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Ruth DeFries

Ruth photoRuth S. DeFries

Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B) at Columbia University
10th Floor Schermerhorn Ext.
1200 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
tel: 1 212 851 1647 / fax: 1 212 854 8188
Co-director, Undergraduate Program on Sustainable Development

Ruth DeFries is on sabbatical from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. She will be receiving email but please be patient with a response. If you are a prospective student for Fall 2015, please put "PROSPECTIVE STUDENT" in the subject line of your email. Thank you.

Ruth DeFries published a book in September - The Big Ratchet. The book charts the story of how technologies and innovations have combined to feed more people than ever before in the history of humanity. Please follow this LINK for the book website. You can link to Ruth's interview with Tom Ashbrook on NPR's On-Point HERE. An interview on is linked HERE. Link to a conversation on an Earth Institute blog HERE

Ruth DeFries’ research examines human transformation of the landscape and its consequences for climate, biogeochemical cycling, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services that make our planet habitable. The work is based on the premise that land use change involves tradeoffs between human necessities such as food and unintended environmental consequences such as greenhouse gas emissions and habitat loss. A particular focus is tropical deforestation and its impacts on atmospheric carbon emissions and conservation. The research analyzes land use changes over broad scales through the lens of satellite observations. She is actively involved in linking scientific information into policy decisions.

Download current CV here

Download short CV here

Recent Representative Publications

Conceptual papers:

DeFries, R., E. C. Ellis, F. S. I. Chapin, P. A. Matson, B. L. Turner II, A. Agrawal, P. J. Crutzen, C. Field, P. Gleick, P. Kareiva, E. Lambin, D. Liverman, E. Ostrom, P. Sanchez, and J. Syvitski. 2012. Planetary opportunities: A social contract for global change science to contribute to a sustainable future. BioScience 62:603-606. pdf.

DeFries, R. and C. Rosenzweig. 2010. Toward a whole-landscape approach for sustainable land use in the tropics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:19627-19632.

DeFries, R. 2008. Terrestrial vegetation in the coupled human-earth system: Contributions of remote sensing. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 33:369-390.

DeFries, R., G. P. Asner, and J. Foley. 2006. A glimpse out the window: What landscapes reveal about livelihoods, land use, and environmental consequences. Environment 48:22-36.

DeFries, R., J. Foley, and G. P. Asner. 2004. Land Use Choices: Balancing Human Needs and Ecosystem Function. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2:249-257.

Research papers:

Gutierrez-Velez, V., R. DeFries, M. Pinedo-Vasquez, M. Uriarte, C. Padoch, W. Baethgen, K. Fernandes, and Y. Lim. 2011. High-yield oil palm expansion spares land at the expense of forests in the Peruvian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters 6:044029. Pdf.

Macedo, M., R. DeFries, D. Morton, C. Stickler, G. Galford, and Y. Shimabukuro. 2012. Decoupling of deforestation and soy production in the southern Amazon during the late 2000s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:1841-1846.

DeFries, R., T. K. Rudel, M. Uriarte, and M. Hansen. 2010. Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century. Nature Geoscience 3:178-181.

DeFries, R. and D. Pandey. 2010. Urbanization, the energy ladder and forest transitions in India's emerging economy. Land Use Policy 27:130-138.

DeFries, R., R. A. Houghton, M. Hansen, C. Field, D. L. Skole, and J. Townshend. 2002. Carbon emissions from tropical deforestation and regrowth based on satellite observations for the 1980s and 90s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99:14256-14261.

Current and past Ph.D. students

M. Fagan, "Growing up Fragmented: Improving Estimates of Carbon Sequestration from Tropical Reforestation" (awarded 2014)

M. Marlier (co-advise with K. Griffin), "Contributions of Biomass Burning to Air Quality Degradation" (awarded 2014)

M. Jain (co-advise with S. Naeem), “Resilience of Agriculture to Climate Variability in Northwest India” (awarded 2014)

V. Gutierrez, "Integrating Land Transformation Process into Fire and Carbon Modeling in Amazonia" (awarded 2013)

M. Macedo, “Tropical Deforestation and the Land-Water Interface” (awarded 2012)

K. Wurster, “Using MISR to Assess the Impact of Charcoal Production on Forest Regeneration Rates in Southeastern Senegal” (awarded 2010)

S. Zeigler, “Incorporating Landscape in Population Viability Analysis: Improving Generic Modeling Platforms for Endangered Species Conservation” (awarded 2010)

D. Morton, “Savannization of a Tropical Forest Frontier: Carbon Consequences of Climate and Anthropogenic Fire from a Height-Structured Ecosystem Model” (awarded 2008)

J. Dempewolf, “Fire Dynamics and Woody Cover Changes in the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem 2000 to 2005: A Remote Sensing Approach” (awarded 2007)

L. Anderson (co-advisor), “Analyzing the Impact of Participatory-Developed Conservation Policies in the Negril Environmental Protection Area, Western Jamaica” (awarded 2007)

M. Songer, “Dynamics of Non-Timber Forest Product Extraction in a Protected Tropical Dry Forest Area in Southeast Asia” (awarded 2006)

M. Agarwala, “Forest Degradation and Governance in Central India: Evidence from Ecology, Remote Sensing and Political Ecology” (advanced to candidacy)

M. Cattau, “Tropical Peatswamp Forest Loss in Indonesia: Linking Landscape Connectivity, Seed Dispersal, and Carbon Storage ” (advanced to candidacy)

B. Clark, (co-advise with C. Palm), Title to be posted...

A. Neelakantan, Title to be posted...

N. Schwartz, (co-advise with M. Uriarte) , Title to be posted...

Recent teaching

EESC W2330 Science for Sustainable Development

SUSDEV W3330 Ecol. and Social Systems for Sustainable Development

Honors and Awards

MacArthur Fellowship, 2007

Member, National Academy of Sciences (elected 2006)

Fellow, American Academy of Sciences (elected 2010)

Fellow, American Geophysical Union (2009)

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected 2008)

Fellow, Aldo Leopold Leadership Program of the Ecological Society of America (2001)

Fulbright Award for Research in India (2007)