Daniela Linero's journey toward her passion started very early. Her parents took her on trips as a child and today, she believes that this frequent contact with nature started her path towards becoming a biologist. No one in her family was a scientist, nor was there any particular interest in her becoming one at that young age. The map of her career trajectory was drawn little by little and naturally, without realizing the destiny that awaited her. "As a child, like most people, what interested me most was playing. I really liked going out to the parks and climbing on anything like a monkey".
Today, the 27-year-old Colombian specialist in data analysis and GIS for Audubon Americas looks at the map of her professional life and recognizes some significant cardinal points. The first milestone takes us to those last years of high school that mark the border between college and choosing a career path. "I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to conservation when I was finishing high school and started to become more informed about environmental problems and the seriousness of these issues not only for the survival of humankind but for other animals, plants, etc. I felt I had to do my part. Since then, I have had the responsibility—self-imposed—to work for biodiversity conservation in the best way possible, including making decisions informed by quality science."
After she graduated with honors in Biology and Ecology from the Javeriana University in Bogotá, she immediately began working at the Colombian Primatological Association. There she conducted the first classification of vegetation cover and the first analysis of deforestation in two rural towns in Colombia, as well as participating in biodiversity monitoring at those sites, all in partnership with local communities. In addition, she led environmental education workshops for primate conservation, targeting both urban and rural communities.
At the end of 2019, her life took a new direction. This time, the coordinates on the map marked the United Kingdom, where she arrived to do a master's degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation at Imperial College London, from which she graduated with Distinction in 2020. Today, Daniela recalls what impacted her most about that new and diverse landscape: "Beyond the place itself, what stuck out to me most was being able to overcome the challenge of living in a totally different environment, with unfamiliar people and a language I did not have fully mastered." Daniela's "migration" lasted a year. Upon returning to Colombia, she joined Audubon as a GIS and data analysis specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the Audubon Americas team.
In these three years, Daniela Linero's scientific contributions have earned her more recognition, such as receiving the second place in the GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge, thanks to her work identifying potential Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA). This global award is given annually to those experts who achieve innovative applications of open biodiversity data. The competition receives submissions from scientists, computer scientists, data modelers, cartographers, and others.
True to her purpose of offering quality science that contributes to biodiversity conservation, Daniela explains the scope of the work for which she received the Ebbe Nielsen award: "The award is beneficial for Colombia because it is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. The code helps to locate, through a very automated and agile process, those sites with greater vulnerability and the challenges related to biodiversity laws, increased deforestation, and other trends that affect biodiversity. This allows users to investigate and do better research on more of those sites and determine if they meet the criteria to be KBAs (Key Biodiversity Areas) and be nominated as conservation sites."
Her data management skills and her calm disposition for teamwork also brought her another triumph, this time for the benefit of 33 Bahamian shorebirds. Daniela compiled into a single database all the data from various sources collected over 10 years to get global recognition of three sites in the Bahamas as KBAs and priority sites for the endangered Piping Plover, among other species. In March 2022, the recognition was officially announced.
Here we should pause to ask her, like the famous GPS voice, if, at any point in her career as a scientist, she has wanted to rethink her course or has felt held back or limited as a woman dedicated to science. "STEM research remains a male-dominated field. It is rarer to see women in conservation leadership positions and being recognized in important academic spaces. In addition, the work of people from the Global North is often more recognized, and the perspectives and studies of people, for example, from Latin America, are largely omitted. That is why we need to identify and address the barriers of different spaces so that women who are or want to be involved in scientific work in the Global South have the same opportunities as white men from North America and Europe. After all, we need that diversity and inclusion to be successful in conservation," she states with great clarity.
Let's move a little further into this territory. Do you think there is gender discrimination in the scientific community?
"I don't believe there is an inherent difference in scientists of different genders. However, I believe there are barriers to women doing science in terms of their work being made visible and being recognized as much as their male counterparts."
In your experience, is there anything that distinguishes women in science?
"In my opinion, there is no exclusive approach that we women can provide as a group, but I feel that the most valuable thing is that in our diversity, we bring countless unique approaches and voices that can help find the best solution to a problem." Specifically, feeling that she is not listened to or can't give her opinion is one of the few things that makes her uncomfortable, she confesses.
Daniela is very clear about where she stands. And even better, she has the Audubon Americas team very well positioned. Jorge Velásquez,Audubon’s scientific director for Latin America and the Caribbean, knows well the work she does. "Daniela is at the heart of the operation and development of all our GIS applications, from a dashboard of indicators for monitoring program performance to web applications for displaying priority areas for the Conserva Aves initiative to mobile applications used by our field staff to capture bird data." In short, Daniela has the gift of ubiquity.
Gloria Lentijo, director of regenerative agriculture for Audubon Americas, states that, "For our projects, Daniela's contribution is significant to spatialize the information, see on a map the places where we work, analyze the best opportunities for conservation in productive landscapes, see where we can analyze those sites with the best return on investment and thus, with these prioritizations we can find allies and people to work with. This gives us a better idea of where we should go to knock on doors in favor of conservation like in productive landscapes in Valle del Cauca, Colombia". Her analyses have also contributed to spatializing the information of the watersheds where the Colombia team works, helping design methodologies for bird monitoring and obtaining the baseline to measure the impact of the implementation of the project’s actions.
Before ending this tour, we have an important question: you started studying monkeys, why did you leave them?
"Birds are one of the most studied taxonomic groups on the planet due to so many amateurs and experts who love to observe and analyze them. This makes for high data availability to conduct research, contrary to what happens with many other species. In addition, birds are perfect 'umbrella' organisms, which means that by conserving them and their habitats, we are preserving many other species simultaneously," explains Daniela.
If every map assumes a destination and sets points of connection, which one are you drawing for yourself?
"My dream as a scientist, perhaps a little more personal, is to establish a network of nature reserves in Colombia where different conservation tools can be tested and evaluated." It's just a matter of time and some additional data before she reaches her desired destination.