Three local institutions are coming together to position St. Louis at the forefront of research and preservation of plants and animals in an effort to help ensure the future of Earth’s species.

Washington University in St. Louis, in collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo, will work together under the newly created Living Earth Collaborative, a new academic center on campus dedicated to advancing the study of biodiversity to help ensure the future of Earth’s species in their many forms.

Studies show that in less than half a century, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined to less than half their size. One in five of the plant species on earth is currently threatened with extinction in the wild, putting supplies of food and medicines at risk. And some scientists believe a sixth mass extinction event is underway on Earth, triggering the largest loss of species since an asteroid slammed into the planet 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and many other species.

If the statistics sound dire, that’s because they are. The situation is urgent and scientists say there’s no time to lose.

With this imperative in mind, internationally renowned biologist (and native St. Louisan) Jonathan Losos is coming from Harvard University to Washington University to lead the effort. Losos will rejoin the Arts & Sciences faculty at Washington University in the new year as the inaugural holder of the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professorship, established last year in honor of Danforth, the former chancellor, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. An internationally renowned scholar in the field of evolutionary biology, Losos is returning to the university, where he has deep roots and a long history, including as a member of the faculty from 1992 to 2006. He currently serves as the Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, and curator in herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His study of the behavioral and evolutionary ecology of lizards has taken him around the globe and firmly established his position as a leading international expert on the biodiversity of species.

Jonathan Losos

Losos will be a prominent addition to an already strong cadre of biodiversity scientists in biology, anthropology and other fields across Washington University, which long has been recognized as a leader in the field, with honors including a No. 1 ranking alongside Princeton University in the National Research Council’s 2009 survey of doctoral programs in ecology and evolutionary biology.

“The opportunity to join the already fabulous group of biodiversity researchers at Washington University, and to partner with St. Louis’ internationally recognized zoo and botanical garden was simply too good to pass up,” Losos said. “As a native St. Louisan, I am delighted to return to where my love of nature and science first blossomed, and where the important work of furthering our knowledge of biodiversity and preservation has always been a priority. With the creation of the Living Earth Collaborative, three leading institutions will join forces, wedding their complementary expertise and approaches, to establish a collaboration with few parallels in the country or the world.

“The potential for growth and synergy beyond the initial launch of the collaborative is unlimited. In addition to our core partners, St. Louis also is home to a number of other prominent research organizations, including, notably, the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. We look forward to working with other local institutions to make St. Louis a global leader in biodiversity research and conservation.”

The Living Earth Collaborative will serve as a hub to facilitate interdisciplinary research among plant and animal biologists and other scholars across a wide range of fields, bringing together the world’s leading scholars in the field of biodiversity to address the most pressing issue facing humankind today: the ability to sustain life on Earth. With their decades of work in the field of biodiversity, the Missouri Botanical Garden and Saint Louis Zoo bring robust resources to the partnership, including vast collections of living organisms; research centers such as the Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Medicine, which focuses on wildlife, public health and sustainable ecosystems; and world-renowned experts at both institutions, including some 50 PhD-level researchers at the garden. In coming together, the Living Earth Collaborative will be a powerful force in the global effort to understand our living world and to discover how humans can help preserve the varied natural environments that allow plants, animals and microbes to survive and thrive.