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Ecologist Exequiel Ezcurra Receives AAAS Science Diplomacy Award

Exequiel Ezcurra has been named the recipient of the 2020 Award for Science Diplomacy by AAAS. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Exequiel Ezcurra has been named the recipient of the 2020 Award for Science Diplomacy by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his leadership in bringing together research, education, outreach and policy in service of environmental protection, particularly at the United States-Mexico border.

A professor of ecology in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, Ezcurra undertakes cross-disciplinary research that touches upon conservation science, ecology, biogeography, land-ocean interactions and the application of mathematical modeling in these fields.

Throughout his career, Ezcurra “has gone the extra mile” to ensure that his research informs scientifically sound policy, said Paul Dayton, emeritus professor of marine ecology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in a nomination letter.

Ezcurra has a long history of translating scientific research into policy outcomes. A native of Argentina, Ezcurra completed his Ph.D. at the Bangor University in the United Kingdom, having studied the ecology of the U.S.-Mexico border. His studies led him to a role as Mexico’s director general of natural resource protection in the early 1990s. In this position, he brought together U.S. and Mexican policymakers to establish Mexico’s first natural protected area along the border: the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve.

“I cannot exaggerate the influential role he has played in terms of tangible achievements in the conservation of nature,” said Rodolfo Dirzo, professor of environmental sciences at Stanford University, in his nomination letter.

Ezcurra also helped to create the first-ever agreement among Mexico, Canada and the United States to collaborate on wildlife and ecosystem conservation and management. The Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management has flourished since its creation in 1995.

scientist at Sea of Cortez
Exequiel Ezcurra, pictured at the Sea of Cortez, is honored in part for his work in service of environmental protection at the U.S.-Mexico border. | Nancy Packard-Burnett

Other past roles include adviser to the United Nations Environment Programme, director of research and, later, provost at the San Diego Natural History Museum, and director of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology.

Most recently, Ezcurra was the director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, also known as UC Mexus, a bilateral research initiative to build cross-border academic collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico. During the decade Ezcurra served as the program’s director, the collaborative agreement between the University of California and the Mexican government was twice extended while the number of Mexican graduate students hosted in the University of California almost tripled: “a true achievement that underscores Ezcurra’s ability as a diplomat in science,” said nominator Norman Ellstrand, professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside.

A skilled science communicator, Ezcurra’s outreach work has included an IMAX film on the natural history of the Sea of Cortez, a series of programs to engage the public about the value of ecosystem services, and numerous museum exhibits.

Ezcurra is an “absolutely accomplished academic that has generously offered his creativity and science on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said José Sarukhán, national coordinator of the Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, Mexico’s national agency on biodiversity.

The AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy was established in 2013 to recognize an individual or small group working together in the science, engineering or foreign affairs communities to make an outstanding contribution to the field of science diplomacy.

Ezcurra will receive the award at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle on Feb. 16.