Dr Watson, 37, principal research fellow from The University of Queensland’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, is the first Australian and youngest President-elect since the society was founded in 1985.
“The Society for Conservation Biology is the world’s most active conservation science organisation, with more than 10,000 members and a number of journals,” Dr Watson said.
“Its mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving Earth's biological diversity.
“My focus will be on engaging more young people from around the world in conservation activities, and reframing conservation science to be more solution-oriented.
“Thanks to current technology, students have a greater awareness of how the world’s iconic landscapes are changing and are exposed to more diverse perspectives on possible solutions, like the desire for social equity as well as ecological sustainability in areas threatened by commercial expansion.
“I’m keen to provide young people with opportunities that go beyond presenting a conference paper, to encourage involvement with policy and treaty development and the wider community, and opportunities to access mentoring from experienced members of the society.”
Dr Watson plans to establish more local student chapters of the SCB, such as the one thriving at UQ, which he helped establish in 2010.
Dr Watson also has been selected to represent the geo-political region of Western Europe on the Data and Knowledge Taskforce for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
He was the only Australian chosen from more than 800 international nominations to join the 25-person IPBES taskforce which will encourage scientists, policy makers and indigenous communities to share ecosystem knowledge and respond to the global biodiversity crisis.
UQ’s Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Anton Middelberg said Dr Watson’s two appointments highlighted UQ’s reputation for attracting innovative researchers and big-picture planners.
“Australia’s incredible natural environment affords extraordinary opportunities to explore the broadest range of ecological challenges,” Professor Middelberg said.
“With internationally connected research leaders like Dr Watson, UQ’s staff and students can contribute to the growing body of knowledge that informs environmental and economic policies worldwide.”
Dr Watson’s new leadership positions are in addition to his current roles as director, Climate Change Initiative, for the Wildlife Conservation Society and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission Climate Change Specialist Group.
For the past four years, Dr Watson has been leading a USAID and Macarthur Foundation-funded climate change adaptation assessment across the Albertine Rift -home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla - in east Africa, helping managers in protected areas to cope with the rapidly changing climate.
He research is continuing at UQ in biogeography, conservation planning, climate change adaptation and ecology, while supervising honours students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers.