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Ximena Velez-Zuazo, Ph.D.

Marine Managing Director
B.S., U. Agraria La Molina, M.S. and Ph.D., University of Puerto Rico-San Juan
Ximena Velez-Zuazo is the marine managing director of the Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment Program at the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute’s Center of Conservation and Sustainability. She is in charge of overseeing and developing studies around the PERU LNG marine terminal along the central coast of Peru, where she investigates the impact and influence of a marine mega-infrastructure on the adjacent marine habitats. She focuses on understanding the ongoing dynamics and future trajectories of the populations of fish, invertebrates and seabirds colonizing this new infrastructure and then applies this information to other development initiatives. Her focus goes from basic biology to functional and molecular ecology to improve the knowledge about the differential responses of marine communities in a highly dynamic and productive ecosystem.
Velez-Zuazo's work in molecular ecology and conservation of threatened species has taken her on a journey around the world. She has worked with sea turtles in Central America, the Caribbean, Peru, and southeast Asia; with sharks along the east Pacific; and with lionfish in the Caribbean. Her molecular work with sea turtles in Peru helped reveal the ocean-wide migrations of loggerhead sea turtles in the South Pacific. Along with her mentor, she produced the first comprehensive species-level phylogeny for sharks, opening opportunities to address long-standing evolutionary questions about these species.
Velez-Zuazo earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and ecology from Universidad Agraria La Molina in 2000. She earned a Master of Science in 2006 and a doctorate in 2012, both from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at San Juan. She held a post-doctoral position at UPR from 2013 to 2015 where she worked with Dr. Riccardo Papa, investigating the population genomics of invasive lionfish populations throughout the Caribbean. In 2009, along with three colleagues, she founded the non-governmental agency ecOceanica to foster marine research in her home country of Peru.