Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Biodiversity Synthesis Center
The 2011 Parker Gentry awardee is Dr. Les Kaufman of Boston University. An innovator in conservation biology for over 20 years, Les has worked in a variety of environments from African Great Lakes to New England, to the South Pacific. In each of these areas he has worked tirelessly to ensure that the science he and his students produce is effectively translated into conservation action. In addition to his empirical research, and conservation planning, Les has influenced a generation of conservation practitioners and scientists through his mentoring and teaching activities. Les began his career researching the fundamental ecology of coral reefs. During his dissertation research, he bore witness to the phase shifts in Jamaican coral reefs, - a lesson about the fragility of ecosystems that would stick with him throughout the rest of his work. After his Ph.D. his interests in ecology and evolution brought him to study the cichlids and other fishes of Lake Victoria. Through extensive field work on the lake and up in the watershed Les revealed how the region’s amazing biodiversity was under threat from a variety of anthropogenic sources. He then spearheaded a decade-long, multi-faceted conservation plan, which drew together expertise in limnology, fisheries, genetics, food security and economics. He also led the Lake Victoria Research Team, which brought the plight of the Lake Victorian fishes, and the people whose livelihoods depended on them, to the attention of the world. Les also founded the first formal international captive breeding programs for endangered fishes including the flagship effort for Lake Victoria cichlids. Collectively, these efforts were instrumental in helping to procure a $77 million grant from the GEF to fund limnological and fisheries restoration in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Along the way, Les helped train a new generation of East African aquatic conservation scientists (now established as leaders in the region) and highlighted one of the finest cases of the complex linkages between biodiversity and human welfare.
Les also has fought biodiversity loss linked to a decrease in human welfare in his home waters. New England’s fisheries were at a nadir in the 1990s when Les began work with a variety of stakeholders including lawyers, fishermen, state and town councils and fisheries biologists to develop new management approaches that would allow for the culturally significant, and economically important New England fisheries to survive. Les extended his reach to California, where he co-led development of the first ecosystem-based multispecies fishery management plan. Today Les’ research is focused on the linkage between aquatic biodiversity and the flow of the ecosystem services on which human well-being depends. He remains an active field researcher, but now also leads efforts in ecosystem service modeling, visualization, and decision analysis.