Dame Georgina Mace, a conservation biologist who was involved in some of the largest biodiversity projects on the planet, died on September 19, following reports that she had been ill off and on for some time. She was 67. A representative announced her passing on Twitter, regarding her as “a celebrated scientist, loyal friend, loving sister, aunt, wife, mother and grandmother.”
Born in London, she received her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Liverpool in 1976. She received her PhD in evolutionary ecology from the University of Sussex in 1979. Over the years, she held many prominent appointments, including director of science at the Institute of Zoology, president of the British Ecological Society, president of the Society for Conservation Biology, and director of the Natural Environment Research Council at Imperial College London (ICL), and she founded the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London.
Mace may be most well known for her work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, as she led the scientific work that determined categories and criteria that sort species’ survival from least concern to extinct. The Red List is one of the most exhaustive reports on biodiversity ever compiled and has been used to influence governmental protections for particular species or habitats around the world.
“Beyond her transformative impact on science and academia in general, she also had a huge influence on environmental policy and how our research is translated in the real world,” Guy Woodward, the deputy head of the Department of Life Sciences at ICL, writes in a tribute. “She shaped much of both the IUCN Red List and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, two cornerstones of modern ecology and conservation.”
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was created with grants from the United Nations and lasted from 2001–2005 and involved more than 1,300 scientists. The project sought to explain how human activity affects ecosystem health and Mace led aspects of the research regarding biodiversity.
In 2016, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. The same year, she jointly received the Linnean Medal alongside botanist Sandra Knapp. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society and received many other accolades, awards, and honorary degrees for her dedication to science and conservation.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, many of the tributes that have appeared online since her death have recalled her as someone who was steadfast in her work, yet incredibly warm and personable with everyone she met.
“[S]he was just the sort of person who helped because she knew she could, she recognised we were trying, and she knew she could help us,” writes Will Pearse, an ecologist at ICL, recalling a time when, as a graduate student, he was coming up just short of a fundraising goal to host a conservation event. Mace closed the gap, allowing the show to go on. “100 or more people came, and it was a huge success, but I never forgot that it was that success because of Georgina.”
Mace’s final paper was published in Nature on September 10. It explores how as the human population continues to climb it will require greater land use for food and what needs to be done to protect biodiversity and minimize habitat destruction in the process.
Eleanor Jane “E.J.” Milner-Gulland, a member of the IUCN Commission, was a postdoc when she met Mace in 1991 in working on the Red List. “I was overawed - to be part of a group consisting of some of the smartest, most influential conservation scientists in the world, and for no obvious reason. But Georgina made me feel at home, she ensured that my voice was given just as much respect as everyone else’s,” she writes in tribute from the IUCN. “That first major experience with collaborative working and understated but effective leadership left me with a foundational understanding of how to do science in a respectful and generous way - also tinged with humour.”