Heather Tallis
Lead Scientist
The Nature Conservancy

Brief Bio

Heather Tallis is the first female lead scientist in the history of The Nature Conservancy, where she founded and directs the organization’s Human Dimensions Program (HDP), an initiative to bring human well-being considerations into conservation practice from the planning stage forward. HDP advances the use of ecological, social and economic sciences in conservation and natural resource decision-making. Heather’s current scientific inquiries focus on developing transferable analytical approaches for using information about nature’s benefits in specific policy contexts and for measuring the impacts of conservation management decisions on human well-being.

Before joining the Conservancy in 2013, Heather was lead scientist at the Natural Capital Project, where she led the development of a pioneering software application (InVEST) that reveals the ecosystem service costs and benefits of land and water use decisions. At the Natural Capital Project, Heather also helped develop a new free software tool — RIOS — which uses biophysical, ecological and social data to help policymakers and others maximize the feasibility and effectiveness of watershed investments. RIOS will be used to design 40 new water funds in Latin America and Africa.


Nature conservation is at the beginning of a paradigm shift from a position focused primarily on protecting nature to a broader focus on removing the root causes of conflict between conservation and economic development.  A focus on the benefits nature provides to people, or ecosystem services, has been a part of this shift. I will discuss three of these benefits that highlight progress to date and emerging areas of research and action.

For this paradigm shift to take hold, people need to understand broadly the benefits they receive from nature, and change the way they make decisions that balance those values with others. Water infrastructure decisions provide one of the most advanced cases where people recognize the ability of forests and other ecosystems to act as water infrastructure, and have started making different investments. I will describe the state of this investment system and an integrated socio-ecological modeling platform for targeting these investments to achieve the most cost-effective returns to biodiversity conservation and human water use. Beyond water supplies, many of our core economic development approaches still do not consider the value of nature, although there is growing evidence that they should. Development research is showing that people in poverty are often lacking in both income and time. What if hundreds of millions of the world’s poor just need more time, and what if nature can give it to them? Psychology studies are showing that cognitive function improves when people are exposed to nature. What if planting trees outside schools can raise test scores? I will explore these two questions drawing on emerging work in economics, psychology and education.

You are invited to stay for a reception following the lecture.