Q&A with SCB President-elect Adina Merenlender

SCB President-elect Adina Merenlender in the Canadian Rockies.

SCB members recently elected Adina Merenlender, Ph.D., as SCB President-elect. Merenlender (University of California, Berkeley) is a former board member of SCB’s North America Section and past chair of the SCB Chapters Committee. She is on the editorial board of Conservation Biology and is a member of the SCB Publications Committee. Merenlender's term as President will begin in July 2019.

Merenlender recently participated in a Q&A about her background and her goals for SCB.

1.When did you first realize you wanted to work in conservation science?

When I was a senior in college at the University of California San Diego in 1985, I had a conversation with a friend who asked me why I was doing research on a debilitating human disease when people were going to be around forever with one problem or another. He suggested I turn my attention to protecting other species, because without some serious action much of the world’s biodiversity would be lost in our lifetime. Michael Soulé had just left UCSD for greener pastures and to start SCB and my advisor, David Woodruff, gave a seminar on conservation with Jonah Western (Kenya Wildlife Dept.), Michael Gilpin, and Ted Case -- all who were involved in the move from ecology to conservation biology. I was hooked and switched my focus to conservation genetics, studying African rhinoceroses with help from Oliver Ryder at the San Diego Zoo. I joined the Society and received the first issue of Conservation Biology and never looked back.  


2. Tell us about your background and research.

I have had the good fortune to study at academic institutions on the east and west coasts of the US and spent time living and doing research in Madagascar, Australia and Mexico, and value the opportunity to work with conservation scientists from around the world.

My research over the years has followed a similar trajectory to that of conservation biology itself – from population genetics and viability to ecosystem level research, and finally to landscape scale analyses and complex systems. I am driven to address environmental problems as my way of trying to save the world and I thrive on pursuing interesting scientific questions, so when it comes to systems I am open to them all (e.g. lemurs, birds, bats, carnivores, salmon, plants…); although I have to admit that I do love the oak woodlands that surround my home in Northern California. I enjoy working with multi-disciplinary teams and students and all of my work as a Cooperative Extension Specialists falls at the interface between science and practice.  

The current focus of my research lab is on quantifying the relationship between human land use and biodiversity. We use landscape scale field studies and spatially explicit modeling techniques to address conservation planning and ecosystem stewardship. Implementation on the ground involves decision support for environmental problem solving and public engagement. Finally, I developed and direct the California Naturalist program which is aimed at building


3.You’ve been involved at SCB for many years. What first attracted you to the Society?

My early academic mentors helped start the Society and I am fortunate to have been swept up in their excitement for the mission. I have enjoyed being a part of SCB from my first SCB conference at UC Davis in 1988 and hold many fond memories from organizing the student speaker competition in Guadalajara, Mexico to starting the Bay Area Conservation Biology annual meetings and chairing the first NACCB in Oakland. I have come to really appreciate the benefits of sticking with a society for long enough to build connections with members from around the world and be of service.  I advise all of my students to get involved with a Society as there are a multitude of rewards.


4. What are some of your goals for SCB?

I am looking forward to working with the SCB board to advance our mission by increasing contributions by those working in conservation practice, working to include underrepresented people in a move toward greater diversity and equity, and advance the Society’s fiscal sustainability. Engaging students and strengthening SCB local chapter capacity is critical to the lifeblood of the Society and I hope the Society can advance their participation in research, policy, on-the-ground conservation, and Society activities. SCB regional Sections should be commended for making SCB more visible and impactful around the world and will work to maximize the ability for their leadership to function.  I look forward to (1) advancing conservation practice, (2) building an inclusive Society, and (3) reinforcing SCB’s financial sustainability.


5. Do you have any advice for other SCB members looking to become involved in the Society?

Joining or starting a local Chapter is a great way to get involved – Chapters are SCB’s boots on the ground.  The SCB Chapters Committee under Jessa Madosky’s leadership is doing an incredible job keeping up with all the activities and grants but with the number of chapters growing we need all hands on deck!  Another contribution that has big payoff is to lead the charge in your chosen area of interest by joining a Working Group. I am especially excited about the new Participatory and Citizen Science Working Group thanks to Eva Lewandowski leadership and other leaders in this important field. And finally of course attend an SCB Conference and hold local meetings – many regions have annual one day conservation biology meetings that provide access to students and professionals to participate in the fun of convening.