Tropical Ecosystem Research Collaborative

Who we are:
The Tropical Ecosystem Research Collaborative (TERC) is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, researchers, and students at UW aiming to foster research and educational collaborations around the study of changing tropical landscapes. Collectively, we examine the patterns, drivers, and consequences of tropical land use change from social and environmental perspectives. We meet at least once per semester as a full group, in addition to many smaller gatherings, to share data, ideas, news, and otherwise advance our scholarship.

Upcoming Events:


See our previous events here.

Founder and lead liaison:
HollyGibbs_tercProf. Holly Gibbs is a land change scientist in the department of Geography and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (SAGE).  She conducts applied research and uses GIS, big data, field surveys, and statistics to track the drivers and environmental outcomes of land use change around the world, especially in the U.S. and Brazil.  Gibbs works closely with policymakers, environmental organizations, and industry to bring her science into action.


LisaNaughton_tercProf. Lisa Naughton is a professor of Geography and the Department Chair. She is an expert on biodiversity conservation, land use and protected areas in the tropics and protecting rain forests to slow climate change. Her research focuses around biodiversity conservation in developing countries, social conflict and land use around protected areas, land tenure and property rights, attitudes toward wildlife as well as wildlife conservation in human-dominated landscapes

ErikaMarin-Spiotta_tercProf. Erika Marín-Spiotta, faculty in Geography, studies biogeochemical and ecological effects of landscape disturbance and shifts in biodiversity due to changes in land use and climate. Her work combines field and laboratory methods to measure changes in nutrient and carbon cycling in response to environmental change, with a particular focus on below ground processes. Her current tropical work focuses on diverse landscapes in the Caribbean.


Ian_Baird_heahshotProf. Ian G. Baird is a geographer whose research interests include examining the ways that large-scale land concessions are developed, and the intersection between plantation development and the development of hydropower and irrigation dams. He also does research on migration issues associated with large-scale agricultural development and other related issues. Most of his research is focused in mainland Southeast Asia, particularly Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.


IanCoxhead_headshotProf. Ian Coxhead is a development economist whose research focuses on interactions of globalization and international trade, economic growth and development. His work includes analyses of the challenges faced by lower-income economies, especially those in Asia, seeking to exploit their natural resource wealth to sustain long-term economic growth. Coxhead, with his students and research collaborators, has published or is producing work on deforestation, palm oil booms, land degradation, air pollution and other environmental challenges of the developing world.


Dr. Lisa Rausch is a geographer by training, and currently serves as a researcher in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (SAGE), in the Gibbs Land Use and Environment lab. Her research marries qualitative and quantitative approaches, including field surveys, policy analysis, GIS, and statistics. Her research manly focuses on land use change processes driven by agricultural expansion, and on land use policies in Brazil and other South American countries.


Paul_Robbins_headshot-01Prof. Paul Robbins is a political ecologist working at the intersection of tropical biodiversity and political economy. Partnering with conservation biologists, his recent work seeks to assess the biodiversity of human-created environments, especially including coffee and rubber plantations in India. Professor Robbins is also the Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison.



Prof. Karen B. Strier is a Vilas Research Professor and the Irven DeVore Professor of Anthropology. She is an international authority on the endangered northern muriqui monkey, which she has been studying in the Brazilian Atlantic forest since 1982. Strier’s pioneering, long-term field research has been critical to conservation efforts on behalf of this species, and has been influential in broadening comparative perspectives on primate behavioral and ecological diversity.



Prof. Ann Terlaak is an Associate Professor at the Wisconsin School of Business. Ann’s research focuses on corporate social responsibility; most recently, she is exploring how corporate governance structures shape firm environmental action and performance. Ann teaches classes on business & sustainability, serves as the Education Liaison of UW’s Office of Sustainability, and directs the Graduate Certificate in Business, Environment and Social Responsibility (BESR) as well as the Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate.



Prof Adrian Treves completed his doctoral fieldwork in Uganda on predator-prey ecology in 1997 and has maintained projects in tropical ecosystems of several continents ever since. His work focuses on animal and human ecology as it relates to coexistence, especially between people and large carnivores, such as bears, big cats, and wolves. Most recently, he launched research in Rwanda on the reintroduction of African lions and the responses of leopards and hyenas to the return of the apex predator.


Alberto Vargas is the Associate Director of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies and Faculty Associate at the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. Alberto studied agronomy at the Monterrey Technological Institute in Querétaro, México, and earned a PhD in Land Resources and Forestry from UW-Madison. He currently teaches a Seminar on Sustainable Development and is interested in the interface between science and policy as it relates to conservation and development in Latin America.

Link to TERC publications here.

Previous Events:

November 30, 2017 – Dr. Kent Redford from Archipelago Consulting presents “Synthetic Biology and The Conservation of Nature”. Hosted by SAGE’s Weston Lecture, Geography and TERC. More information found here.

CarlosSouza3September 18, 2017 – Dr. Carlos Souza, a renown scholar, as well as globally recognized environmental leader and entrepreneur, presented “Using Data, Cloud Computing And Partnerships To Overcome The New ‘Hard Times’ In The Brazilian Environmental Sector.” Hosted by the Tropical Ecosystem Research Collaborative. Take a look at some pictures from the event. Presentation information found here.

July 27th, 2017 – Dr. Robert Heilmayr, professor of Environmental and Ecological economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presented  “Effects of oil palm sustainability certification on forests and fire in Indonesia”. Presentation information can be found here.