Jennifer McGowan has joined the WildArk team as our Scientist in Residence. Hailing from Southern California, Jennifer holds a Bachelors degree in Environmental Studies from the University of California, a Masters of Geography/Natural Resource Management from San Francisco State University and is currently completing her PhD in Conservation Science with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at University of Queensland.

We caught up with Jennifer to learn a little more about her background and her involvement with WildArk.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Since I was a child, I have always been distressingly aware of environmental issues, but never knew how to harness my concerns to create positive change. When I was growing up, conservation wasn’t something you could make a career out of, but thankfully, that has changed. I took the long road to get here and am happy for that. It allowed me the time and space I needed to find something I truly love. I let myself get distracted in my 20s, travelled and worked odd jobs before I went back to school.

Ultimately, I ended up moving from California to Australia to pursue my PhD. I have been fortunate to work and study under the mentorship of remarkable people. I rekindle my love for nature daily and continue to meet inspiring people who, like me, are driven to find creative ways to protect the world’s biodiversity.

What have been the focus areas of your research?

My roots are in geography, which I was drawn to for its interdisciplinary nature. Having a mixed-bag of skills enabled me to embrace my current research — decision science for conservation. Decision science draws from geography, ecology, mathematics, economics and the social sciences to address conservation challenges. I have a very applied focus, and by that I mean that I often work collaboratively with governments, NGO’s and universities around the world to establish protected areas on the land and sea. I also help develop tools that assist with prioritising conservation efforts in space and time.

What are you responsible for at WildArk?

I am working with WildArk to develop the scientific strategy behind the WildArk 100— an ambitious global project built on the idea that if we can protect, manage or restore the ranges of 100 species, the rest of the world’s biodiversity will also benefit. Identifying just 100 species out of the 40,000 or so vertebrates in the world is no small feat, but it is my job to understand and integrate the characteristics of these species, the places they live and the objectives of the project to prioritise the WildArk 100 for conservation investments in the future.

Why do you think the WildArk 100 is relevant in the world of conservation science?

The last of the wild places on earth are in jeopardy, our protected areas are largely underfunded and its projected that in a few hundred years we will have wiped out half the species on the planet. We need myriad approaches to address the global conservation crisis and WildArk’s pragmatic approach to conservation comes at a crucial time. The WildArk 100 is a strategic planning project with an extraordinary vision. By ensuring a robust scientific approach, this project is a one of its kind example of forward thinking conservationists working with modern decision scientists to deliver impactful conservation. My hope is that we can develop a model that will set the precedent for new environmental ethos and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Learn more about WildArk 100 project.