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Current Winner - 2022

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Lenore Fahrig

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Department of Biology

Carleton University

The proven impact of small, creative answers to big environmental problems is what drives Prof. Lenore Fahrig to inspire new thinking about how we can balance humans needs and infrastructure with better conditions for wildlife around the world.

Fahrig’s research and career have had transformative impacts for wildlife conservation the world over, inspiring a vast shift in perspective not just in how efforts should be focused, but also in how much impact relatively small actions can have on wildlife preservation. By demonstrating the greater benefit of small patches for species conservation, Fahrig is empowering communities and individuals to lead small-scale conservation efforts on their farmland, in local parks or in their own backyards with the knowledge that their energies are having a positive effect.

Throughout her outstanding research career, Fahrig has established that a “many small” approach to conservation planning will often be most effective compared with large-scale efforts. Her groundbreaking research shows that preserving a number of small habitats is just as good, or in some cases even better, than preserving a few large habitats of the same total area. This discovery marked a profound paradigm shift in conservation biology that challenged many longstanding assumptions informing policies of the day, but has caused many to rethink how we design major systems, such as farming and road infrastructure.

In agriculture, for instance, Fahrig’s research shows that the current global trend toward crop field enlargement threatens biodiversity. Instead, she argues that we should be enacting policies that encourage a greater number of smaller crop fields, which would preserve the populations of more local species without sacrificing overall crop production.

Another important finding of Fahrig’s work is that amphibians and reptiles are most impacted by roads and traffic. Her conclusion that we should be focusing more road mitigation efforts on the conservation of amphibians and reptiles came after discovering that these species were suffering population-level effects equal to those of habitat loss. Her research once again challenged the current belief that the most effective conservation structures are those designed for large mammals, such as overpasses for moose, deer and wolves. Her breakthrough is particularly important as amphibians and reptiles are frequently ignored when it comes to road planning.

Fahrig has always found time to share her knowledge widely. Her findings and policy guidelines have been implemented by agencies, NGOs and environmental groups around the world. Science communication has proven to be a cause dear to her heart. She regularly gives interviews to the media on issues related to climate change and biodiversity impacts, and delivers presentations to audiences ranging from community groups to parliamentary committees to share her innovative solutions to improve conservation efforts and save the Earth’s biodiversity.

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