John Lawton was appointed chief executive of the Natural Sciences Research Council this week, taking up the post on October 1.
Professor Lawton, 55, is currently director of the NSRC's centre for population biology at Silwood Park near Ascot in Berkshire, an Imperial College field station. He is also professor of community ecology at Imperial College, London.
He has been a close scientific colleague of the government's chief scientific advisor, Sir Robert May. In one project they found that human activity is driving up extinction rates by 1,000 times. The report concluded that the wave of extinctions rivals that which coincided with the death of the dinosaurs and is due to human activity.
As chairman of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a position which he held until last year, Professor Lawton steered the society through the fallout from the decision to allow Barbara Young, chief executive, to remain in her post after becoming a Labour working peer. Lord Moran, vice-president of the RSPB, quit in the wake of the decision.
Professor Lawton is no stranger to controversy. His earlier research implicated cats in the decline of the song thrush population. Another researcher built on this work to calculate that cats kill some 210 million creatures a year, far more than are killed by human activities such as shooting and poisoning. The RSPB admitted that taking a stand against the cat might not be a popular move. Despite owning a cat himself, Professor Lawton received much hate mail.
A member of the NSRC since August 1995, Professor Lawton has published more than 250 papers, articles and book chapters, including 17 refereed papers in Nature and four in Science, and is a member of the editorial boards of several journals. He was awarded the CBE in 1997 and made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1989. He is married with two children.
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