Professor Ruth S. DeFries

Chief Academic Officer; Co-Founding Dean Emerita, Columbia Climate School

Affiliated with: M.A. in Climate and Society

Affiliated with: Undergraduate Special Concentration and Major in Sustainable Development

University Professor and Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology


Ruth DeFries is a professor of ecology and sustainable development at Columbia University in New York. She uses images from satellites and field surveys to examine how the world’s demands for food and other resources are changing land use throughout the tropics. Her research quantifies how these land use changes affect climate, biodiversity and other ecosystem services, as well as human development. She has also developed innovate education programs in sustainable development. DeFries was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s highest scientific honors, received a MacArthur “genius” award, and is the recipient of many other honors for her scientific research. In addition to over 100 scientific papers, she is committed to communicating the nuances and complexities of sustainable development to popular audiences, most recently through her book “The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis.” DeFries is committed to linking science with policy, for example through her involvement with the Environmental Defense Fund, Science for Nature and People, World Wildlife Fund, and reconciling conservation and development in central India.



Only select publications listed below
Name Published Date
Toward a holistic and data-driven framework to evaluate livestock-derived protein systems 2024
Climate resilience of dry season cereals in India 2023
Combining socioeconomic and biophysical data to identify people-centric restoration opportunities 2023
Crop switching for water sustainability in India’s food bowl yields co-benefits for food security and farmers’ profits 2023
Extreme Smog Challenge of India Intensified by Increasing Lower Tropospheric Stability 2023
How Social Considerations Improve the Equity and Effectiveness of Ecosystem Restoration 2023
Land cover and forest health indicator datasets for central India using very-high resolution satellite data 2023
Landscape Connectivity For Wildlife and Water: The State of the Literature 2023
Listening for change: quantifying the impact of ecological restoration on soundscapes in a tropical dry forest 2023
Social and ecological outcomes of tropical dry forest restoration through invasive species removal in central India 2023
Using passive acoustic monitoring to examine the impacts of ecological restoration on faunal biodiversity in the Western Ghats 2023
Synthesizing habitat connectivity analyses of a globally important human-dominated tiger-conservation landscape 2022
Ten facts about land systems for sustainability 2022
The programme on ecosystem change and society (PECS) – a decade of deepening social-ecological research through a place-based focus 2022
Using citizen science to parse climatic and land cover influences on bird occupancy in a tropical biodiversity hotspot 2022
Declining diversity of wild-caught species puts dietary nutrient supplies at risk 2021
Detection of delay in post-monsoon agricultural burning across Punjab, India: potential drivers and consequences for air quality 2021
Groundwater depletion will reduce cropping intensity in India 2021
Improved household living standards can restore dry tropical forests 2021
India’s Commitments to Increase Tree and Forest Cover: Consequences for Water Supply and Agriculture Production within the Central Indian Highlands 2021
Multiple cropping alone does not improve year-round food security among smallholders in rural India 2021
Pathways towards people-oriented conservation in a human-dominated landscape: the network for conserving Central India 2021
Sensitivity of seasonal migration to climatic variability in central India 2021
Crop residue burning practices across north India inferred from household survey data: Bridging gaps in satellite observations 2020
Diagnosing spatial biases and uncertainties in global fire emissions inventories: Indonesia as regional case study 2020
Food security and livelihoods of post-resettlement households around Kanha National Park 2020
Greater stability of carbon capture in species-rich natural forests compared to species-poor plantations 2020
The association between crop and income diversity and farmer intra-household dietary diversity in India 2020
Tree diversity and carbon storage cobenefits in tropical human-dominated landscapes 2020
Assessing the sustainability of post-Green Revolution cereals in India 2019
Fires, Smoke Exposure, and Public Health: An Integrative Framework to Maximize Health Benefits From Peatland Restoration 2019
Missing emissions from post-monsoon agricultural fires in northwestern India: regional limitations of MODIS burned area and active fire products 2019
Planetary health: from concept to decisive action 2019
Sensitivity of grain yields to historical climate variability in India 2019
The missing economic risks in assessments of climate change impacts 2019
Why India needs a unique approach to sustainability 2019
Alternative cereals can improve water use and nutrient supply in India 2018
Healthy, affordable and climate-friendly diets in India 2018
Impact of Historical Changes in Coarse Cereals Consumption in India on Micronutrient Intake and Anemia Prevalence 2018
Quantifying the influence of agricultural fires in northwest India on urban air pollution in Delhi, India 2018
Seasonal impact of regional outdoor biomass burning on air pollution in three Indian cities: Delhi, Bengaluru, and Pune 2018
Targeting restoration sites to improve connectivity in a tiger conservation landscape in India 2018
Trade and the equitability of global food nutrient distribution 2018
Understanding dietary and staple food transitions in China from multiple scales 2018
Urban versus rural health impacts attributable to PM2.5 and O3 in northern India 2018
An Automated Approach to Map Winter Cropped Area of Smallholder Farms across Large Scales Using MODIS Imagery 2017
Data from: Fragmentation increases wind disturbance impacts on forest structure and carbon stocks in a Western Amazonian landscape 2017
Impact of biogas interventions on forest biomass and regeneration in southern India 2017
Is voluntary certification of tropical agricultural commodities achieving sustainability goals for small-scale producers? A review of the evidence 2017
Land-use dynamics influence estimates of carbon sequestration potential in tropical second-growth forest 2017
Effectiveness of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for reducing fires on oil palm concessions in Indonesia from 2012 to 2015 2016
Factors associated with long-term species composition in dry tropical forests of Central India 2016
Public health impacts of the severe haze in Equatorial Asia in September-October 2015: demonstration of a new framework for informing fire management strategies to reduce downwind smoke exposure 2016
Synergies and trade-offs for sustainable agriculture: Nutritional yields and climate-resilience for cereal crops in Central India 2016
Fire emissions and regional air quality impacts from fires in oil palm, timber, and logging concessions in Indonesia 2015
Mapping Species Composition of Forests and Tree Plantations in Northeastern Costa Rica with an Integration of Hyperspectral and Multitemporal Landsat Imagery 2015
Metrics for land-scarce agriculture 2015
Regional air quality impacts of future fire emissions in Sumatra and Kalimantan 2015
Land cover change interacts with drought severity to change fire regimes in Western Amazonia 2014
Multiple pathways of commodity crop expansion in tropical forest landscapes 2014
Sensitivity of crop cover to climate variability: Insights from two Indian agro-ecoregions 2014
Winter crop sensitivity to inter-annual climate variability in central India 2014
Land cover dynamics following a deforestation ban in northern Costa Rica 2013
Mapping cropping intensity of smallholder farms: A comparison of methods using multiple sensors 2013
Effective monitoring of agriculture: a response 2012
El Niño and health risks from landscape fire emissions in southeast Asia 2012
Biophysical and Socioeconomic Factors Associated with Forest Transitions at Multiple Spatial and Temporal Scales 2011
High-yield oil palm expansion spares land at the expense of forests in the Peruvian Amazon 2011
North Tropical Atlantic influence on western Amazon fire season variability 2011
Monitoring the world's agriculture 2010
Estimates of fire emissions from an active deforestation region in the southern Amazon based on satellite data and biogeochemical modelling 2009
Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecosystem Change: an Overview 2006