Thomas Lovejoy, biologist who championed biodiversity, dies at 80

Thomas E. Lovejoy, a leading conservation biologist who is credited with popularising the term “biological diversity,” has died. He was 80.

His death on Saturday was announced by George Mason University, where he was director of the Institute for a Sustainable Earth, and the Amazon Biodiversity Center, which he founded.

Lovejoy began referring to biological diversity — the rich variety of life on Earth — in the late 1970s. Later shortened to biodiversity, it has become one of the most important themes of the age of climate change.

A leading extinction researcher, Lovejoy found that habitat destruction, pollution and global warming were snuffing out species around the world. He called for restoring forests to encourage the regrowth of native plants and animals and for protecting large tracts of water and land.

Lovejoy also was involved in the founding of US public television’s “Nature,” the venerable show featuring stunning video from ecosystems around the world. At the time of the show’s inception in 1982, he was working for the World Wildlife Fund.

Lovejoy’s research brought him to the Amazon in the 1960s and he became a passionate advocate for tropical rainforests. He helped run a project in Brazil to protect and restore threatened forest fragments.

The National Geographic Society gave Lovejoy a grant in 1971 to study rainforest birds in the Amazon and he played various roles with the society in the five decades that followed.

“To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, adviser and unyielding champion for our planet,” Jill Tiefenthaler, National Geographic’s chief executive officer wrote in a blog post.

He also served stints at the Smithsonian Institution, at the World Bank and as a science and environment adviser under several different presidents.

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