A Better Future for the Planet Earth

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Prof. Daniel H. Janzen

Prof. Daniel H. Janzen Interview Summary

Overview/ Profile

Lecture document



TV Program

Costa Rica is a land of beautiful nature and home to approximately 4% of all the plants and animals in the entire world. Its small area is equivalent in size to Kyushu and Shikoku in Japan. Professor Daniel H. Janzen and the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) have contributed to the conservation of biodiversity and the restoration of tropical forests in Costa Rica over a long period of time.

I. Birth – Universities (1939 - )

1. Childhood

I was born in Milwaukee in Wisconsin, United States, on January 19, 1939. My father was raised in a Mennonite farming family in the northern part of the state. He was a hard worker and was involved in a wide range of environmental conservation activities after graduating from university.

When he was serving as the Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, he took the initiative in directing a wide range of groups to work on natural conservation activities. My mother was from a wealthy family in the south. She was a teacher, an artist, and provided great support to my father. Both of my parents had adventurous spirits and they encouraged one in me. They encouraged me to choose the best direction for myself and told me to do what I valued. They let me try anything I was interested in and taught me to be myself.

During my childhood, I loved being in the forest and among the creatures that inhabit it. I was into fishing, exploring, and collecting insects. When I was around 10 years old, I got a net to catch insects from one of my father's friends and tried to catch butterflies. This sparked my interest in the world of nature. I raised caterpillars, caught butterflies, collected seashells, and trapped rabbits and skunks. I was not interested in people at all. I was more interested in nature than I was in people. My father may have had a strong influence on my interest in living creatures. He had never pressured me about my future. He wanted me to choose for myself. Now I supervise some institutes while studying biology, which is the same path that my father followed.

I had never thought about what I wanted to be. I simply followed my interests. Of course, I would have to think of something that I could earn a living with. I considered civil engineering, but I also realized that teaching biology would allow me to both work and do research. This is why I chose to study biology.

2. Universities [University of Minnesota – University of California, Berkeley (1957 – 1965 - 1971)]

After studying biology at the University of Minnesota, I entered graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, to study entomology. When I joined the two-month Advanced Science Seminar in Tropical Biology in Costa Rica in 1963, I was very disappointed. Since most of the classes were held in classrooms, I asked them at the end of the first week if I could use half of the time for fieldwork. Since the wildlands were vast, equivalent to half the size of Costa Rica at that time, and people there were extremely friendly to people from abroad, I thought the country was heaven. This feeling brought me back two years later. I could learn from outstanding senior researchers and conduct research in the forests there.

As is the case now, I was interested in everything related to biology when I was a student. I was a serious student and got good grades, so all the classes I took seemed very easy for me. I think the only thing I learned from class was techniques. All the important things I learned, I learned from senior researchers. I spent very little time around students my age. I studied the symbiotic relationship between ants and Acacia for my dissertation.

II. Teaching at the University of Kansas (1965-1968), University of Chicago (1969 - 1972), University of Michigan (1972-1976) and University of Pennsylvania (1969 - present)

After acquiring my doctorate in entomology in 1965 from the University of California, Berkeley, I taught biology at the University of Kansas. Between 1965 and 1973, I also taught in Venezuela and Puerto Rico, which was nice because I could also conduct research on tropical forests.

I've taught at universities for a half century. Teaching students who are eager to learn increases my motivation to learn. It was, therefore, very fun for me to teach them. I've never thought teaching was difficult, and I have taught everything that students became interested in. I really appreciate the support society has given me and I feel lucky to have been able to conduct research on what I was interested in for such a long period of time.

III. Research on Tropical Forests and Plant-Animal Interaction

From 1960 to 1970, I researched tropical forests around the world with a focus on Costa Rica. I am not sure of the number of countries that I researched, but I was very interested in the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Specifically, I focused on the spread of seeds, phytochemistry, predation, parasitism, pollination, growth, solid and consortia structures based on the combinations of a wide range of animals and plants. Costa Rica was very interesting for me because the tropical forests were broadly preserved and people there were very friendly.

The research on the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals in tropical zones that I have been engaged in for more than half a century evolved from the Victorian-era study of natural history, which involved entering a forest, observing what is happening, and explaining the results scientifically. This does not require advanced tools, but plenty of time and interest. Tropical forests are not the subjects of research for me, but my teachers. I feel at home spending time in the forest observing the behavior of living creatures.

My wife, Dr. Winnie Hallwachs, is a tropical ecologist who also loves forests, plants and animals. Since 1978, we have worked together. She is a great partner and we share the same research interests. Therefore, this is not my research, but our research.

What first attracted me to research on tropical xerophile forests and rainforests was that they were more interesting than tropical forests. I chose research themes not because they were important, but because they were interesting. I later began to consider the need for these ecosystems to survive the human onslaught that has continued for more than 100,000 years. To restore the habitats of plants and animals, it is necessary to remove the horrible influence that humans have had and leave forests alone to restore themselves. It is difficult, though, to increase the public's awareness of the need to leave the forests alone to give them to chance to heal. Basically, society disregards forests. People have eliminated forests for themselves and their livestock. We have become one of the most horrible species on the earth.

IV. Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG) Technical Advisor

The Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG) was established in 1971 with the founding of Santa Rosa National Park. The ACG consists of the Guanacaste National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Rincon dela Vieja Volcano National Park, Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge, Horizontes Experimental Forest, and the ACG'S official NGO, Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund (GDFCF), for which I serve as President, and my wife as Vice-President. The total area, including both land and ocean is 165, 000 hectares. More than 375,000 species are living in the ACG, which accounts for 2.6% of the biodiversity of the world, 75% of the biodiversity in the United States and Canada, and 65% of the biodiversity in Costa Rica. Those species live in dry forests, rainforests, mist forests, and the ocean. Some move around these four habitats, and others stay in certain areas. Long-term conservation of this tremendous amount of species has been made possible through the support of the devoted Costa Rican staff and funds provided by both the public and private sectors.

My wife and I were involved in the design and organization of the ACG with other members from the beginning. My wife, a tropical ecologist, has been involved in the development and execution of biodiversity projects for a long period of time as a researcher and a technical advisor for the ACG. We have taken preventive measures against the unnecessary burning of fields, deforestation, and hunting, and have explained the necessary measures to farmers and fishermen. We have also employed local residents as firefighters, and created jobs to meet the needs of this broad and complex conservation area. We have given classes on basic science at all neighboring schools.

We have achieved good results in the restoration of dry forests and rainforests, and conservation of biodiversity in the ACG utilizing environmentally friendly methods of biodiversity development. In other words, we applied knowledge on tropical biodiversity accumulated over a long period of time to restoration and verified results with cooperation from residents through adaptable management, a method of changing responses based on the results of a broad prediction and continual monitoring.

Such restoration of biological systems in the wildlands with the cooperation of local residents reversed the disappearance of species that had progressed through the fragmentation and isolation of the habitats, which is the major cause of destruction of tropical biodiversity, and promoted restoration of the original natural environment. In the ACG, many fragmented forests were reintegrated through restoration and conservation projects, which successfully restored forests that spread from the Pacific Ocean to the lowlands around the Caribbean Sea. It was predicted that some among several hundreds of thousands of species in the area would disappear through fragmentation and isolation. However, it is predicted that most of the endangered species will survive through the migration of habitats and changes in ecosystems supported by beneficial conservation activities in the ACG that contribute to nature and regional society even if unavoidable climate change occurs in the future.

The DNA barcoding method developed by Professor Paul Hebert at the University of Guelph in Canada allows us to identify and discriminate between species relatively easily, even to discover unknown species. We applied this system to our studies. It is very useful to discover unknown species in tropical zones that have bountiful forms of life.

For the purpose of securing the ACG lands, the government of Costa Rica has provided 450 million USD and GDFCF has provided 150 million USD. Other international organizations including the Nature Conservancy have also provided support. The ACG has 155 staff at present, and the salary for 117 staff is covered by the government. Salaries for the remaining 38 staff are covered by the GDFCF. The ACG is not a park, but many people have visited it to observe nature and birds.

The importance of the ACG for the conservation of tropical biodiversity has been recognized, and it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The ACG is not a conservation area established for research; however, many researchers have been conducting a wide range of studies. The more users it has, the more the possibility of it remaining increases. Therefore, we accept any research to be conducted here as long as it is not destructive.

V. Conclusion

For years now, I've spent half of the year at the University of Pennsylvania and the other half doing research in Costa Rica. I've discovered 9,500 moths and caterpillars in the ACG, and the samples of these new species are all stored at the National Museum of Natural History. I have also worked with the government of Costa Rica to permanently preserve these species, which account for 4% of biodiversity.

The most difficult aspects of ecosystem restoration in Costa Rica are the securing of funds to purchase lands in conservation areas and to educate ACG staff about natural conservation. In order to make progress, I work 15 hours a day at my computer without a day off; but I still have a tremendous amount of work to do regarding research and ecosystem restoration. I want to live at least another 25 years. My family is my wife, Winnie, and the 375,000 species living in the ACG. Interactions with these species are the purpose of my life. My future goals are to cultivate researchers to carry on our research, and to secure sufficient funds for the assistant education program.

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