Dr. Michelle E. Thompson is The Nat’s inaugural Exequiel Ezcurra Director of Conservation Biology. As part of the museum’s Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias, Michelle will transform the Museum’s ability to make direct impacts in our region by translating science into conservation action. She will work with curators to strategically integrate collections-based research into the Museum’s conservation portfolio and collaborate with conservation biologists in Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula.
Thompson was most recently at The Field Museum where she served as the lead conservation ecologist for the Keller Science Action Center, which focused on the protection and restoration of places critical to life on Earth. With extensive experience conducting multinational expeditions to remote areas of the world, Thompson has helped conserve biodiversity-rich areas while working closely with local people and government officials. Fluent in Spanish, her experience working on transnational conservation research and policy will translate well to the U.S.–Mexico conservation landscape. And her commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion—including mentoring women in science and engaging with students from underrepresented groups—will complement the museum’s own IDEA efforts.
Thompson’s appointment to The Nat marks a return to Southern California, where she grew up, attended university, and learned to be a naturalist. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from U.C. San Diego, a Master’s from San Francisco State University, and completed her doctorate in quantitative ecology from Florida International University where she studied the effects of land use on tropical amphibians and reptiles. Thompson has passion for Southern California species, habitats, and land-uses, and knows the key players here, having worked at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, and a local impact and mitigation consulting firm.
Founded in 1874, The Nat has a long history of conservation actions, from petitioning for the creation of Torrey Pines State Reserve to documenting our region’s rich biodiversity. Binational expeditions, 100-year resurveys, and multi-disciplinary rapid assessments have drawn focus to diverse areas needing protection and documented the changes we’ve seen over our organizational history.
During this time of biodiversity crisis, The Nat is tackling the challenge of species decline head on. Through Michelle’s leadership and experience in translating science into conservation action, our scientists and educators will accelerate our work to address the region’s conservation needs, set priorities, and engage the Museum’s community throughout our mission area and beyond.