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Georgina Mace

8 December 1953

Georgina Mace is a leading figure in biodiversity and conservation science, and she helped to develop the criteria for listing species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Mace was born in London in 1953 and stayed there throughout her childhood. She moved away to Liverpool to study for a Zoology degree, followed by an Evolutionary Biology PhD at the University of Sussex. Her thesis was concerned with how small mammals have adapted to their environments and she used pioneering comparative techniques to test her hypotheses.

Mace then worked in Washington DC where she studied the effects of inbreeding on zoo animals before moving back to the UK, to work as a research fellow in Comparative Biology in Newcastle upon Tyne.

She later decided that working with animals in captive populations and assessing the viability of these populations was where her expertise could be most useful and moved back to London, where she has been based ever since. This move coincided with her growing interest in the effects of biodiversity loss and changes within ecosystems and habitats on wildlife, in particular endangered species. When reflecting on the importance of her work, Mace said, “It was exciting to make quantitative scientific contributions to conservation.”

Her involvement with some of the first captive breeding programmes that used the principles of conservation science led to a leadership position in developing the criteria for the IUCN Red List. This determines the risk of extinction for different species and demonstrates how research and policy can interact and the need for international cooperation. The provisional Red List criteria underwent an extensive review and testing process and after slight revisions were approved in 2000. The Red List is an important tool used worldwide by governments, NGOs and scientific institutions to guide their conservation activities.

Every living species represents one unique pathway to success developed over millions of years. What we lose with each passing species can never be replaced

IUCN report ‘Priceless or Worthless? The World’s Most Threatened Species’, 2012

Mace has cemented her position as an influential player in biodiversity and conservation science with work on other high profile projects, such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA). The MA reported that by 2050 up to 20% of natural resources could be lost as a result of human activity. The UK NEA was the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment which looked at the benefits nature provides to society and economic prosperity.

Well respected by her colleagues and other scientists, Mace has been President of both the Society for Conservation Biology and the British Ecological Society. She won the 2007 International Cosmos Prize, and had her scientific contributions recognised when she was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the same year.

Professor Georgina Mace currently teaches at University College London, and is encouraging future researchers to work on projects in areas of research that have grown over the course of her career.

This profile was written by a Biology: Changing the World volunteer.