12 Female Ecologists You Should Know

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Countless women have played pivotal roles in the study and protection of the environment. Read on to learn about 12 women who have worked tirelessly to protect the world's trees, ecosystems, animals, and atmosphere. 

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Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai speaking
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If you love trees, then thank Wangari Maathai for her dedication to planting them. Maathai is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing trees back to the Kenyan landscape. 

In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, encouraging Kenyans to replant trees that had been cut down for firewood, farm use or plantations. Through her work planting trees, she also became an advocate for women's rights, prison reform, and projects to combat poverty. 

In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect the environment.

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Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson was an ecologist before the word was even defined. In the 1960s, she wrote the book on environmental protection. 

Carson's book, Silent Spring, brought national attention to the issue of pesticide contamination and the effect it was having on the planet. It spurred an environmental movement that led to pesticide-use policies and better protection for many animal species that had been affected by their use.

Silent Spring is now considered required reading for the modern environmental movement. 

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Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Birutė Galdikas

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No list of prominent female ecologists would be complete without the inclusion of the three women who changed the way the world looked at primates.

Dian Fossey's extensive study of the mountain gorilla in Rwanda vastly increased the worldwide knowledge of the species. She also campaigned to end the illegal logging and poaching that was destroying the mountain gorilla population. Thanks to Fossey, several poachers remain behind bars for their actions. 

British primatologist Jane Goodall is best known as the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She studied the primates for over five decades in the forests of Tanzania. Goodall has worked tirelessly over the years to promote conservation and animal welfare.

And what Fossey and Goodall did for gorillas and chimpanzees, Birutė Galdikas did for orangutans in Indonesia. Prior to Galdikas' work, ecologists knew little about orangutans. But thanks to her decades of work and research, she was able to bring the plight of the primate, and the need to protect its habitat from illegal logging, to the forefront.

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Vandana Shiva

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Vandana Shiva is an Indian activist and environmentalist whose work on protecting seed diversity changed the focus of the green revolution from large agribusiness firms to local, organic growers. 

Shiva is the founder of Navdanya, an Indian non-governmental organization that promotes organic farming and seed diversity.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas is best known for her work defending the Everglades ecosystem in Florida, reclaiming land that had been slated for development. 

Stoneman Douglas' book, The Everglades: River of Grass, introduced the world to the unique ecosystem found in the Everglades -- the tropical wetlands located in the southern tip of Florida. Along with Carson's Silent Spring, Stoneman Douglas' book is a keystone of the environmental movement.

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Sylvia Earle

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Love the ocean? For the past several decades, Sylvia Earle has played a large role in fighting for its protection. Earle is an oceanographer and diver who developed deep-sea submersibles that could be used to survey marine environments.

Through her work, she has tirelessly advocated for ocean protection and launched public awareness campaigns to promote the importance of the world's oceans.

"If people understand how important the ocean is and how it influences our daily lives, they'll be inclined to protect it, not just for its sake but for our own," said Earle. 

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Gretchen Daily

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Gretchen Daily, a professor of Environmental Science at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford, brought together environmentalists and economists through her pioneering work developing ways to quantify the value of nature.

"Ecologists used to be totally impractical in their recommendations to policymakers, while economists totally ignored the natural capital base upon which human well-being depends," she told Discover magazine. Daily worked to bring the two together to better protect the environment.

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Majora Carter

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Majora Carter is an environmental justice advocate who founded Sustainable South Bronx. Carter's work has led to the sustainable restoration of several areas in the Bronx. She was also instrumental in creating the green-collar training program in low-income neighborhoods throughout the country.

Through her work with Sustainable South Bronx and the non-profit Green For All, Carter has focused on creating urban policies that "green the ghetto."

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Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield

In the mid-1990s, Australian Aboriginal elders Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield led the fight against the Australian government to prevent the dumping of nuclear waste in Southern Australia. 

Brown and Wingfield galvanized other women in their community to form the Kupa Piti Kung ka Tjuta Cooper Pedy Women's Council which spearheaded the anti-nuclear campaign. 

Brown and Wingfield won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 in recognition of their success at stopping a multi-billion dollar planned nuclear dump.

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Susan Solomon

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In 1986, Dr. Susan Solomon was a desk-bound theoretician working for NOAA when she embarked upon an exhibition to investigate the possible ozone hole over Antarctica. Solomon's research played a vital role in ozone hole research and the understanding that the hole was caused by human production and the use of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons. 

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Terrie Williams

Dr. Terrie Williams is a professor of Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Throughout her career, she has focused on studying large predators both in marine environments and on land. 

Williams is possibly best known for her work developing research and computer modeling systems that have allowed ecologists to better understand dolphins and other marine mammals.  

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Julia "Butterfly" Hill

Julia Hill sitting in a tree in California

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Julia Hill, nicknamed "Butterfly," is an environmental scientist best known for her activism to protect an old-growth California Redwood tree from logging. 

From December 10, 1997, to December 18, 1999 (738 days), Hill lived in a Giant Redwood tree named Luna in order to prevent the Pacific Lumber Company from cutting it down.