The National Geographic Society has awarded its most prestigious honor, the 2022 Hubbard Medal, to the late Thomas Lovejoy, in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to conservation biology and, specifically, to the understanding and protection of the Amazon rainforest.
Lovejoy, a beloved George Mason University professor and one of the world’s leading conservation biologists, died December 25, 2021. He was 80 years old.
The Hubbard Medal recognizes individuals for the highest distinction in exploration, scientific research, and discovery. The award most often celebrates years of ground-breaking achievements in a particular field or discipline.
“We are so very grateful to receive this recognition on behalf of our father in support of his life’s work,” Lovejoy's daughters Betsy, Kata, and Annie said. “Papa had tireless energy, coupled with a profound sense of hope that we, humankind, could solve the most challenging environmental issues and preserve our planet for the future. He would have been humbled, in truth, to receive the Hubbard Medal, and we too, are deeply humbled to accept this award on his behalf.”
Lovejoy, who began his work in the Amazon in 1965, is best known for helping popularize the term “biological diversity” and for his research on the interaction between climate change and biodiversity. A National Geographic Explorer at Large, he used his field research and expertise to bring much needed attention to the fragile state of our environment and advocate for conservation efforts.
One such example was Lovejoy’s leadership as a co-author of the 2019 study that led to the development of the Tropical Forest Vulnerability Index, which will help policy makers plan for conservation and restoration of the world’s tropical rainforests to avoid tipping points. He also served as a mentor to many individuals and an advisor to organizations, including the National Geographic Society.
“Tom was a passionate champion for biodiversity and his unwavering dedication to the conservation of the Amazon made an undeniable impact on all those he worked with, the field of conservation biology, and our planet. I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for this year’s Hubbard Medal,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the society’s CEO.
The Amazon Rainforest, which encompasses eight countries, is home to more than 40 million people and one in 10 of the planet’s known species. The water of the Amazon, from the Andes to the Atlantic, and everywhere in between is the lifeblood of the planet. However, repeated and increased degradation such as deforestation, poaching, commercial agriculture, and climate change decreases the Amazon’s ability to adequately provide these critical ecosystem services for the planet.
Lovejoy will be honored during the National Geographic Explorers Festival in June. Other Hubbard Medal awardees have included astronaut John Glenn, marine archaeologist Bob Ballard, primatologist Jane Goodall, and mathematician Katherine Johnson.