Stirling professor receives one of the British Ecological Society’s highest honours

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Katharine Abernethy, a Professor in Tropical Ecology at the University of Stirling, has received one of the British Ecological Society’s highest honours.

Professor Abernethy, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, has been awarded the President’s Medal in recognition of her “deep commitment” and dedication to her work in long term ecological research and conservation.

Professor Abernethy is based between Stirling and the Institute for Tropical Ecology Research in Gabon, Africa. She has led many major projects in Gabon and authored more than 100 papers, books and book chapters on African ecosystems, particularly focussing on how their conservation can be achieved in the 21st century and help to support sustainable development.

Yadvinder Malhi, President of the British Ecological Society (BES), praised Professor Abernethy’s influence in the field and the often challenging conditions of her research. He said: “I have witnessed first-hand Kate's dedication to maintaining long-term ecological observations and research in Gabon under challenging conditions, her deep commitment to capacity-strengthening in Central Africa, and often invisible behind-the-scenes support for all the conservation and policy activities that have made Gabon a leader in this arena.

“While others in this arena have high-profile roles, I know Kate’s dedication and ecological insight have been an essential but little-recognised component of Gabon's conservation success and the strengthening and delivery of ecology-based conservation.”

A personal gift of the President of the British Ecological Society, the President’s Medal is awarded at the end of each two-year term of office. 

Professor Abernethy said: “I am delighted and amazed to receive the President’s Medal and want to thank BES for this honour. It’s a fantastic feeling to have my efforts appreciated in such a way. I also feel quite humbled to be given a personal award when so many people have helped me on my way. Anything I have achieved has been built with the help and inspiration of others, including my colleagues in Gabon and the UK and my family.”

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Kate Abernethy divides her time between the University of Stirling campus and the Institute for Tropical Ecology Research in Gabon, Africa.

Professor Alistair Jump, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Stirling, said: “We are delighted to see Professor Abernethy’s work and contribution to the field of tropical ecology recognised with such a prestigious honour. Our work in Gabon spans many decades and has been fundamentally important in global understanding of the functioning of tropical ecosystems, their management and conservation. Kate’s leadership and dedication have been central to its international profile and success.” 

Professor Abernethy, who grew up in Oxfordshire, gained her Honours degree in Zoology and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. She joined Stirling’s joint research programme with Gabon’s Institute for Tropical Ecology Research & International Centre for Medical Research immediately after her PhD in 1995 and has lived and worked there ever since, becoming a Gabonese national in 2007.

The Gabon site in Lopé National Park, where Professor Abernethy’s research programme is based, is deemed a ‘supersite’ for climate research, due to the importance of its unique long-term datasets.

Among Professor Abernethy’s many projects is an international conservation research project signed at world climate summit COP26. The agreement underpins the multi-million-pound forestLAB research hub, launched in October 2021, to explore conservation-led solutions for sustainable development in central Africa. She also receives funding from the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund to research solutions that increase the sustainability of wildlife hunting for subsistence.

Other flagship projects include fundamental research on forest function under climate change and the consequences of climate change for the survival of large mammals. 

As well as her teaching and research work, Professor Abernethy is an advisor to the Gabon National Parks Agency and an Associated Researcher at the National Science Centre.