Javier Mateo-Vega is a Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and PhD Candidate (Biology) at McGill University. He is also the Director of Partnerships and Communications at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
Prior, Javier served as Director of the Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative (ELTI), a joint program with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and STRI. He also held positions as Country Program Manager and Director of the Osa Site Program for The Nature Conservancy in Costa Rica, and as Coordinator of the Environmental Science and Policy Program of the Organization for Tropical Studies, also in Costa Rica.
His passion for research that informs policy and on-the-ground actions began with exposure to nature in his early childhood, which later coalesced with deep concerns over habitat destruction, climate change and rural poverty. Javier’s current research is focused on understanding the drivers, constraints and trade-offs for forest conservation in pluralistic landscapes, shared by Indigenous peoples and farmers. He chose to work in eastern Panama, including the Bayano region and Darien, after visiting the area for the first time in 2007 and experiencing its magnificent forests and rich cultural diversity. He has developed deep relationships with the Emberas, Wounaans and Kunas. All of his research is carried out in a participatory manner with Indigenous technicians, and co-published with them. He is building on the legacy of his advisor and mentor, Prof. Catherine Potvin (McGill and STRI), who began to work in this region more than 20 years ago and leads the Neotropical Ecology Lab.
Javier has 18 years of experience providing technical and managerial leadership in natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture, capacity development, and ecological research in developing countries. He is a proud member of the Board of Directors of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders Program and is actively engaged with the Smithsonian’s Conservation Commons.
A native of Costa Rica, Javier has lived in 10 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe. He is an avid surfer and art collector.
Working with Indigenous Peoples to Protect Forests in Panama
As the world’s governments, conservation organizations and Indigenous communities struggle to protect forests and fight climate change, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Fellow Javier Mateo-Vega hopes to build a powerful model for others to follow.