Professor Ehrlich has contributed key conceptual advances in the science of ecology and conservation biology, with a long-standing influence in other academic disciplines. His fundamental contributions to the field of ecology include pathbreaking concepts such as coevolution, metapopulation dynamics, ecosystem services and the role of humans in ecological sustainability.
Paul Ehrlich advanced the seminal idea that interactions of plants and herbivores coevolve and shape the evolutionary history of species, as an engine for species diversity. He used experimental, long-term studies to document wide-ranging patterns of population dynamics and genetic structure, and the factors regulating them. Working with butterflies as model organisms, he disentangled the role of climate and ecological interactions as drivers of population dynamics. This study was pathbreaking for research on metapopulation dynamics, extinction risk and colonization-extinction dynamics.
Professor Ehrlich developed conceptual tools, notably the notion of ecosystem services, to address the role of human demography in putting ecosystems at risk. He developed scientific approaches bridging ecology and evolutionary biology, economics, agriculture, anthropology and ethics within integrative studies to forecast human effects on ecosystem services. This approach led him to the definition of ecological sustainability. His work revealed the unexpectedly large proportion of net primary productivity and Earth’s freshwater supply being destroyed or used by humanity. His ideas on ecological sustainability were central in the founding and promotion of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. He combines extraordinary scholarship with a keen ability to bring ecological challenges to the attention of society.