Gómez-Pompa, Arturo: 1934—

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Arturo Gómez-Pompa: 1934: Ethnobotanist, educator, advisor/consultant

Arturo Gómez-Pompa, distinguished botany professor at the University of California, Riverside, has won respect from politicians, scientists, and Mesoamericans for championing the rights of the poor in discussions of ecology and rain forest management. His focus is the evaluation of protected areas and the conservation of biodiversity in the American tropics. Through research, speeches, and publications, he exhibits scientific excellence and succeeds at involving native people in studying and preserving their habitats. Recognized by agro-economists and ethnoecologists for tact and compassion, he thrives as an organizer, educator, and consensus builder on issues involving living things.

Developed Interest in Ecology

Gómez-Pompa was born in Mexico City and earned degrees from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. At age 24 he received an appointment from the Mexican government to direct a commission partnering with pharmaceutical companies to survey medicinal plants. The task set him on a life's work studying the Mexican rain forest.

In 1966 Gómez-Pompa completed a Ph. D. in botany from his alma mater. In the late 1960s, he observed forest ecology at a biological station at Los Tuxtlas, Mexico, and compiled a database of native plants in Veracruz. The project began a collection of facts and images that aids researchers in plant identification and provides information from major museums to the developing nations where specimens originated. In 1972 Gómez-Pompa published in Science magazine "The Tropical Rain Forest: A Nonrenewable Resource," a touch-stone of information that generated discussion and research worldwide. In the spring of 1982, he participated in Colorado State University's Distinguished Ecologist Lecture Series.

Founded Institute

In Mexico Gómez-Pompa founded the National Institute of Biotic Resources (INIREB), the impetus to agroecology, a new field of research into low-tech agricultural methods in rain forests. His conclusions highlighted local initiatives as the best way to preserve nature. By drawing on traditional farm lore, he deduced that indigenous cropping methods are more effective than imported techniques. From his studies, he organized a pilot program, the Maya Sustainability Project, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with which was intended to aid Mayan dwellers of southern Mexico. His immersion in local farming methods helped to define conservation goals and to enlist grassroots efforts to preserve nature's balance.

At a Glance . . .

Born in Mexico in 1935. Education : Instituto Mexico y Centro Universitario Mexico, B.S., 1956; National Autonomous University of Mexico, M.S. and Ph.D., botany, 1966.

Career: National Institute of Forestry Research, technical director, 1959-65; National Autonomous University of Mexico, botany professor, 1965-80; National Institute of Biotic Resources of Mexico, founder-director, 1975-84; founder-director, University of California, Riverside, founder-director, 1986.

Memberships: Society for Conservation, Society for Economic Botany, American Institute for the Advancement of Science, Botanical Society of Mexico.

Awards: Guggenheim Fellow, 1964; Mercer Research Fellow, 1964; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1965; Visiting Scientist, Royal Society, 1967; El Merito Botanico Medal, 1978; honorary research associate, Mesoamerican Ecology Institute, Tulane University, 1982; Golden Ark Medal of the Netherlands 1984; Bullard Fellow, 1984; Alfonso L. Herrera Medal, 1984; Tyler Laureate, 1994; American Association for the Advancement of Science Award, 1995; Hispanic Achievement Award, 1999.

Address: Office 3141 Batchelor Hall, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521; Phone 909-787-4686, 909-787-4748; FAX 909-787-4748; E-mail [email protected]. edu; [email protected]. Website http://maya.ucr.edu/PRIL.html.

In explanation of his fervor on behalf of nature and poor campesinos, Gómez-Pompa spoke passionately about the capability of humans to transform nature. He concentrated on the lowland Maya regions, where one culture has shaped the environment during a residency of 3,000 years. By recording the impact that indigenous people have on tropical dry forest ecosystems, he helped a consortia of investors, governments, scientists, and donors to manage and restore natural resources. Essential to his work with multidisciplinary teams of observers was an understanding of the region's ecological history. He continued research at La Sabana, his laboratory at El Edén Ecological Reserve in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Advised Governments

Gómez-Pompa served as governmental consultant in his homeland and in the United States. After the election of Carlos Salinas de Gortari to Mexico's presidency in 1988, Gómez-Pompa critiqued and realigned governmental policies that threatened the environment. Because of his intervention, in 1989 the government halted the damming of the Usumacinta River, which flows northwest from the Sierra Madre de Guatemala into southeastern Mexico. The intent was to preserve the river's economic significance to watering the Lacandan Rain Forest, the wetlands home of the endangered ocelots, jaguars, crocodiles, howler and spider monkeys, toucans, and tropical songbirds. The shift in policy also assured the future of logging, chicle production, shrimping and fishing, and transportation and communication. Conservancy created a protective district for the porpoise and sheltered ancient Mayan civilization centers, where ecological evidence gives glimpses of home gardening in the times of prehistory.

In 1991 Gómez-Pompa served the U. S. Congress on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. In 1992 he and his colleagues assisted the Mexican government in launching a pilot plan to stop deforestation and loss of biodiversity in the country's rain forest. Four years later, the new Mexican administration initiated long-term tropical forest protection and relief of poverty among forest dwellers. He formed Programa de Accion Tropical Forestal A. C. (PROAFT A. C.), which coordinates funding from national and global sources and developed PACT-Mexico, a sustainable plan of usage and development for economically depressed areas of the tropics. He stressed local input and the promotion of natural resources to lift the standard of living for residents. The combined efforts made forest dwellers beneficiaries of conservation and new products, and taught them cultivation and management alternatives to deforestation. Of these achievements, Thomas E. Lovejoy, an environmental-ist with the Smithsonian Institution, has called GómezPompa one of the world's top botanists, conservationists, and preservers of tropical forests. French oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau lauded GómezPompa's scholarship and diplomatic skills, which have enabled him to succeed at pragmatic resource management.

Gomez-Pompa established FUNDAREB A. C., a government bureau that creates ecological reserves privately owned by farmers, corporations and investors, and research institutes. He set the example of ecological stewardship by pledging his own funds and contributions from others to found El Edén ecological reserve, where he studies and nurtures flora. He chaired UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere program, which allied 411 biospheres in 94 countries, and served on the boards of the Nature Conservancy, INBIO of Costa Rica, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Council of Sciences, the National Institutes for the Environment, Smithsonian Institution, PRONATURA, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In 1998, at the University of California Riverside (UCR) Lowland Maya Initiative, he delivered a speech, "From Pre-Hispanic to Future Conservation Alternatives: Lessons from Mexico," as an element of the theme Plants and Population: Is There Time? In March of 2000 he was influential in halting Mitsubishi's plans for the $100 million San Ignacio Lagoon Saltworks, which threatened El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, a breeding ground for gray whales and a United Nations World Heritage Site. In May of 2000 he participated in Genetic Resources for the New Century, a symposium sponsored by the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Rewards and Challenges

In 1994 Gómez-Pompa's activism on behalf of endangered habitats and peasant farmers earned him the Tyler Award; the next year, he won an American Association for the Advancement of Science Award. In September of 1996, he was honored as keynote speaker at the First Sustainable Coffee Congress, when he addressed traditional methods of growing coffee that do no harm to wildlife.

In 1999 presenters of a Hispanic Achievement Award lauded his sensitivity to rain forest destruction in Mexico and around the world. By enlightening the world to endangered tropical plant life, he became one of Mexico's prime forest conservationists. Through diplomacy and pragmatism, he guided debate on the best means of protecting fragile ecosystems and advised the Mexican government on ways to assure Mesoamerica's biological heritage.

One of Gómez-Pompa's ongoing projects involves developing a pilot tropical forest program comprised of 27 community-based projects in Mexico's lowland tropics. For the achievement of environmental goals for the Mexican government, he coordinates several funding agencies. For another endeavor, he studies different types of forest gardens in the Mayan area. He also analyzes the evolution and domestication of cacao and develops videofloristic projects on the cycads (tropical plants that resemble palms) of Mexico, trees of the Great Peten, ethnoflora of Yucatan, and cultivated species of avocado. In addition to his speaking engagements and publications, he supervises a university website, "Plant Resources Informatics Laboratory."

Selected Writings

Ecological Studies of the Hot-Humid Tropical Zones of Mexico (coauthor). Mexico City: Special Edition by Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, 1964.

"On Maya Silviculture," Mexican Studies, 1987.

"The Sacred Cacao Groves of the Maya" (contributor), Latin American Antiquity, September 1990.

"Taming the Wilderness Myth" (coeditor), BioScience, 1992.

"Los Huertos Familiares Mayas de X'uilub" (contributor), Biotica Nueva Epoca, 1993.

Las Areas Naturales Protegidas de Mexico (contributor). Mexico: Publications of SEMARNIP, 1994.

"Ancient Cacao Cultivar Confirmed with Molecular Markers" (contributor), Nature, 1995.

"Biodiversity and Agriculture: Friends or Foes?," in Proceedings of First Sustainable Coffee Congress, Robert A. Rice, Ashley M. Harris, and Jennifer McLean, eds. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1997.

"Genetic Diversity and Relationships of Wild Cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) in Southern Mexico" (contributor), Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 1998.

"Allelochemical Potential of Metopium brownei" (contributor), Journal of Chemical Ecology, 1999.

Lowland Maya Area: Three Millennia at the Human-Wildland Interface (co-author). New York: Haworth Press, 2002.



Biography and Genealogy Master Index (database). Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 1980-2001.

Castri, F., & T. Yo nes, eds. Biodiversity, Science and Development. New York: CAB International, 1996.

Lugo, A., C. Lowe, eds. Tropical Forests: Management and Ecology, Springer Verlag, 1995.

Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present. 2nd edition. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2001.


Agricultural History, Summer 1995.

Daedalus, Fall 2001; Spring 2000.

Ecology, August 1991.

Environmental History, April 1, 1998.

Hispanic, July 1999, p. 56.

Journal of Ecology, March 1992.

Scientist, January 1995.


DC Watch Home, http://www.dcwatch.com/themail/1996/96-08-28.htm.







National Council of Sciences, http://www.nationalacademies.org/ssb/signsoflifenotice.html

National Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressReleases/Whalevictory.asp


The Ocean Alliance, http://www.oceanalliance.org/wci/wci_0400.html


Zoological Society of San Diego, http://www.sandiegozoo.org/cres/genetic_conference.html++%22arturo+gomez+pompa%22&hl=en

SCB Abstract Online, 2000




Arturo Gómez-Pompa Home Page, http://wcb.ucr.edu/wcb/schools/CNAS/bpsc/agomezpo/agomezpo.html


Additional information for this profile was obtained from Dr. Gómez-Pompa's curriculum vitae.

Mary Ellen Snodgrass

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