Amazon botanist Sir Ghillean Prance: ‘The environmental crisis is a moral one’

The second half of the 20th century was a time of unprecedented change in the Amazon rainforest. The ecosystem was opened up by government road-building and colonization schemes in the 1970s and 1980s, unleashing a spasm of large-scale deforestation unlike anything seen in human history. But that period was also characterized by a great expansion in scientific research in the region, which greatly improved our understanding of the ecosystem and helped usher in an era that enabled the creation of numerous protected areas. One of the foremost Amazon botanists to emerge during that period was Sir Ghillean Prance, a British scientist who first visited the region in 1963 when he joined a plant-collecting expedition to the Wilhelmina Mountains in Suriname as a postdoc at the New York Botanical Garden. Prance would eventually go on to become a leading expert on the flora of Earth’s largest rainforest, describing more than 200 species of plants. Along the way, the focus of his work shifted from documenting the flora of Amazonia to understanding its importance to the ecosystem as a whole. “I set out as a botanist only interested in the plants, their interactions and ecology,” Prance told Mongabay. “Midway through my career the serious destruction of the Amazon began so I changed my emphasis much more towards economic botany, ethnobotany and conservation to help provide data towards sustainable living.” Sir Ghillean Prance in 2006. Image courtesy of Sir Ghillean Prance After more than two decades at the New York Botanical Garden, Prance…This article was originally published on Mongabay
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