Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Lab

cropped-img_15617691738145.jpegWelcome to the TNC / UW Conservation Science Lab!  We seek to bring  cutting-edge natural and social science to bear on critical conservation problems. Our mission is to provide the science needed to conservation the lands and waters on which all life depends.  Our vision is of thriving nature and thriving human communities – a shared future that enables us to prosper at the same time that we can care for the lands and waters that sustain us.



What we do

Recently, scientists have realized that they must do a better job of serving the public and helping inform critical societal decisions. Science that informs public decisions, but does not dictate those decisions, is the vision that shapes our research.  Our research program has coalesced around the theme of informing  conservation policy and strategy. This requires understanding how interactions among species shape communities, how anthropogenic disturbances directly and indirectly influence  ecosystems, and the most effective and efficient strategies for conserving and restoring  ecosystems.
     While  ecologically-focused research providepublish_snapshots new practical perspectives for conservation, it still does not fully integrate biophysical and human systems.  Our belief is that conservation in the Anthropocene requires that we move away from a dichotomous world view. Conservation not only must be concerned with maintaining ecological attributes of the system, it must also concern itself with constituents of human systems. Thus, conservation must address connections of people to each other and to nature, the ability to act meaningfully to determine one’s future, and ensure that human needs are met.
     We are driven by questions and problems rather than techniques, particular species or ecosystems. Thus, we have conducted research in most marine ecosystems in North America (from coral reefs to the sub-Arctic and from the intertidal zone to the continental slope) and on a diversity of taxa (from macroalage to feral horses) and social systems.  Additionally, our research integrates ecological and social-science observations, and experiments with theory models drawn from a diversity of disciplines.

Phil Levin, Principle Investigator

SONY DSCI am a Professor of Practice at UW and the Lead Scientist for the Nature Conservancy of Washington. In this unique position, my objective is the  integration of academic scholarship with practical experience.

I am a conservation scientist who is interested in bridging the gaps between theory and practice and between social and natural sciences. The main focus of my current work is developing interdisciplinary tools to inform conservation of marine, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

Prior to joining the Nature Conservancy and University of Washington, I was a Senior Scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, WA, USA. I served as the scientific lead of NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment efforts in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem and Puget Sound. In the course of this work, I led the development of new analytical tools for characterizing ecosystem health and forecasting the cumulative effects of coastal zone management and climate change on marine ecosystems.

I received the Department of Commerce Silver Award and NOAA’s Bronze Medal for my work on marine ecosystems, and the Seattle Aquarium’s Conservation Research Award for my work in Puget Sound. I have published over 150 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters and technical reports, and edited the forthcoming book, “Conservation of the Anthropocene Ocean: interdisciplinary approaches for nature and people”.  My work has been featured in such news outlets as NPR, PBS, the BBC, MSBNC, The Economist, among others. I recently served as President of the Western Society of Naturalists, and  served on numerous editorial boards and scientific advisory panels. I received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of New Hampshire in 1993 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina.

In recent years, I have been particularly interested in the social-ecological-systems of temperate rain forests from Washington to Southeast Alaska.  Some information about these projects can be found here:  Ocean Tipping Points Project, and The Ocean Modeling Forum.
For more information about my research interests, I suggest perusing my publications or contact me via email.

Prospective students

IMG_3419Thank you for your interest in the Levin Conservation Science Lab for conducting your graduate studies at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington.

I am always on the look-out for sharp, motivated, and hard-working students who have a passion for the  conservation.  Hopefully you have spent the time to peruse my research interests and read a couple of my recent publications.  From this you will notice that my research interests focus on issues related to interdisciplinary conservation with a slight marine bias.  Don’t like salt?  Well, the fact is you can work on any number of projects in our group.

By applying to work with me you will have the opportunity to join a dynamic lab filled with a great group of students and staff working together as a cohesive unit. Quite simply, we play hard and work even harder!

Peter Kareiva once asked Bob Paine what was the best predictor of whether or not someone would be hugely successful as a scientist, and Bob’s reply was, “Whomever has the most fun at it.”

Still interested in joining the Levin Conservation Science Lab? Fire me an e-mail at, and include the following information: (1) curriculum vitaé (or résumé), (2) copies of transcripts, (3) summary of research experience, and (4) statement of research interests. I hope to hear from you.

What should you do and what are your chances?

The most important component of the application process is identifying a faculty member who will sponsor your application. This is the person who will ultimately be responsible for providing you an offer (given that you meet certain admission qualifications). SEFS requires all incoming students to have at least 1 year of funding guaranteed. This support typically comes from my own research grants, or any fellowship that you might have been awarded. It is important to note that SEFS receives far more qualified applications than we can possibly hope to admit, which makes the application process very competitive.

What should you expect from me as an advisor?

As an advisor it is my responsibility to provide you with the resources and professional connections (or at least point you in the right direction) needed to ensure that you meet your career goals. I recognize that the needs of graduate students are not all the same. Some students prefer hands on supervision, others prefer no supervision, while still others (and I would bet, most students) fall somewhere between these two extremes. For this reason, I do not supervise all graduate students the same way. Together we will find the right balance. At the end of the day, I strive to make you a complete conservation scientist with the essential skills required for a successful and rewarding career in academia, government, nonprofit, public sector or wherever you want to be.

What do I expect from you as a graduate student?

I expect you to be hard working and passionate about your research. You can expect to write grants, publish your work in peer-reviewed journals, create and deliver presentations at local and national meetings, interact with other faculty and graduate students across campus, and have a fun time doing it.  Do I expect your graduate research to consume every aspect of your life? Definitely no. Do I expect you to be committed to and excited about your work? Absolutely yes!