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Senckenberg Prize 2022: The World of Forests

Presentation of the 2022 Senckenberg Prize in the category of Nature Research to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli and in the category of Nature Commitment to environmentalist Kristine McDivitt Tompkins during the 12th Senckenberg Night


Tomorrow, the Senckenberg Prize for outstanding achievements in nature research and for special personal commitment to the protection and conservation of our nature will be awarded for the sixth time as part of Senckenberg Night. The Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research will be presented to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (UK). The Senckenberg Prize for Commitment to Nature goes to the environmentalist and former CEO of the Patagonia apparel company, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins.

“Images of clear-cut rainforests or the sight of withered trees in our latitudes are heart-wrenching. This sentiment must compel us to act together decisively, because our forests as the basis of life are in danger. They provide habitat for 80 percent of the species on our planet and serve as air filters and water and carbon reservoirs. Species extinction and the climate catastrophe are interdependent, and we must view them holistically as a joint challenge for all of us. It is in our own interest to protect forests all over the world. The research conducted by the Senckenberg Society, in particular, provides us with the knowledge of the interrelationships required for this task,” explains Hesse’s Minister of Science, Angela Dorn, and she continues: “Action starts on our own doorstep. To protect our primeval forests in Hesse, we have expanded the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park. It is part of the transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe.” And we are committed to sustainable forest management; for instance, we have certified the entire state forest according to FSC criteria and taken ten percent of the area out of cultivation, thereby protecting valuable habitat. I am very pleased that this year’s Senckenberg Night is dedicated to the forest as such an important ecosystem, and that Alexandre Antonelli and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins will be honored as outstanding individuals who are committed to the conservation of forests. On behalf of the entire Hessian state government, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to both of them!”

Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, winner in the Nature Research category, is awarded the Senckenberg Prize endowed with 10,000 Euros for his excellent, internationally visible achievements in nature research. Since 2019, Antonelli serves as Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (UK), where he and more than 300 employees are responsible for a collection of more than 2.4 billion seeds from over 40,000 plant species – one of the largest seed archives in the world. As head of the “Antonelli Lab,” which he founded, he and his team are investigating how biodiversity – especially in the South American tropics – has developed over time and how it is affected by ongoing climate change and habitat destruction. To do this, Antonelli relies on cutting-edge techniques; for example, he developed an artificial intelligence that can identify and prioritize “hotspots” of biodiversity – with the aim of protecting them sustainably. The evolutionary biologist is the recipient of numerous international awards and the author of more than 180 scientific publications. In July, his book “The Hidden Universe: Adventures in Biodiversity” will hit the market.

“Alexandre Antonelli grew up in southeastern Brazil and has been passionate about the diversity of nature since childhood. Today, he heads one of the most creative, productive, and exciting research groups in the field of evolutionary biology and biogeography. His team uses state-of-the-art methods and an integrative approach to address the big questions in biodiversity research: How do ecosystems originate? How do they change? And what measures are needed to protect them effectively? We are extremely pleased to be able to present the 2022 Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research to Alexandre Antonelli,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Klement Tockner, Director General of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.

The 2022 Senckenberg Prize in the category of Nature Commitment, also endowed with 10,000 Euros, is awarded to individuals who have shown outstanding private commitment to the conservation of nature, nature education, and sustainable use of natural resources. Kristine McDivitt Tompkins has dedicated her life to environmental and species conservation for more than 30 years. At the young age of 28, the Californian became CEO of the Patagonia outdoor clothing label, making it one of the most sustainable companies in the industry. In 1993, she left Patagonia and turned her full attention to environmental protection. In the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, she founded Tompkins Conservation with her husband Douglas Tompkins, founder of the North Face and Esprit labels, which she continues to run following his death in 2015. Using her private fortune, she acquires large tracts of land, stretching from northern Argentina to southern Chile, in order to restore them to a natural state before returning them to their respective countries as national parks. By now, 15 national parks covering an area of more than five million hectares have been created in Chile and Argentina, along with two coastal national parks with an area of 12 million hectares.

Heike Spiller, chairperson of the Förderverein Senckenberg and organizer of the Senckenberg Night, is delighted: “Kristine McDivitt Tompkins is committed beyond measure to nature and the welfare of people and animals. Thanks to her commitment, formerly native wild animals such as anteaters, macaws, and jaguars have been reintroduced to the areas in South America that she has restored. In the process, Tompkins has also kept the local population in mind. Developing sustainable tourism concepts such as the scenic “Route of Parks of Patagonia” with 20,800 kilometers of hiking trails also strengthens the region’s economy, promotes cultural and historical traditions, and integrates the people. Kristine McDivitt Tompkins is an outstanding role model and shows how together we can make a huge difference. We are proud that she now receives the Senckenberg Prize for Commitment to Nature!”

The 250 guests of the 12th Senckenberg Night from politics, business, society, and science can expect a seated, sustainable dinner in an entertaining interplay between award ceremony, culinary delights, and interesting facts. The evening will be moderated by nature filmmaker, science journalist, and ambassador of the Jane Goodall Institute, Dirk Steffens. The BMW subsidiary in Frankfurt is the official main sponsor of the Senckenberg Night. The prize money is provided by the Förderverein Senckenberg.

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins

Recipient of the Senckenberg Prize for Commitment to Nature: Kristine McDivitt Tompkins. Photo: James Q Martin

In 2022, the Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research goes to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli. Photo: Magnus Bergström / Knut & Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse

Senckenberg Director General Klement Tockner, the award winners Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and Alexandre Antonelli and Chairwoman of the Senckenberg Förderverein Heike Spiller (from left to right). Photo: Senckenberg/Tränkner