He's only just begun

28 February 2011 | News story

Spotlight on the life and work of Venezuelan biologist Jon Paul Rodríguez.

Since he was a child, Jon Paul Rodríguez has loved nature. Fishing and camping with his parents during weekends was the beginning of a passion which led him to the lecture rooms of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, dreaming of becoming a biologist.

Along with Franklin Rojas-Suárez, another great Venezuelan environmentalist, Jon Paul explored many of the rich biodiversity areas of his country. He wanted to learn more about the species found there, but mainly to act to protect them. They discovered IUCN and its Species Survival Commission and searched the species Red Books and other important resources. 

"We started looking for information about our endangered species, focusing mainly on the spectacled or Andean bear. Everything was scattered, there was no centralized information source. So we decided to prepare the Red Book of Venezuelan Fauna,” says Jon Paul.

He considers this book, the products derived from it, and the networks established, as his greatest achievement.

The book has become a mandatory reference for those working with endangered species in Venzuela. It has had a big impact, been replicated in other parts of the world and is regularly quoted in the media. Its images were even used to illustrate Venezuela’s currency, adds Jon Paul.

Today, Jon Paul is leading the implementation of an IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management global initiative—the application of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species methods to ecosystems.

“This really interests me, because compared to species there is very little work done on ecosystems. My hope for the future is to integrate all the information available on ecosystems and species into a single platform.”

“There is much scepticism among ecosystem experts; they do not believe that it is possible to adapt species Red List categories to ecosystems. However, once we meet and talk for a while, their interest quickly grows,” says Jon Paul.           

Now, the methods are ready, and people around the world have been invited to participate and, of course, to test this tool.

The first large-scale test has already been applied to Venezuelan terrestrial ecosystems. A series of workshops, one in Washington, which will further develop the scientific basis of the categories; others in countries such as China, Chile, France and Senegal, for the implementation of the tool in different types of ecosystems, are being planned this year.

At 43, Jon Paul feels that he is still at the beginning of his career because there is so much work to be done. One of the biggest challenges facing conservation in his country of 30 million people and considered one of the world’s ‘megadiverse,’ is the training of the new generation of professionals who love and will look after nature.

Jon Paul holds a first degree in biology from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University. He is a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the Commission on Ecosystem Management.

Jon Paul Rodríguez can be contacted on jonpaul.rodriguez@gmail.com