Why Biodiversity Matters: Science and Society in Brazil


Friday, October 15, 2021, 3:00pm to 5:00pm

This event is virtual, to register click here.

Introduction and Moderation: Scott V. Edwards, Professor, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Curator of Ornithology, Museum of Comparative Zoology

Speakers: Naomi E. Pierce, Professor, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Lepidoptera, Museum of Comparative Zoology; Wendy Valencia-Montoya, Graduate Student, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; Bruno de Medeiros, Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama; Weber A. N. Amaral, Professor, Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Quieroz, University de São Paulo; Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, Chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, HSPH; Chair, Brazil Studies Program

As a part of Harvard Worldwide Week 2021, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Brazil Office, Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Evolutionary and Organismic Biology kicked off a three-part series of discussions on "Why Biodiversity Matters". This series aims to showcase the breadth of cutting-edge research related to biodiversity in Brazil being conducted by Harvard researchers and Brazilian colleagues as well as to promote broader discussions around the importance of studying and preserving biodiversity from scientific and societal perspectives. Part 2, "Why Biodiversity Matters: Science and Society in Brazil", will focus on how understanding Biodiversity can contribute to our ability to use bioinspired designs offering climate change solutions, such as more efficient energy use, harnessing of ecosystem services, management of potential insect pests and invasive species, and identification of zoonotic reserviors that potentially harbor disease.

Scott V. Edwards is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He studies the evolutionary biology of birds and relatives, combining field, museum and genomics approaches to understand the basis of avian diversity, evolution and behavior. His guiding approaches include population genetics, phylogeography and genome evolution.  He is the lead PI on a NSF-funded Dimensions of Biodiversity project focusing on the biodiversity of the Dry Diagonal in Brazil.

Naomi E. Pierce is the Hessel Professor of Biology at Harvard University and Curator of Lepidoptera in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. She specializes in the ecology and evolution of species interactions, ranging from symbioses between ants and other organisms, to genetic analyses of biochemical signaling pathways underlying interactions between plants, pathogens and insects.  Her lab has used molecular phylogenies and genomic techniques to analyze the evolution of social behavior in bees and ants, pollination and phytophagy in insects, and sexual selection, signaling and perception in moths and butterflies.  As part of her work in the MCZ, she has been involved in surveying insect biodiversity and natural history on the savannas of Australia, South America and East Africa and in the forests of Southeast Asia. 

Wendy Valencia-Montoya is a third year graduate student in Naomi Pierce's lab in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.   Her doctoral thesis investigates the ability of nocturnal pollinators to perceive and use visual and thermal cues from their host plants.  She is also looking at sexual selection and the evolution of the visual system of lycaenid butterflies in the Eumaeini— the "birds of paradise" of the butterfly world. Wendy did her undergraduate degree at CES University in Medellín, Colombia, where she carried out a detailed study of "push-pull" pollination in Zamia, a New World genus of cycads.  By careful field observations, she identified the specialized weevils that visit these cycads, as well as the unusual thermal biology of the plants that encourages the male weevils to visit first the male plants where they feed on pollen that covers their bodies, and then move to the female plants where they achieve pollination.  Wendy carried out a Masters thesis in Cambridge University on a genomic analysis of the hybridization and the potential spread of an invasive African‘mega-pest’ moth species throughout Brazil and the New World.  This research showed how hybridization can contribute to the ability to evolve resistance to pesticides and contribute to the success of these invasive species.

Bruno de Medeiros is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where he is studying the pollination system of palms that have coevolved with specialized insects that both pollinate and harm these plants.  He was an undergraduate at the University of São Paulo, where he also did a Masters degree in which he started studying palm pollinators. Bruno did his doctoral thesis in OEB at Harvard in Brian Farrell's laboratory, where he studied the evolution of beetle pollinators using Brazilian biodiversity. He has recently accepted a position as Curator of Pollination Biology at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Weber A. N. Amaral is a Professor at the University of São Paulo, ESALQ, Brazil. A Brazilian national, obtained his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Harvard University. He also holds a Master of Sciences and Forestry Engineering degree from the University of Sao Paulo (ESALQ - USP), Brazil. His research and professional interests are in technological innovations associated with circular biobased economy, biodiversity, sustainable development. He is the founder and former the CEO of the Brazilian Center for Biofuels. From 2000 until 2005, he was a Senior Scientist at the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, IPGRI, CGIAR, World Bank Group, based in Rome, coordinating the Global Forest and Biodiversity Resources Program. Weber also worked for UNCTAD on its Biotrade Programme on the regional assessment for Latin America about its potential for implementing a biotrade initiative. During the last twenty years, he had been involved in several projects in Brazil, Latin America and Asia on policy related aspects of sustainable development and bioeconomy.

Marcia Castro is Andelot Professor of Demography and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, associate faculty of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and faculty member of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Her research focuses on the development and use of multidisciplinary approaches, combining data from different sources, to identify the determinants of malaria transmission in different ecological settings, and to provide evidence for the improvement of current control policies, and the development of new ones. She has more than 20 years of research experience in the Brazilian Amazon, and is assessing the role of extreme weather events on malaria. She has projects on dengue, Zika virus, chikungunya, tuberculosis, congenital syphilis, and infant and child mortality and development. Professor Castro received the 2018 Roger L. Nichols Award for Excellence in Teaching. She earned her doctoral degree in Demography from Princeton University.

Presented in collaboration with Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology