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Press Release

Patricia Wright Elected to the American Philosophical Society

Jun 18, 2013 - 3:00:00 PM

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Patricia Wright in Miaranony Forest, Ranomafana National Park. (Credit: Noel Rowe)
STONY BROOK, NY, June 18, 2013 — One of the world’s preeminent conservationists and primatologists, Patricia Wright, PhD, has been elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States which was started by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” Dr. Wright, a Professor of Biological Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University, Executive Director of Centre ValBio and Director at the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments, was recognized for her prominent career in the field of conservation and primatology, and for playing a pivotal role in convincing the government of Madagascar to establish a major National Park at Ranomafana.

Dr. Wright began her scientific career in South America, with now classic studies of male parental care in the Night Monkey; she then studied reproduction and behavior in the Asian tarsier. For the past several decades, she has concentrated research on sifaka lemurs, incidentally co-discovering the Golden Bamboo Lemur in 1986. She has focused on behavioral evolution as well as the effect of disease, predation, and stress on the sifakas, and has hypothesized that the origin of female lemur dominance relates to the harsh and unpredictable environment of Madagascar.

“Dr. Wright’s election to this prestigious society recognizes her work and achievements as one of the top conservationists, primatologists and researchers in the world today,” said Dennis N. Assanis, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stony Brook University. “Joining the ranks of history’s most prominent thinkers and leaders is a testament to her outstanding research and scholarship.”

Patricia Wright in the Anja Reserve in Madagascar. (Credit: Noel Rowe)
Dr. Wright’s research and conservation efforts are diverse, including the funding and building of an international training center at Centre ValBio with modern research facilities near Ranomafana National Park. Her recent research synthesizes long-term data on lemurs, plants and climate relating to broader landscape-scale issues such as regional climate change and human impact on biodiversity.

"Being elected to the American Philosophical Society is a great honor,” said Dr. Wright. “I hope that my accomplishments will endure into the future, as so many of the other society's members accomplishments have. This honor may also bring more attention to conservation and research in Madagascar, and our new abilities to combine laboratory technology with field biology."


About the American Philosophical Society
Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge,” the Society’s current activities reflect the founder’s spirit of inquiry, provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and convey the conviction of its members that intellectual inquiry and critical thought are inherently in the public interest. The Society sustains its mission in four principal ways. It honors and engages distinguished scientists, humanists, social scientists and leaders in civic and cultural affairs through elected membership and opportunities for interdisciplinary, intellectual fellowship, particularly in the semi-annual Meetings in Philadelphia, PA. It supports research and discovery through grants and fellowships, lectures, publications, prizes, exhibitions and public education. It serves scholars through a research library of some 13 million manuscripts and other collections internationally recognized for their enduring scholarly value. It maintains a small museum for public displays relating to work and collections of the Society.

Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison and John Marshall. In the nineteenth century, John James Audubon, Robert Fulton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur were among those elected. Albert Einstein, Robert Frost and George Marshall hint at the scientific, humanistic and public accomplishments of twentieth-century members. The first woman was elected in 1789 – the Russian Princess Dashkova, president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg.

Today, the Society has 1019 elected members, 844 resident members and 175 international members from more than two dozen foreign countries. Only 5,520 members have been elected since 1900, more than 240 members have received the Nobel Prize.

About Patricia Wright
Dr. Wright made history in 1986 when she discovered the golden bamboo lemur, a species that was then unknown to science and that helped to catalyze the formation of Madagascar’s park systems. A short time later, when she learned that timber exploiters were logging its rain forest habitat, she spent months trekking to delimit park boundaries with the forestry service and securing funding to develop Ranomafana National Park (RNP), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses the home of 12 lemur species, some of which are listed among the world’s most endangered animals.

Wright has become internationally known as a leading expert on lemurs and landscape conservation in Madagascar. Understanding that continued community involvement was crucial to her conservation efforts, Wright oversaw the development of a research station, Centre ValBio, at the forest’s edge of Madagascar in 2003. Centre ValBio has become an annual destination for hundreds of international researchers as well as a training center for future scientists and local community members. The station currently supports a staff of 70 Malagasy people and many have been trained on site as research technicians to support the work of visiting scientists. In July 2012, Centre ValBio inaugurated a five-level building with modern laboratories, dorms and high-speed Internet, allowing sophisticated research next to the rainforest.

Raised in Lyndonville, New York, Wright received her baccalaureate degree from Hood College and her doctorate from City University of New York.



© Stony Brook University 2013

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