Walder Foundation Announces 2024 Biota Awardees

5 researchers are awarded $1.5 million in total to 
protect and increase biodiversity in Chicago and beyond

CHICAGO, May 7, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Today, the Walder Foundation announced five 2024 Biota Award recipients. Now in its third year, the Biota Awards continue to advance early-career researchers who are working to understand, protect, and restore the unique and diverse ecosystems in Chicago and around the world.

“With ever-changing risks to our planet, the Biota Awards represent a key part of our commitment to supporting biodiversity research in Chicago,” said Elizabeth Walder, President and Executive Director of the Walder Foundation. “We are excited to support these researchers in our shared goal of fostering a city with diverse ecosystems for future generations to enjoy, and in elevating the contributions of the region to tackling the global biodiversity crisis.”

Each Biota Award recipient will receive $300,000 over three years to produce on-the-ground, unique solutions to biodiversity challenges facing our region. Research projects range from identifying invasive plant threats to Illinois and saving threatened trees from climate change to how bats, birds, people and buildings can co-exist.  

“The diversity of projects led by this year’s recipients highlights the array of different threats to nature,” said Jack Westwood, Program Director for Environmental Sustainability at Walder Foundation. “From preventing invasive species from compromising native biodiversity, to engaging youth in bat research to understand the impacts of urbanization, the Biota Awards are supporting early career scientists in leading research and translating their results into on-the-ground impact to help protect and conserve nature.”

The 2024 recipients and their research include:

  • Dr. Sean Hoban, a tree conservation biologist at The Morton Arboretum, was selected for his research titled Preserving Genetic Diversity in Trees: Integrating an Affordable, Rapid Approach With Action and Policy.

  • Liza Lehrer, Assistant Director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo, was selected for her research titled BatTracker: community-driven research to monitor bats and connect Chicago residents to nature.

  • Dr. Gabriela Nunez-Mir, Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, was selected for her research titled America’s Next Top Invaders: Forecasting invasive range size of invasive plants using a traits-based framework.

  • Dr. Yoel E Stuart, Associate Professor at Loyola University Chicago, was selected for his research titled Building a mitochondrial genome database of Illinois fish to enhance eDNA surveys to improve conservation outcomes.

  • Dr. Benjamin Van Doren, Assistant Professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was selected for his research titled Wings Over the Windy City: Science, Outreach, and Action to Protect Chicago’s Migratory Birds.

The 2024 award recipients will be recognized at a celebration in July hosted by the Walder Foundation. To learn more about their research projects, please visit walderfoundation.org/biota-awards

Applications for the 2025 Biota Awards will open in June, and for the first time will provide focused support for postdoctoral researchers. Please visit the Walder Foundation website in June for more information. 

About the Walder Foundation
The Walder Foundation was established by Joseph and Elizabeth Walder to address critical issues impacting our world. The Foundation’s five areas of focus—science innovation, environmental sustainability, the performing arts, migration and immigrant communities, and Jewish life—are an extension of the Walders’ lifelong passions, interests, and their personal and professional experiences. Walder Foundation’s Environmental Sustainability program promotes the long-term sustainability of the natural environment by addressing socio-environmental challenges to climate, water, food and health.

Media Contact:

Nell DeCoursey Brennan

Jasculca Terman Strategic Communications

For Walder Foundation



SOURCE Walder Foundation