Silvia Gallegos

Silvia Gallegos was born in La Paz, Bolivia. Her scientific curiosity and love for nature drove her to study biology at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. After finishing her degree thesis, in which she studied the altitudinal change in plant diversity and composition within a subtropical forest in the south of Bolivia, she did her PhD at the Institute of Biology of Martin-Luther Halle-Wittenberg University in Germany. During her PhD thesis, she assessed the main limiting factors of forest recovery in fire-degraded areas of the tropical montane forest of Bolivia. Her studies were published in well-regarded international journals and presented at national and international conferences. Her results provided a new perspective on the dominating plant after fire: bracken, formerly assumed to be a highly competitive species against forest trees, could be now viewed as a species that could facilitate forest regeneration. This result has many implications for accelerating forest recovery after fire in tropical regions.

She has been always passionate about teaching. As early as 13 years old, she started teaching mathematics and English to the neighborhood children. After finishing her first degree, she taught biology and chemistry to children between 8 and 15 years old at Utasawa school. After receiving her PhD, she returned to La Paz, where she has been working as a lecturer at Biology Career and at the Master in Ecology and Conservation program from Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, teaching subjects related to botany, vegetation management, restoration ecology and project design.

Currently, she works in Bolivia as a post-doctoral researcher of Halle University and as an associate researcher at the Herbario Nacional de Bolivia. She is a member of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Bolivian Botanical Society (SBB). She is the vice-president of the Association of Biologists of La Paz. At present, she is one of the few persons working on applied science focused on ecological restoration in La Paz. Her main areas of interest involve plant ecology, restoration ecology and plant-animal interactions, and is driven by the goal of applying scientific knowledge to accelerate forest recovery.

She has joined her passions of exploring nature and traveling to start a new long-term and large-scale project, applying the results of her PhD thesis and starting new studies. In this new project, she is involving other scientists, postgraduates and graduate students, to investigate the effectiveness of different restoration strategies that can be applied at a large scale, following pure and applied scientific research questions. To ensure long-term success of the project, she is also involving local-communities and school students to recognize the importance of forests ecosystem services (mainly as a source of water), to take action against deforestation and initiate joint conservation and restoration efforts. She has already involved eight communities from three municipalities to cooperate in the project over the next 20 years. Besides the scientific-restoration focus, the project also involves environmental education with special attention to promote the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides, waste sorting and plastic waste recycling, which are huge problems in the area.

Silvia is also leading the establishment of a scientific station in the tropical montane forest of La Paz, to encourage the development of scientific studies and courses at national and international levels, bringing together scientist from different disciplines and local communities for multidisciplinary cooperation on forest conservation.

Her team-leading capacity, curiosity, diligence, responsibility and entrepreneurship drive the long-term success of these important projects in Bolivia.