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Using Math to Measure Human Impact

Orou GaoueA simple, but intriguing question led Orou Gaoue to embrace a career in academia: how do we know if a species will go extinct and when will it go extinct? Beyond this simple question, Gaoue’s research is motivated by the desire to understand how humans, through activities such as harvest, fire, and deforestation, affect the abundance and distribution of species and how species’ responses to such activities affect future human choices.

“I have always been interested in how one can use simple mathematics that we learn in high school and college to understand the ecological functioning of plant populations and measure to what extent human activities contribute to the extinction of species and what can we do about it,” says Orou Gaoue, a new assistant professor in EEB. “Studying how local people, in parts of the world where they rely the most on natural resources for their daily life, make decisions about how to use the nature they are surrounded with, and then measuring how such decisions affect the persistence of these resources is fascinating.”

Gaoue is no stranger to Knoxville. From 2011 to 2013, he was a postdoctoral fellow at NIMBioS before leaving Knoxville to join the faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Four years later, Gaoue is excited to return because of the opportunity to work with an exciting group of students and colleagues with a deep interest and extensive experience in conservation science.

“Since I have been back, people often ask me why someone would leave the warm and beautiful weather of Hawaii to come back to the Tennessee Valley,” Gaoue says. “I answer that the opportunity to be part of a developing cluster in conservation biology at EEB and to collaborate on new research projects to tackle some of the most pressing world conservation problems is too good to refuse.”