John W. Terborgh, Ph.D.


John W. Terborgh, Ph.D.
John Terborgh
Research Professor Emeritus & Director
Duke University School of the Environment
Center for Tropical Conservation
City, State, ZIP
Box 90381, Durham, North Carolina 27708
[email protected]
Award year


Project Details

The Biodiversity of Madre De Dios, Peru

Terborgh utilized his Pew Fellowship to initiate a pilot project studying the biodiversity of Madre de Dios, Peru, an area roughly the size of South Carolina. In particular, he emphasized analysis at an intermediate spatial scale appropriate for systematic conservation planning in the region. His research group established permanent tree plots in Madre de Dios that provide benchmarks for the respective forest types and, simultaneously, "ground truth" for the interpretation of satellite images. His Pew funds supported the "biodiversity team" that carried out the work of establishing the tree plots and conducting coordinated surveys of vertebrate taxa.


For ecologist John Terborgh, Manu National Park in the rainforest of Peru is a second home. He has spent half of each of the past 25 years there conducting research. His interest is the ecology of plants, birds and primates of rain forests and strategies to conserve them.

Terborgh combines his interest in biodiversity and biogeography to establish "before development" scenarios of the diversity and distribution of plants and animals in the Peruvian Amazon. This "before development" information forms a baseline of unaltered natural habitat that can be used for comparison with locations in the region that are altered by development. Few, if any, such systematic "before development" standards have been developed by ecologists for this tropical region.

Like most parks, Manu is assumed to provide inviolate protection to nature. Yet even there, in one of the most remote corners of the planet, Terborgh has been witness to the relentless onslaught of civilization. Seeing the steady destruction of irreplaceable habitat has been a startling and disturbing experience for him, one that has raised urgent questions: Is enough being done to protect nature? Are current conservation efforts succeeding? What could be done differently? What should be done differently?

In his book Requiem to Nature, Terborgh examines current conservation strategies and considers the shortcomings of parks and protected areas both from ecological and institutional perspectives. He explores how seemingly pristine environments can gradually degrade and the difficult social context which prompt this, a debilitating combination of poverty, corruption, abuses of power, political instability and a frenzied scramble for quick riches. From this perspective, he addresses ways in which tropical conservation must take place.

In addition, Terborgh has devoted significant energy to building the capacity of young scientists and resource managers in Peru and has nurtured the careers of a generation of Peruvian conservation biologists through an apprenticeship program he sponsored at the Cocha Cashu Biological Station in the Manu Park.


Cocha Cashu Biological Station

Center for Tropical Conservation



Ph.D., Harvard University
1963: Plant Physiology, Massachusetts, USA

Master of Arts, Harvard University
1960: Plant Physiology, Massachusetts, USA

Bachelor of Arts, Harvard College
1958: Biology, Massachusetts, USA


Society for Conservation Biology
1990: Board of Directors

World Wildlife Fund
1990: Board of Directors

National Academy of Sciences
1989: Member


Named to Top 100 Conservationists of the Century
1998: National Audubon Society

Marine Fellow
1992: Pew Fellows Program in Conservation and the Environment

Certificate of Merit
1989: Society for Conservation Biology

1987: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Guggenheim Fellow


  • Soule, M. and J. Terborgh (eds.). 1999. Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks. Island Press
  • Terborgh, J. 1999. Requiem for Nature. Shearwater Books
  • Terborgh, J. and E. Andresen. 1998. The composition of Amazonian forests: Patterns at local and regional scales. Journal of Tropical Ecology 14(5): 645
  • Terborgh, J., C. Flores N., P. Mueller, and L. Davenport. 1997. Estimating the ages of successional stands of tropical trees from growth increments. Journal of Tropical Ecology 13:833-856
  • Terborgh, J., R.B. Foster and P. Nuñez V. 1996. Tropical tree communities: A test of the nonequilibrium hypothesis. Ecology 77(2): 561-567
  • Terborgh, J., and S. J. Wright. 1994. Effects of mammalian herbivores on seedling recruitment and survivorship in two neotropical forests. Ecology 75(6): 1829-1833
  • Terborgh, J., O.T. Solbrig and E.M.Van Emden. 1993. Diversity and the tropical rain forest. Journal of Tropical Ecology 9(3): 385.
  • Terborgh, J.W. 1992. Tropical Deforestation
  • Terborgh, J.W., B.L. Dugelby and N. Salafsky. 1992. Can extractive reserves save the rain forest? Conservation Biology
  • Terborgh, J.W. 1991. Diversity and the Tropical Rain Forest. Freeman, New York

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