studies, he showed 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 Smith’s research point to new and more effective ways of prioritizing regions for conservation. 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.

Smith has been a frequent consultant for conservation organizations. Working with the World Bank and international conservation organizations, he 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.

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 has also served as a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.