National Geographic grant takes Earth systems junior to the Amazon

Madeline Lisaius
Madeline Lisaius

MADELINE LISAIUS’s love of science began with her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest, where she watched the greater Seattle area transform with its growing population. Now, she sees parallels with environmental changes in Amazonian Ecuador – and she wants to help its indigenous communities maintain control of the changes around them.

“I know my forest at home, and I know what development looks like,” said Lisaius, an Earth systems major in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “Ecuador is very different than what I know, but I know the feeling that these indigenous people have – they are the experts of their own experiences.”

The winner of a 2017 National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, Lisaius returns to Ecuador this fall to continue her research with people she considers family in remote areas of the Amazon. Lisaius sees a connection between understanding environmental change on the ground and improving lives impacted by encroaching industry.

On a previous trip to the Waorani Territory – a politically recognized indigenous reserve – she partnered with the Waorani Women’s Association on a different project to help assess how a small-plot cacao program was working to reduce commercialized bush meat trade in the region. The meat trade and illegal commercial hunting were threatening Ecuador’s rainforest.

“She has done so much work on her own to make this happen – she’s cultivated relationships in Ecuador; she’s learned the Waorani language – it’s incredible,” said RICHARD NEVLE, deputy director of the Earth Systems Program. “One professor referred to her in a meeting as ‘a young PAM MATSON [Stanford Earth’s dean and internationally known environmental scientist],’ and she does have the chops. She’s so insatiably intellectually curious.”

Read more on the Stanford Earth website.