Santos, Maria



Maria J. Santos


Maria J. Santos is a Professor in Earth System Sciences at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The Earth System Science group is a new professorship at the University of Zurich. The group will work to strengthen the Department of Geography, the University Research Priority Program (URPP) in Global Change and Biodiversity, and the University of Zürich’s competencies in Earth System Science and to address key societal and political issues related to Earth System sustainability. Prior to the University of Zurich, Maria was an Assistant Professor at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the Spatial History Project and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, at Stanford University, and also at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley after completing her PhD work at CSTARS. 

Her research asks questions around the co-evolution of social-ecological systems, a fundamental step to place Earth System Sciences in the context of the Anthropocene. Such approach is by necessity interdisciplinary given the multi-sectorial and complex nature of the problem, and it applies multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches to observe, describe, assess drivers, and model the interactions and feedbacks between Earth System spheres and the human system. Maria’s research focuses on understanding the impacts of anthropogenic change on species and ecosystem distributions and how to maintain livelihoods in a sustainable manner. To answer these questions she focus on the what (species and ecosystems), when (time), where (space), how (conservation actions) and why (policies and drivers) of governance action. Her research incorporates field methods, GIS, remote sensing, statistical modeling, historical archival research and conservation planning. 

At her previous postdoctoral work, Maria was investigating the conservation history of California ( She also worked with historical ecological data to assess whether small mammals, vegetation, and climate synchronously shifted their elevation ranges in the Sierra Nevada of California. She was using historical data on mammal presence and abundance, historic vegetation maps and remote sensing retrieved modern land cover maps.

Maria’s dissertation was on “Conservation Planning of Oak Woodlands in Portugal and California: a Multidisciplinary Approach”. Her dissertation compared conservation strategies in two Mediterranean ecosystems in Portugal and California using meso-carnivores as indicator species. This research highlights the importance of incorporating socio-economic factors, land use history, animal habitat use patterns, spatial and temporal descriptions of landscape condition and structure for designing and assessing effective conservation strategies.


2005 – 2010     Ph.D. Ecology University of California, Davis

2001-2003       MSc. Environmental Sciences and Policy Northern Arizona University

1992-1998       BSc. Biology for Wildlife Resources Universidade de Lisboa

Research Interests

• Assessing interaction and feedback mechanisms of social-ecological systems in space and time 

•Identifying global change drivers through conservation histories and relate them to changes and fluxes in species and ecosystems, land use policy, and environmental governance

•Investigate how land use and climate changes affect spatial and temporal dynamics of species and habitat at multiple scales

•Use of state of the art remote sensing, GIS and quantitative analysis to answer interdisciplinary  research questions 


Maria J Santos PhD


Earth System Sciences

Department of Geography,

University of Zurich, Switzerland


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