Holly Gibbs

Associate Professor of Geography

202A Enzyme Institute, 1710 University Ave
(513) 720-2784
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Holly Gibbs joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2011. Her faculty position is part of the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI) and she has appointments in the Department of Geography and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Prior to this, she was a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the Program on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University.

Her research focuses on tropical land-use change and globalization, particularly on the potential to reconcile food security, climate change and conservation goals. She uses spatially explicit and data-driven modeling approaches, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing imagery combined with ground-based data on social and biophysical conditions to document and understand patterns, drivers and consequences of land-use change, particularly in the tropics. Gibbs tends to ask synthetic, big-picture questions and combines these with local and regional case studies to provide a more detailed, place-based perspective.

She is currently researching tropical land-use transitions in response to global economic drivers such as bioenergy mandates and demand-side pressures from Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations. Specific research questions include - What are the drivers of agricultural land use change? Do bioenergy subsidies in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere influence rates of forest clearing? What role could REDD play in mitigating causes and drivers of deforestation? How have tropical-land use patterns changed over the last three decades? What does this mean for carbon emissions? How can we facilitate low carbon land use and energy strategies?

Gibbs collaborates with policymakers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations to identify and answer key questions, and help translate science into action. For nearly a decade, Gibbs has served as a science advisor for policy makers from developing countries in support of the UNFCCC initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). She was recently selected to serve on the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Expert Working Group, where she chairs the Land Cover Change committee. Gibbs has also advised the U.S. EPA on the Renewable Fuel Standard.


In Fall 2011, Gibbs taught an advanced graduate seminar "Global Land Reserve: Myth or More than We Need".   

In Spring 2012, she taught "People Land and Food" (Geog/Env Studies 309), which explores how and why humans have transformed natural lands around the world. The class studies agricultural systems in different regions and tackle topics such as food security, land scarcity, tropical deforestation and bioenergy.  

In Fall 2012, she taught an advanced graduate seminar on "Emerging Market Impacts on Global Agriculture and Land Use".  The class will discuss how globalization influences land use decisions around the world, and the direct and indirect effects of demand-side policies such as certification schemes, industry-led stakeholder groups, and zero deforestation agreements.

Current Courses


Gibbs was awarded a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship for her post-doctoral research at Stanford University where she researched the ripple effects of U.S. bioenergy policies on tropical conservation. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where a DOE Global Change Environmental Fellowship supported her studies on tropical deforestation and climate change. Prior to moving to Madison, Dr. Gibbs worked as a Post-Masters Research Associate in Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Environmental Sciences Division where she led remote-sensing and GIS research for global carbon and water cycle projects. She received a B.S. of Distinction in Natural Resources and M.S. in Environmental Science from The Ohio State University.

Curriculum Vitae




Gibbs conducting participatory research with
pastoralists in Negele Borana

Gibbs collecting forest inventory data in Ethiopia

Holly Gibbs posing with students

Students posing