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Miles Silman

Director of the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability and Professor of Biology

More information

  • Sustainability
  • Environmental issues
  • Climate change
  • Extinction
  • Tropical Conservation
  • Cloud Forests
  • Large-scale species distribution in the western Andes and Amazon
  • Paleoecology and response to climate change of Andean and Amazonian forest trees
  • Plant-animal interactions and community structure and diversity
Current Research
  • The effects of humans on Amazonian and Andean ecosystems
  • The exploration of little-known ecosystems in South America, particularly the bamboo forest and Andean forest
  • The use of remote sensing to determine carbon content and deforestation rates
  • Conservation of the last wild places in the Amazon and Andes
  • The role of animals in tropical forests
  • The distribution of tropical species and their responses to climate change
  • Estimating extinction rates in high-biodiversity areas
  • Tropical Ecology
  • Tropical Biodiversity
  • Community Ecology
  • Plant Evolution
  • Plant Ecology
  • Techniques in Mathematical Biology
  • Advanced Ecology
  • B.S., University of Missouri
  • Ph.D., Duke University
Selected Publications
  • “Sparse Pre-Columbian Human Habitation in Western Amazonia,” Science, June 2012
  • “The upward migration of Andean trees in response to increasing temperatures,” Journal of Biogeography, April 2011
  • “Extinction rates of Amazonian plant species,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2009
  • “Land-use and climate change effects on population size and extinction risk of Andean plants,” Global Change Biology, February 2010
  • “Ecosystem carbon storage across the grassland-forest transition in the high Andes of Manu National Park, Peru,” Ecosystems, September 2010
Related links

As a conservation biologist, Miles Silman has been a leader in the sustainability movement since beginning his doctoral research more than 20 years ago. Silman’s work centers on understanding species distributions, biodiversity, and the response of forest ecosystems to climate and land use changes over time.

His research on the impact of climate change on species migrations in the Peruvian Amazon was published in Science and used to brief Senator John McCain for Senate hearings on the topic. His current projects look at the responses of high diversity Andean and Amazonian forests to climate change in terms of species migrations, extinction, and ecosystem alteration.  His work on carbon cycles and biodiversity controls are used to fund conservation efforts and create economic and social value for local participants. He is co-founder of the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group and is a Ran and Frank Bell Jr. Faculty Fellow.

He is also founding director of the Wake Forest Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES). The interdisciplinary center promotes critical thinking and effective action across the fields of renewable energy, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, environmental policy, human behavior, social influence, enterprise, and environmental markets.

Silman can address sustainability topics ranging from simple tips for minimizing one’s environmental footprint to complex global policy issues such as green energy. Scientific topics include tropical forest ecology, species extinctions due to human activity, climate change and paleoecology.  He and his family live on a small farm where they raise cows, chickens, pigs and goats, and embody his own personal take on sustainability: “living in the world, but not using it up.”

Miles Silman on:

the imminence of global warming …
“We can turn our backs on climate change, but it won’t turn its back on us.”

living a sustainable life …
“What you do matters. There are many different ways to be engaged. There is not one way to be sustainable. But whatever you do, wherever you do it, you must be mindful.”

how climate change in the Amazon impacts the rest of the world …
“The Amazon basin is an engine that pumps energy into the atmosphere. What happens in the Amazonian plain has global effects like hurricanes in the Atlantic, droughts in the Midwestern U.S., and rainfall in Northern Europe.”