UNSW scientist wins international conservation award

Professor David Keith has been recognised for demonstrating environmental leadership in ecosystem management.

Renowned UNSW ecologist Professor David Keith has been awarded the prestigious Luc Hoffmann Award by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for Excellence in Ecosystem Management.

The award is granted to individuals that demonstrate initiative and environmental leadership within their communities. Prof. Keith was announced as the recipient at the recent World Conservation Congress in Marseilles by the Chair of IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management, Dr Angela Andrade.

Prof. Keith is one of Australia’s leading ecosystem scientists and is widely recognised for contributions to biodiversity risk assessment and new approaches to ecosystem management. He holds a joint appointment with the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW Science and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

“My career is dedicated to innovative science for public good, particularly the conservation of nature and its contribution to human wellbeing,” he said. “Working at the interface of government and academia has provided a unique opportunity to integrate scientific advances into public policy in NSW and beyond.

“I am honoured to receive this award, which recognises not only the science, but its outcomes in ecosystem management, along with the contributions of valued colleagues and co-workers.”

Prof. Keith serves on the National Threatened Species Scientific Committee and the Steering Committee of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems program.

His research includes producing the first global overview of risks to the world’s ecosystems, dependent plants and animals, and the services they provide to sustain societies and economies. The results will help pinpoint ecosystems at greatest risk and reveal the most effective ways to mitigate the underlying causes of the threats.

“My research aims to advance understanding of the causes of change in species populations and ecosystems to inform the conservation and management of biodiversity,” Prof. Keith said.

“Within Australia, my work focuses on the dynamics and management of forest, wetland, alpine and arid ecosystems, bushfire ecology and native vegetation science”.

Many ecosystems face severe pressures from land use change, invasive species, altered fire regimes and climate change.

“People need nature. Conservation of ecosystems is essential not only for survival of all the species that live in them, but for human wellbeing and prosperity,” Prof. Keith said.

“Awareness of this axiom came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, when visitation to many national parks more than doubled as people sought to maintain their physical, social and mental health.

“Understanding the relative risks to different ecosystems and their underlying causes is vital for smart management strategies that will sustain ecosystems, their biodiversity and human societies into the future,” he said.

UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston said the award is thoroughly deserved.

“This award speaks to how Prof. Keith’s work is aiding global conservation efforts from the tops of mountains to the bottom of the ocean,” she said. “We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis that threatens our collective future. Prof Keith and his colleagues have produced a world-first framework for identifying ecosystems that are most in need of protection and restoration.”

“I’m incredibly proud that his work has been recognised with one of the highest honours bestowed on an expert in his field.”

IUCN is a membership union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1400 member organisations and the input of more than 18,000 experts.

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