“Preserving land prevents the land use change that contributes to climate change” - TiME · This is My Earth

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“Preserving land prevents the land use change that contributes to climate change”

We had the privilege to talk to Dr. Clive G. Jones, founder of the field of ecosystem engineering by organisms and member of the board of directors of This is My Earth. He states that: “Preserving land with the biodiversity it contains is crucial. It not only protects habitat, but it also prevents the land use change that contributes to climate change”

It’s a pleasure to talk to you, Clive. Please introduce yourself.

I’m a member of the Board of This is My Earth. I have been on the board since the early days of TiME; 2016 as I recall. I am also an Emeritus Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY where I am a research ecologist.

Do you do science for This is My Earth?

Well, not  really,  although I do bring my scientific background in ecology and conservation biology to the table when it is relevant to thinking about and planning our mission. Where science is most relevant to TiME is in the rigorous criteria we use to select the biodiversity hot spots we want to protect and in evaluating how well our partners are doing in protecting them.

I don’t do that; the job is done by others at TiME — our distinguished Scientific Advisory Committee assisted by other Board members, volunteers and staff

The things I do on the board are not scientific. They include governance, finance, fundraising and planning. I also provide input to our communication and education efforts. Naturally, my contributions are informed by science and by my connections to other scientists and conservationists, but that is not doing science.

How did you become interested in ecology?

I became interested in nature through my parents. I remember they would take me into the woods at night when I was a very young child.

We would walk and stop and  listen to the sounds. It never seemed scary. Whenever we went on holiday, it was always a place with natural beauty. We rarely went to cities; it was mostly the countryside. My parents were both nature lovers. As a child, I would collect insects and watch birds. So throughout my childhood, I was constantly exposed to nature.

When I started school (and later at university), my inherent interest in biology and later ecology as a part of biology was awakened. Biology was the most exciting subject to me at school. It’s interesting for me to reflect on why that was. Was it the result of all that exposure to nature as a child, or was it just some innate curiosity in how nature works?  Likely both!

You are best known scientifically as the founder of the field of ecosystem engineering by organisms. What is that? 

Ecosystem engineering is the scientific study of how species physically change the environment and the consequences for those species, other species and ecological processes. Ecosystem engineers create, modify and maintain habitats. The archetype animal engineer is the beaver.

Beaver build dams and create wetlands. They profoundly change hydrology, sediments, biogeochemistry, creating habitats for numerous species. In a general sense, however, beaver are not unique.

A vast number of species of animals, plants and microbes change the environments around them, creating habitats; from elephants making trails and waterholes, to coral reefs, to earthworms plowing the soil, to trees creating shaded cool, moist understory habitats, to microbial crusts that generate runoff water in deserts that are then used by plants. 

How did you get interested in this topic?

I began my research career studying how plants chemically defended themselves against insects. At some point, while studying lichen chemical defenses in the Negev Desert, Israel, I got more interested in how all the organisms there, singly and collectively, appeared to be physically changing their surroundings to get water – the limiting resource in a desert. So for example, desert porcupines dig pits to eat bulbs and roots, and those pits trap runoff water.

Plants grow in those pits, and other organisms then depend on those plants, including porcupines! Ant mounds also trap water to similar effect. Geophytes grow underground, and then rapidly grow through the surface, making cracks in the soil. Runoff water then infiltrates into those cracks, and around the geophytes  grow many plant species that use that water.

Microbial crusts make the equivalent of a plastic sheet secreted on the surface that funnels runoff water from rain into the pits, mounds and cracks. Without these engineering species the desert would be far less productive and biodiverse — most of the limited rain would just evaporate from the surface and be lost from the ecosystem.

So then I became interested in how general physical environmental modification by species was; in other words, beyond beaver or the Negev Desert. When looking at the ecological literature at the time, nature was largely viewed as being governed by predation and competition – nature red in tooth and claw!

Although scientists were aware of things like beaver dams and elephant trails, these kinds of influences were not seen as being central to understanding in ecology; it was all about predation and competition.

So the first ecosystem engineering paper we published in 1994 essentially said that nature is not just predation and competition. Physical environmental modification by species – the creation and modification of habitats – is pervasive and important, and we need to recognize that and study it.

Has the point of view of ecologists changed since then?

Yes indeed. Ecosystem engineering is now recognized as central to understanding in ecology, along with other processes like predation, competition, pollination and dispersal.

The study of ecosystem engineers and their effects is now a major research field within the ecological sciences.

It is widely taught at university and schools, and it has entered the public consciousness — you can find many articles about ecosystem engineers on the web.

Ecosystem engineering has also influenced other scientific disciplines including evolutionary biology, geomorphology, anthropology, and conservation biology/restoration.

Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber)

Can you tell us about those influences on other scientific disciplines?

So in evolutionary biology it is now recognized that when new species of engineers evolve and then create habitats they also create opportunities for other new species to evolve in those habitats.

For example, when species that bio-turbated or reworked sediments first evolved they created habitats for new species that could live in those murky environments.

In geomorphology, scientists interested in how animals and plants affect soil formation and soil and rock erosion could now better connect those effects to the ecology of the species causing those changes. In anthropology, the historical role of human engineering in changing the environment to their benefit has become a major focus.

At the same time, the recognition that humans are ecosystem engineers “par excellence” has influenced the way scientists view human effects on the environment; has drawn heavily on the parallels with other species of ecosystem engineers; and has led to rethinking of strategies in conservation biology and habitat restoration.

Can you tell us a bit more about how ecosystem engineering has influenced conservation biology and habitat restoration?

Certainly. First, we can take the lessons learnt from studying how nature’s engineers create and maintain habitats and apply that understanding to the restoration and management of habitats  — become the beaver if you like!

But second, perhaps we can also ask: if you want a new wetland or want to restore a degraded wetland, do you do it yourself, or do you get beaver to do it for you?

Beaver will do it for free; they’ll maintain it more or less indefinitely; and you’ll get all the benefits at little or no cost. If you just take care of beaver they will take care of the rest!

So putting nature’s engineers back to work is now becoming widespread in conservation and restoration – reintroducing beaver, recreating oyster reefs for the fisheries habitat they make and salt marshes for coastal protection, putting earthworms back into degraded agricultural soils, re-wilding with large animal engineers, and so on. 

Oyster reef

What can you tell us about where you work, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies?

The Cary Institute is a private, non-profit ecological research organization founded in 1983 by Dr. Gene Likens, most known for his work on acid rain. It is a relatively small organization.

We currently have 14 staff scientists and a total staff of around 120 that includes postdoctoral associates, research support staff, educators, administrators, and emeritus scientists like me. We also have a vigorous visiting and adjunct scientist program, and we work collaboratively with many scientists throughout the world.

We do basic research relevant to real-world problems. We are not a university, but we are an academic organization.

We are non-profit, raising funds for the science and education programs, mostly from federal and state grants.

We may be small but we are recognized as one of the premier ecological research institutes in the world, with work that has not only had major influences on scientific understanding, but also environmental policy and management.

I note from our recent newsletters that you are involved in the “TiME for Birding for Conservation” initiative. Can you tell us about that?

TiME for Birding for Conservation is a conservation-orientated fund-raising birding trip to Ecuador we are organizing for February 2024 with our partners – Flyways Birding and Nature run by Jonathan Meyrav in Israel, and Jocotours, part of the Jocotoco Foundation in Ecuador. We have three goals.

The first is raising funds to help the Jocotoco Foundation purchase a biodiversity hotspot adjacent to their reserve in Tapichalaca – one of the sites that the Scientific Advisory Committee has put forward as a target.

The second is promoting TiME and its important mission. The third and final goal is to raise awareness of the potential for birders to contribute to the conservation of the very places they want to visit to see birds – birding for conservation.

We hope to do some promotional and educational webcasts from Ecuador, including events for children.

We are asking participants to make a donation to TiME that will be used to help purchase land in Tapichalaca.

The trip is not yet fully booked up, so if you are interested in knowing more, in going on the trip, or know someone who might be interested, you can find out more on the TiME website trip page and at Flyways Birding and Nature.

TiME for birding for conservation: The birding adventure of a lifetime. Flyways Birding and Nature is excited to join forces with TiME (This is my Earth) for a special birding tour for conservation in one of the most incredible birding countries in the world. Our tour is coordinated by Jocotours, which helps support Fundación Jocotoco, our conservation partners on the ground in Ecuador.
TiME for birding for conservation: The birding adventure of a lifetime

How did the idea for the trip come about?

It all began when a friend who is a renowned ecologist and avid birder made a donation to TiME to help us acquire the hotspot in the Chocó forest, Ecuador. Thanks to him and many other TiME donors, we raised the funds for the Jocotoco Foundation to acquire more land for the reserve in the Chocó Forest in 2022.

He and I had some conversations about TiME and birds when I thanked him for the donation. I asked him if he had visited the Chocó.

He said he had been birding in Ecuador – it is one of the most bird-biodiverse places on the planet — but had not been to the Chocó and would love to see the Banded Ground Cuckoo – a rare, reclusive species found only in the region. So that left me thinking that perhaps we could organize a fund-raising trip for birders that would visit the land we had helped protect in Chocó and the land at Tapichalaca we are currently trying to protect, while helping promote TiME and its mission.

TiME has never done anything like this before, but when I suggested it to Uri Shanas, TiME’s CEO, he said something to the effect of… “I would do anything to go on a trip like that.”  Then Uri told me that Jonathan Meyrav, who’s been featured in one of our previous newsletters and runs tours for Birdlife Israel, also has a birding tour company called Flyways Birding and Nature.

Flyways is orientated around fundraising for conservation and has donated to TiME. Jonathan was very interested in the idea and was willing to lead a trip that would help promote the idea of birding for conservation.

It also turned out that the Jocotoco Foundation, who manages reserves in the Chocó and Tapichalaca and is one of our partners, has an ethical ecotourism division, Jocotours, who was willing to help plan the trip itinerary and have their local birding expert, Juan Carlos Figueroa, help lead the trip.

So all the many ingredients somehow came together and we launched the trip with an announcement in May.

As I said, there is still an opportunity for people to join us in what will be an exciting and important trip that will help protect critical habitat for birds and other species in perpetuity.

Why do you think This is My Earth is necessary?

Of the many environmental crises we face, two are huge challenges. One is, of course, fossil-fuel-induced climate change. The second is land use change. They’re connected.

Land use change – primarily deforestation – massively contributes to climate change. Indeed, deforestation is the second leading cause of carbon emissions. So land use change is a very big problem from a climate change perspective. But it is also, of course, a massive problem with respect to biodiversity. 

Biodiversity requires space and that space must be suitable. So if you’re going to convert all of the land to other uses, then irrespective of the climate consequences, you will eliminate habitat for species. Preserving land with the biodiversity it contains is crucial. It not only protects habitat but it also prevents the land use change that contributes to climate change. Furthermore, it is far easier to protect land with the biodiversity it already contains than it is to convert former agricultural land back into forest and hope the species that were lost will then return.

So one of the most important things we can do is to protect land with biodiversity. That is what TiME focuses on — saving those biodiversity hotspots and ensuring they persist, while connecting as many of them as possible so you have large amounts of space for those species.

We are a small organization. We don’t have the funds to buy vast tracts of land. So we focus on raising the money to get critical corridors and extensions to existing habitat. While protecting biodiversity hotspots is not unique to TiME, it’s undoubtedly an essential and central aspect of TiME. 

The second aspect that is important to me is the democratic nature of This is My Earth. In other words, This is My Earth means it belongs to all of us. Donating to become a member allows you to be a part of the ownership and stewardship of your Earth.

Private land is the best way TiME can move forward — we are not in the business of convincing governments to preserve more land; other people and organizations try to do that.

What we want to do is to take private lands rich in species that are potentially threatened and would otherwise be converted, and preserve them forever. And if we act collectively to do this then, in a sense, It Is As Much Your Earth As It Is My Earth.

And TiME is not just democratic because we all vote on which lands most deserve to be saved, it is also democratic because everyone gets only one vote. 

If you give a dollar or you give $10,000, you have the same say in which land we collectively decide on. So the democratic nature of TiME is a great way to engage people in active governance and stewardship of the planet.

Is there any other aspect of TiME’s mission you think is important?

Yes, education! The next generation and the generations after that, will inherit the Earth that we leave them today — for good or bad. And so the young people of today need to learn about biodiversity, and they need to learn how they can actively take steps to protect it.

Our education programs do exactly that. Young people learn about biodiversity and the sites we are putting forward to protect.

They raise money, become members, and vote for the land just like anyone else. They make it their Earth just like any other member, while carrying our mission forward in time.

There are a lot of conservation organizations out there helping protect biodiverse lands. But to me, what makes TiME unique is the combination of land conservation, democracy, and education.

Thank you very much for your TiME!

My pleasure!


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13 min read

“We should let people understand the true cost of their choices because nobody is paying for the disaster that has been caused”

We had the privilege to hold an interview with Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of Built by Nature and contributing author to All We Can Save (allwecansave.earth), with her, we’ve discussed architecture, sustainability solutions and This is My Earth‘s contribution to nature conservation. How do you define yourself? I’m CEO of Built by Nature. I’m an architect,…

TiME ∙ Aug 28

10 min read

Wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s biggest international crimes

Wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s biggest international crimes Opinion column from Noga Syon - September 2022 (Part 2)

TiME ∙ Aug 28

9 min read

The transfer of animals from one location to another carries diseases, which spread and mutate easily

Wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s biggest international crimes Opinion column from Noga Syon - September 2022 (Part 1)

TiME ∙ Jul 16

3 min read

“If you want the funding you need your followers and fans to vote in your favor”

SAM SHANEE on WHY protect Biodiversity through THIS IS MY EARTH – PART 4/4  What makes This is My Earth so special? This is My Earth’s funding model based on supports through crowdfunding and voting is fairly unique and it helps the people and the organizations like us who are waiting for the funding, to…

TiME ∙ Jul 13

19 min read

“TiME is this little animal running under the nose of more prominent corporations and saving the land before it’s too late”

This is My Earth Interviews artist Tomer Baruch. Hi Tomer! Thanks for your time. Can you please introduce yourself to the This is My Earth community? My name is Tomer, I am a musician, and I’ve created an Instagram account named “Animals and Synthesizers.” In that account, I take animal videos and compose electronic music…

TiME ∙ Jul 11

2 min read

“This is My Earth has been great in securing financing for land purchases”

SAM SHANEE on WHY protect Biodiversity through THIS IS MY EARTH – PART 3/4 How has your experience with This is My Earth been? Over the last few years we’ve worked several times with This is My Earth, they’ve been very great in securing financing for land purchases to extend or to create new land…

TiME ∙ Jul 8

3 min read

“Local communities are, by far, the best allies for nature conservation”

SAM SHANEE on WHY protect Biodiversity through THIS IS MY EARTH – PART 2/4 Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC) is a registered charity dedicated to the conservation of primates and their habitats in South and Central America. NPC aims to promote conservation and protect biodiversity in the Neotropics by working in several ways. NPC uses monkeys as…

TiME ∙ Jul 8

3 min read

This is My Earth explained in 1 minute

We have created this short video to explained most of the things we do: This is My Earth explained in 1 minute

TiME ∙ Jul 5

3 min read

“Even though there are wild areas with intact forest you can see that some of them don’t have any monkeys left”

SAM SHANEE on WHY protect Biodiversity through THIS IS MY EARTH – PART 1/4 Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC) is a registered charity dedicated to the conservation of primates and their habitats in South and Central America. NPC aims to promote conservation and protect biodiversity in the Neotropics by working in several ways. NPC uses monkeys…

TiME ∙ Jul 4

6 min read

An electronic music party raises funds for TiME, and ocean animals are the performers

“An organism is an evening dedicated entirely to the seam between the animal and the life. A protected space where algorithms can flourish and animals know how to play.” This is how artist Tomer Baruch introduces the party that will take place on the night of July 4 in Tel Aviv. Co-organized by the good…

TiME ∙ Jun 26

2 min read

Ask This is My Earth for funding: Here is how

This is My Earth is always actively looking for new nature conservation projects that have a key scientific and environmental interest. As you know, ours is a crowdfunding system through which empowered citizens around the world make small (or large) donations, as a gift, individually or in group, and vote on which nature conservation project…

TiME ∙ Jun 22

2 min read

What can YOU do to protect the planet? Join TiME’s team and help us spread the word through a monthly newsletter!

This is My Earth (TiME) is looking for a volunteer to craft their monthly newsletter to members. TiME is a non-profit, international environmental organization that seeks to protect biodiversity by purchasing land for conservation in biodiversity hotspots, in collaboration with local communities and organizations. Join our team and help TiME spread the word about: ·…

TiME ∙ Jun 19

22 min read

“Insects have survived the last five mass extinctions our planet has faced; but this time is different”

Dave Goulson (born 30 July 1965)  is Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) at the University of Sussex. Specializing in the ecology and conservation of insects, particularly bumblebees, Goulson is the author of several books, including Bumblebees: Their Behaviour and Ecology (2003), Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypses (2021), and more than 200 academic articles. In 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust,…

TiME ∙ Jun 14

2 min read

The first international meeting of TiME volunteers puts Communication on the agenda

The first international meeting of volunteers of This is My Earth · TiME was held in virtual format on June 13th. People from all over the world, under the coordination of the organization’s Director of Volunteers, Reut Gilad, contributed their ideas and visions on communication, collaboration and how to grow the conservation project for almost…

TiME ∙ Jun 13

3 min read

We have created This is My Earth’s Annual Report for you

This is My Earth 2021 annual report collects the most relevant milestones achieved by the organization in the fields of conservation and biodiversity. It is open access and contains a fully transparent report.

TiME ∙ May 22

7 min read

𝗕𝘂𝗶𝗹𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗮 𝗦𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗙𝘂𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲 𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗔𝗹𝗹 𝗟𝗶𝗳𝗲: This is our TiME List of protected animals

Since This is My Earth started saving lands in danger in 2016, the list of species and animals that have since been protected has not stopped growing. The international motto chosen for Biodiversity Day 2022 is𝗕𝘂𝗶𝗹𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗮 𝗦𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗔𝗹𝗹 𝗟𝗶𝗳𝗲, and its objective is to promote the idea that we are all part of…

TiME ∙ Apr 18

7 min read

Join EARTH DAY global campaign to #InvestInOurPlanet – Download our Action Toolkit!

This is My Earth joins #InvestInOurPlanet campaign on the occasion of the Earth Day 2022 with a video and materials created by our network of volunteers.

TiME ∙ Mar 16

4 min read

Some highlights from the IPCC Climate Report

The Working Group from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the United Nations invited TiME · This Is My Earth as a guest organization at the press conference where the 6TH ASSESSMENT REPORT – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was presented. On 27 February 2022, this international Working Group from the United Nations finalized…

TiME ∙ Feb 22

7 min read

History of the region’s Cacau-cabruca · Chronicles from Brazil

In 2020, hundreds of volunteers from all over the world helped us save an endangered land in the Sierra Bonita area of ​​Brazil (Google Maps +). Together, through TiME, we raised US$ 148,373 which helped Instituto Uiraçu organization – our partner in the area – to get down to work with the task of preserving…

TiME ∙ Feb 22

9 min read

Biodiversity faces its make-or-break year

The  United Nations decade-old plan to slow down and eventually stop the decline of species and ecosystems by 2020 has failed as most of the plan’s 20 targets have not been met. Among the strategic goals which have not been accomplished, there is the need to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity…

TiME ∙ Feb 20

3 min read

Scientists map 80% of unknown species

New map shows where the 80% of species we don’t know about may be hiding in the very interesting study "Shortfalls and opportunities in terrestrial vertebrate species".

TiME ∙ Dec 30

12 min read

TiME’s Newsletters

Here you will find links to the 50+ newsletters we have published in recent years. Don’t miss the opportunity, if you haven’t already, to register and receive our emails with our latest updates, news and campaigns in our action of nature protection, education and solidarity. 2023 August 2023 – The birding adventure of a lifetime…

TiME ∙ Dec 29

2 min read

The ecological impact of war in Africa

Today’s declining number of large mammals around the world has been explained by many factors, including low reproductive rates, habitat destruction, and overhunting. However, uncertainties about the effects of armed conflict has complicated conservation planning and priority-setting efforts. In the past 70 years, humans have waged war continuously in the world’s most biodiverse regions. Between…

TiME ∙ Nov 30

6 min read

This is My Earth in Kenya with Professor Uri Shanas

The following interview with founder and co-chair Uri Shanas was published in our August 2016 newsletter: Hello, Uri. You’ve recently returned from Kenya. Can you tell us why you went? Kenya is one of the last places on earth where one can experience nature in all its might and beauty, so I was excited to visit TiME’s…

TiME ∙ Nov 29

3 min read

Chatting with Jasmine, a 12-year old TiME supporter

We spoke to Jasmine, daughter of two of TiME’s Board of Directors, Ondine Sherman and Dror Ben-Ami. She recently donated 1800 NIS (about 470 USD) to TiME, nearly a third of the gift money she received for her Bat Mitzvah. First of all, we asked Jasmine to explain a Bat Mitzvah: Jasmine: “In Jewish culture,…

TiME ∙ Nov 28

3 min read

A visit to TiME’s first biodiversity hotspot land purchase

“Please, Nestor, please continue to point out the orchid flowers,” I cried almost breathlessly to the CEO of Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC) while we climbed up the land TiME had just purchased. “You know we both need these stops so we can catch our breath.” Nestor Allgas and I were trying to keep pace with…

TiME ∙ Nov 25

1 min read

Protecting megafauna and raising money for conservation

This piece was published in our March 2017 newsletter:

TiME ∙ Nov 21

4 min read

Ivory Belongs to Elephants

Since the dawn of humanity, we have been actively fighting nature: drying swamps, cutting down forests, using strong pesticides (such as DDT) and hunting wildlife to extinction (think of the dodo, Tasmanian tiger, passenger pigeon and many, many more). Today, experts believe that we are facing a sixth mass extinction, which is entirely attributable to…

TiME ∙ Nov 20

6 min read

Gold in Africa – an interview with Henry Gold, TiME board member

For TiME’s February 2017 newsletter we interviewed board member Henry Gold, co-founder of Canadian Physician for Aid and Relief (CPAR)and TDA Global Cycling: You worked in Africa for quite a few years. Can you tell us what kind of work you were doing? I’m trained as an engineer, but in 1984 I quit engineering and…

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