Conservation and Technological Innovation: Dr. Scott Butterfield’s Lecture Series on the Future of Conservation Biology

By Sarah Tanner on December 13, 2019

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Scott Butterfield, a senior scientist with The Nature Conservancy, conducted a series of four lectures throughout the quarter at Pacific Union College, sharing his passion for conservation with the college's department of biology. His last lecture, titled, "Training the Conservation Scientist for the Next Generation," included a distillation of new technologies and avenues of inquiry in the field of conservation.

Dr. Aimee Wyrick's Conservation Biology students absorbed every word of Butterfield's final presentation. He emphasized the importance of incorporating data science across different disciplines, especially as it has the potential to involve students, such as the ones in this class, in important research.

"Data science is a huge topic in conservation right now," he explained. "It is essentially a conceptualization of what it would mean to train the future generations in this field."

His talk centered on the fact that we live in an "anthropocene" era, meaning that in our current time, humans have a disproportionate impact on the climate and environment. We also are in the midst of a third industrial revolution, one that centers on technology.

Butterfield then explained the endless ties between technological developments and conservation efforts, noting, "Virtually every project we carry out in The Nature Conservancy involves a combination of data science, new technologies, and old-school methods." This confluence is the driving force behind research in the field.

First-hand knowledge of the interaction of these technologies fuels Dr. Butterfield's passion for conservation. As he detailed the various emerging methods of research, he easily related methods to personal experience.

"One of my projects in graduate school involved mapping residual dry matter in a large plot of land that was used as a grazing field for cattle," he shared. "We used remote sensing methods, including satellite imagery along with coding programs, to accurately catalogue the land in ways that would otherwise have been quite difficult due to remote locations and the sheer scope of the property."

Butterfield's graduate school projects also provided students with inspiration for the potential of their own ideas, as the technology used for his mapping project is now regularly employed by The Nature Conservancy in its various conservation efforts.

A variety of other technologies were explored, including artificial intelligence, conservation genetics, and citizen science. As the field of conservation science expands, it is clear that its avenues of exploration will only grow more intuitive and vital as well. Butterfield's lecture made clear the necessity of continuing discussions around conservation, and the essentiality of this work in our current anthropocene era.

Those interested in learning more about The Nature Conservancy and the invaluable work that scientists such as Butterfield carry out can explore their website at For more information on biology classes offered at PUC, visit