Birth Date: 1953
Place of Birth: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Nationality: American
Occupation/Field of Study American ecologist, dedicated environmentalist and interdisciplinary researcher.


KEYWORDS: Pamela Matson, Ecology, Sustainability, Research, Environmental Science, Biology, Climate, Climate Change



Pamela Anne Matson is a determined environmentalist who believes in symbiosis between society and the environment. She is an ecologist and researcher whose main interests are sustainability, climate change and economic development. Her most prominent research focuses on the Yaqui Valley region, in Sonora, Mexico. It has been described as a great achievement of agricultural and economic development and has become a role model worldwide as “the birthplace of the green revolution”. Pamela Matson is currently professor and Dean of the Stanford University School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. As an internationally renowned woman scientist, she has worked for NASA and the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of a number of scientific articles about environmental issues, closely linked to society and welfare. She likes to think of herself as a leader.

Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of ecology, Pamela has been involved in many areas, such as economics, political sciences, and agronomy, and has worked with representatives of a range of other disciplines. The Stanford laboratory that carries her name, “Matson Sustainability Science Research Laboratory”, is interested in sustainable agriculture, vulnerability analyses of human-environment systems, and biogeochemical and ecological processes in forest and managed systems.



Pamela Anne Matson was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1953. Her father worked for the Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company and her mother was a homemaker, poet and avid reader¹ (p. 189). She was inspired by her grandmother, a farmer and horse rider with a great love for gardening.

Pamela graduated with a double major in Biology and English from the University of Wisconsin in 1975 and completed a master’s degree at Indiana University in 1980. Over the course of her master’s, she realised that she loved research and she therefore applied for a PhD in forest ecology at Oregon State University. At that time, she often went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to conduct her experiments, and that is where she met her future husband, ecologist Peter Vitousek. After completing her doctorate, Matson did not go straight into academia, but spent about ten years working for the NASA/Ames Research Center, in California. In 1993, she accepted a professorship at the University of California, Berkeley⁴. She and her husband then worked on several joint projects, the most important of which explored ecosystems in Hawaii: “We were looking at developing ecosystems from brand new geological materials that were laid down by the volcanoes, all the way through to ecosystems that had been developing for five million years¹ (p. 289)”.

In 1997, Matson started working as a professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University. Management of the agricultural ecosystems became her main concern, as she stood behind the idea of reducing the environmental consequences of agriculture. The most intriguing question for her research and work has been the following: “how we can manage agricultural ecosystems in such a way that we reduce the environmental consequences of agriculture, while still maintaining the production and yields and the ability of agricultural systems to feed the planet¹” (p. 290).

Pamela Matson and her husband Peter have a son and a daughter. After the birth of each child, Pamela stayed at home for six months and then continued working with the help of a ‘third parent’. Matson still works at Stanford and keeps her international recognition as interdisciplinary Earth scientist, academic leader and organizational strategist. In an interview with Hargittai, she said she never experienced discrimination and her advice to all budding women scientists is to find the right partner/spouse.



I enjoy leadership – I don’t call it administration, I call it leadership. I enjoy making sure that everyone’s ideas are being heard, and developing a common strategy and working towards that together. I like teamwork and I very strongly believe that the universities of the world today have a critical role to play for the welfare of people and environment.

Cited in Hargittai, Magdolna (2015), Women Scientists: Reflection, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries, New York, Oxford University Press, p. 291.

Sustainability is the goal of meeting the needs of people today and in the future while protecting the life support systems of the planet.

Hargittai, Magdolna (2015), Women Scientists: Reflection, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries, New York, Oxford University Press, p. 289.

People say to me, “How do you do it? How do you have a child and do all this?” I almost hate saying this, but you have to have enough money to do it. We have two good incomes, relatively speaking, and when I am talking to graduate students who ask “How do you do it?” I almost feel guilty saying, ”You hire a third parent.” It really made it possible for us. /…/ It is important to find that right person and to make sure that they are happy.

Cited in The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science, Washington, D. C., Joseph Henry Press.



1984: Research Paper Award from the Oregon State University
1992: Fellowship at the Ames (NASA) Associate
1992: Elected member of the National Academy of Sciences
1995 – 2000: MacArthur Fellowship
1996: Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
1997: Fellowship at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1998: School of Public and Environmental Affairs Distinguished Alumni Award at the Indiana University
1998: Distinguished Alumni Award from the Oregon State University
1999: Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professorship at the Stanford University
2002: National Associate of National Academy of Sciences
2002: McMurtry University Fellow for Undergraduate Education at McMurtry University
2005: The 2005 Richard W. Lyman Award from the Stanford University
2007: Major contributor to Nobel Peace awarded to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the Norwegian Nobel Committee
2009: Eminent Ecologist Award from the Colorado State University
2011: Einstein Visiting Professor at the Chinese National Academy
2012: Fellow at the Ecological Society of America
2013: Top 100 Women of Influence at the Silicon Valley Business Journal
2013: Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society
2014: Doctor of Science Honorary Degree at the Arizona State University
2015: Fellow at the California Academy of Sciences.



Chapin, Stuart III F. / Pamela A. Matson / Peter M. Vitousek (2011), Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology, second edition, New York, Springer.

Matson, Pamela A. (2012), Seeds of Sustainability: Lessons from the Birthplace of the Green Revolution in Agriculture, Washington DC, Island Press.

Matson, Pamela A. / Ashok Gadgil / Daniel M. Kammen (2004), Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Annual Reviews, vol. 29, Palo Alto, California, Incorporated, URL: <> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).

Turner, B. L. / Roger E. Kasperson / Pamela A. Matson (2003), “A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 100 (#14), pp. 8074-8079, URL: <> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).

Matson, Pamela / William C. Clark / Krister Andersson (2016), Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

McCullough, Ellen B. / Pamela A. Matson (2011), “Evolution of the knowledge system for agricultural development in the Yaqui Valley, Sonora, Mexico”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113 (#17), pp. 4609-4614, URL: <> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).

Luers, Amy, L. / Rosamond L. Naylor / Pamela A. Matson (2006), ”A case study of land reform and coastal land transformation in southern Sonora, Mexico”, Land Use Policy, vol. 23 (#4), pp. 436-447, URL:<> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).

Goldstein, Joshua H. / Gretchen C. Daily / James B. Friday / Pamela A. Matson / Rosamond L. Naylor / Peter Vitousek (2006), “Business strategies for conservation on private lands: Koa forestry as a case study”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 103 (#26), pp. 10140-10145, URL:<> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).



  1. Hargittai, Magdolna (2015), Women Scientists: Reflections, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries, New York, Oxford University Press.
  2. Stanford, Center on Food Security and the Environment, URL:<> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).
  3. Stanford University, URL: <> (last accessed 6 Dec. 2017).
  4. Wasserman, Elga (2000), The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science, Washington, D. C., Joseph Henry Press.
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