About Ruth DeFries

Ruth DeFries is a professor of ecology and sustainable development at Columbia University in New York. She uses images from satellites and field surveys to examine how the world’s demands for food and other resources are changing land use throughout the tropics. Her research quantifies how these land use changes affect climate, biodiversity and other ecosystem services, as well as human development. She has also developed innovate education programs in sustainable development. DeFries was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s highest scientific honors, received a MacArthur “genius” award, and is the recipient of many other honors for her scientific research. In addition to over 100 scientific papers, she is committed to communicating the nuances and complexities of sustainable development to popular audiences, most recently through her book “The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis.

DeFries is committed to linking science with policy, for example through her involvement with the High Carbon Stock study on sustainable palm oil, Environmental Defense Fund, Science for Nature and People, and reconciling conservation and development in central India.



Representative Recent Publications

Scientific publications:

DeFries, R., J. Fanzo, R. Remans, C. Palm, S. Wood, and T. Anderman. 2015. Metrics for land-scarce agriculture: Nutrient content must be better integrated into planning. Science 349:238-240.

DeFries, R., E. C. Ellis, F. S. I. Chapin, P. A. Matson, B. L. Turner II, A. Agrawal, P. J. Crutzen, C. Field, P. Gleick, P. Kareiva, E. Lambin, D. Liverman, E. Ostrom, P. Sanchez, and J. Syvitski. 2012. Planetary opportunities: A social contract for global change science to contribute to a sustainable future. BioScience 62:603-606.

DeFries, R. and C. Rosenzweig, 2010. Toward a whole-landscape approach for sustainable land use in the tropics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107,46): 19627-19632.

DeFries, R., M. Herold, L. Verchot, M. Macedo, and Y. Shimabukuro. 2013. Export-oriented deforestation in Mato Grosso: Harbinger or exception for other tropical forests? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 368.

Macedo, M., R. DeFries, D. Morton, C. Stickler, G. Galford, and Y. Shimabukuro. 2012. Decoupling of deforestation and soy production in the southern Amazon during the late 2000s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:1841-1846.

DeFries, R., Rudel, T.K., Uriarte, M., and Hansen, M., 2010. Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century. Nature Geoscience, 3, 178-181.

DeFries, R., and D. Pandey. 2010. Urbanization, the energy ladder and forest transitions in India’s emerging economy: Trade-offs and synergies for ecosystem services and human well-being. Land Use Policy. 27: 130-138.


Popular books:

DeFries, R. 2014. The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis. Basic Books. 288 pp.

Silver, C and DeFries, R. 1990. One Earth, One Future: Our Changing Global Environment. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C. 196 pp. (translated into French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Japanese)