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Spotlight / HU Professor Keynote Speaker at Biology Conference

Jesús Rivas

Las Vegas, N.M. – A New Mexico Highlands University biology professor will be the keynote speaker at a major biology conference in Mexico.

Professor Jesús Rivas is a Venezuelan-born herpetologist – a biologist that studies reptilian and amphibian species. He is the world’s foremost expert on green anacondas, a nonvenomous tropical constrictor snake that can exceed 200 pounds. Rivas has studied anacondas for 24 years and founded the ongoing Anaconda Project in 1992, with a focus on research and conservation. 

“Worldwide, biologists are targeting conservation research because of the gravity of the wholesale assault on the environment, from extinction of species to habitat degradation and pollution,” Rivas said. “One thing that we’ve used effectively in conservation is the appeal of charismatic species like anacondas. If we protect anacondas, we also help protect all species in their habitat, which ranges from the lowlands of South America to east of the Andes Mountains,” Rivas said.

Rivas said anacondas play an important role in the stability and biodiversity of the tropical ecosystem because they are top predators.

“Anacondas prey primarily upon waterfowl, as well as mammals like white tail deer. This helps keep these and other wildlife species in equilibrium in ecosystems that include the green anaconda’s habitat,” Rivas said.

With his keynote talk, Rivas said he wants to inspire the audience with the incredible biological diversity of South America, as well as the importance of protecting anacondas and other species. 

“I want to help mobilize more conservation efforts in South America,” Rivas said.

In addition to his keynote speech on the natural history of the green anacondas, Rivas will also present a workshop on conservation strategies in Latin America in the 21st century.

The biology conference, IX Cátedra Nacional de Biologiá – “Juan Luis Cifuentes,” will be in Mexico at the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes Sept. 8 – 12.

“I hope my participation in the conference will generate possible joint research projects between Highlands and Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes. I also hope the conference will build interest in Mexican biology graduate students studying at Highlands,” Rivas said.

Since joining the Highlands University faculty in 2010, Rivas has added native Northern New Mexico species of concern to his research interests. Examples include the northern leopard frog, snapping turtles, and Woodhouse’s toads.

Rivas has involved his students in numerous research studies at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge, a 40-minute drive from the Highlands University campus. The fieldwork is combined with analysis in his Vertebrate Ecology Laboratory.

“In a local example of how feeding relationships among wildlife species affect biodiversity, we have investigated subjects such as how invasive non-native bullfrogs at Rio Mora have replaced the native leopard frogs,” Rivas said.

Rivas earned his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, with a doctoral dissertation, The Life History of the Green Anaconda.

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