A New Face for Regional Conservation


The San Diego Natural History Museum is redoubling its commitment to conservation with the hiring of Dr. Michelle E. Thompson, the museum’s new – and first – Exequiel Ezcurra Director of Conservation Biology. The fully endowed position was funded by anonymous donors, who requested it be named in recognition of Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra.


Thompson, who is fluent in English and Spanish, will steer The Nat’s conservation research strategy. Her posting will transform the museum’s ability to have direct conservation impacts in Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula.

“During this critical time for the future of biodiversity in our region, we are tackling the challenge of species and habitat declines head on,” President and CEO Judy Gradwohl shared with GB Magazine. “Michelle’s ability to translate data and science into action will accelerate our work to address the region’s conservation needs, set priorities and engage the community throughout our mission area and beyond.”

A Mexican ecologist and conservationist, Ezcurra is a leader in environmental science in the U.S. and Mexico. Throughout his career, he has served as director of The Nat’s Biodiversity Research Center for the Californias, director of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology, and director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS). He is now a professor of plant ecology at UC Riverside and sits on The Nat’s Board of Directors.

“Exequiel is an integrative thinker who has made remarkable contributions to conservation in our binational region, and he embodies what we want this position to be,” said Gradwohl.
The Nat has been doing the research that makes conservation possible for 148 years – studying threatened species, documenting how our natural world is changing, and drawing focus to diverse areas needing protection. The hiring of Thompson in this new position will help The Nat take a more proactive role in applying its science to today’s most pressing issues.

Since joining The Nat in October 2022, Thompson has been working to prioritize regional conservation needs and define how museum research can aid decision makers. She is also planning the museum’s annual State of Biodiversity Symposium, which takes place April 12, 2023.

A Southern California native, Thompson comes to San Diego from the Keller Science Action Center at The Field Museum in Chicago. She served as the lead conservation ecologist to create new protected areas and informed land management decisions in the Amazon.

“Natural history museums can play a large role in conservation – they are doing cutting edge science and using knowledge about the past and present to present solutions for the future,” said Thompson. “The Nat has a long history of regional research, collections, and collaborations which are invaluable tools for identifying Southern California and Baja California’s greatest conservation challenges and providing recommendations for action.”



Dr. Michelle E. Thompson, pictured with Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra, is the new—and first—Exequiel Ezcurra Director of Conservation Biology at The Nat.

Dr. Michelle E. Thompson (left) celebrates results from an expedition with community members from Resguardo Indígena Huitorá, Colombia.

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Esteban Villanueva