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ForestGEO’s Dr. S Joseph Wright Receives the 2022 Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar in the Sciences Award

STRI Senior Scientist Dr. Joseph Wright was awarded the 2022 Distinguished Scholar in the Sciences Award on June 6 in a ceremony in Washington, DC.

Dr. Joseph Wright is heralded by peers as “the world’s best tropical forest plant ecologist.” Since the 19080s, research at BCI has contributed immensely to the understanding of tropical ecosystems and forest ecology.  

Joe Wright smiling in a blue shirt in the forest on Barro Colorado Island, surrounded by a few other scientists
Joe in the field at BCI, 2015.

Each year since the award’s conception in 2000, the Smithsonian grants the Distinguished Scholar Award in the Sciences to one employee. Nominations are made by Smithsonian personnel and supported by external academic peers, as well as the nominee’s own scholarly output. The Distinguished Scholar Award highlights the Smithsonian’s commitment to knowledge and the scientific method and upholds James Smithson’s founding principles of expanding and diffusing knowledge. The criteria of the award are 1) sustained achievement in research, 2) a long-standing commitment to the Smithsonian, and 3) the ability to communicate knowledge to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Dr Wright being presented his award
Smithsonian Secretary, Lonnie Bunch, and Undersecretary for Science and Research, Ellen Stofan, present Dr. Wright the Distinguished Scholar Award.

Upon acceptance of his award, Dr. Wright presented his lecture “The Global Importance of Tropical Forests,” where he discussed the biodiversity of tropical forests and their importance in the carbon cycle. Highlights of his talk included showing the difference in tree species biodiversity of mixed deciduous forests and tropical forests (543 tree species in 2,900,000km2 vs. 682 tree species in 0.01km2 – an 800-million-fold difference in area) and putting the cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions into perspective by comparing grams of CO2 to Toyota Corollas (240 Corollas per person on the planet of CO2 have been emitted since 1850!). He concluded by explaining his belief that species diversity is the reason the essential land-carbon sink will always exist. Since each tree species is adapted to varied environmental and climatic conditions, there will always be some trees which can survive, and maybe even thrive, throughout climate change. With tropical forests supporting hundreds of diverse tree species, they are vitally important in the face of a changing world.

Dr Wright on stage presenting his lecture, a slide with figures and graphs being projected behind him
Dr. Wright presents his lecture, “The Global Importance of Tropical Forests.”

Congratulations to Dr. Wright for this well-deserved acknowledgement of his remarkable career and the positive impact he has had on the advancement of tropical forest understanding.

A group of ForestGEO employees standing in front of a colorful display at the BCI exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History
ForestGEO staff visit the BCI exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History with Joe after the award ceremony.