Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Ph.D.


Contact Me

Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and Director, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability
Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability


An ecologist, human-environment scientist and sustainability scholar, Jianguo "Jack" Liu holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, is University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University (MSU), and serves as founding director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. Liu came to MSU after completing his postdoctoral study at Harvard University. He also was a visiting scholar at Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton.

Research: Liu is a pioneer in systems integration for global sustainability (e.g., integration of natural and social sciences, policy, and technology for understanding and promoting global environmental sustainability). He has opened up and greatly advanced a number of new interdisciplinary frontiers. He has developed the award-winning framework of metacoupling that integrates human-nature interactions and feedbacks within specific places (intracoupling), between adjacent places (pericoupling), and between distant places (telecoupling), for sustainability worldwide. This holistic framework helps disentangle the complexity of globalization and environmental changes, and systematically shift paradigms in sustainability research from largely focusing on different places separately to coupling different places simultaneously. It is a powerful tool that has uncovered hidden and complex cascading impacts of human activities in specific places on sustainability elsewhere globally. He has also led the discovery and elucidation of many important global sustainability challenges, such as rapid household proliferation (faster growth of household numbers than population sizes, and increased household numbers despite decreased population sizes) that challenged the prevailing approach of using population sizes as a main measure of human impacts on biodiversity, and surprising degradation of habitat in protected areas for giant pandas (global conservation icon) that refuted the perception about the effectiveness of protected areas and provided a wake-up call for better management of global protected areas.  His scholarship has exposed critical connections between seemingly unconnected issues, for example, divorce and environmental impacts

Many of his team’s pathbreaking findings have been translated into innovative policies and practice, which have turned decades of panda habitat degradation into recovery, enhanced management of protected areas, improved environmental protection and ecosystem services, and advanced biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration, especially in China with profound global implications.  He was a Coordinating Lead Author of the influential Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services organized by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, approved by 132 countries in 2019, and used to shape conservation of global biodiversity and ecosystem restoration.

His research has been published in journals such as Nature and Science, highlighted at international events such as the 2021 Nobel Prize Summit, featured in high-prolife news media outlets such as Time magazine,  and used by various stakeholders such as high-level officials of the United Nations.

Capacity Building and Education: To facilitate scientific collaborations and communications, Liu has been the founder and coordinator of the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS-Net.org) (since 2008), which has engaged thousands of researchers from multiple disciplines including 64 CHANS Fellows (junior researchers) throughout the world. Liu has also been the founder and chair of the NASA-MSU Professional Enhancement Award Program since 1998 that has supported more than ~460 students and other junior scholars (e.g., postdocs and junior faculty) from more than 180 institutions around the globe. Many of the former NASA-MSU awardees and CHANS fellows as well as students and postdoctoral associates in his lab have become leaders in the scientific community, government agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations. They have made outstanding achievements, such as being featured in “Biden’s Briefing” (podcast of former U.S. Vice President (now President) Joe Biden).

Services: Liu is serving on three committees of the National Academies (of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) -- chair of the Committee on “Research at Multiple Scales”, member of the Committee on “China-U.S. Scientific Engagement in Sustainability”, and member of “Affinity Group on Sustainable Agriculture”. 

Liu has served as chair or member of numerous other international and national committees and panels, reviewing editor for Science for 10 years, ad hoc editor for PNAS since 2009, and editorial or advisory board member of approximately 20 other professional journals. He is past president of US-IALE (U.S. Regional Association, now North America Regional Association, IALE-NA, International Association for Landscape Ecology) and Commissioner of the international Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification.

Honors and Awards: In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Liu has received several dozen prestigious honors and awards. He is an elected member of  American Philosophical Society,  American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters; elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Ecological Society of America (ESA); and Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow. His awards include the World Sustainability Award from the MDPI Sustainability Foundation in Switzerland; the Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science from the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters and Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Guggenheim Fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation;  CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation;  Distinguished Landscape Ecologist Award and Distinguished Service Award from US-IALE; and Eminent Ecologist Award, Sustainability Science Award, and  Innovation in Sustainability Science Award from ESA. He is a global “Highly Cited Researcher” according to Clarivate Analytics.


Areas of Interest:

Coupled human and natural systems (CHANS); sustainability; telecoupling; metacoupling; conservation; ecosystem restoration; environment; forest dynamics; climate mitigation and adaptation; natural carbon capture; ecological economics; biodiversity; ecosystem services; food security; water security; landscapes; applications of GIS and remote sensing technology; household-environment interactions; systems integration and modeling

Selected Publications:

National Science Review - Leveraging the metacoupling framework for sustainability science and global sustainable development 2023

Nature - Assessing progress towards sustainable development over space and time   2020

Telecoupling - Exploring Land-Use Change in a Globalised World - What is Telecoupling?  2019

Nature Sustainability - Nexus approaches to global sustainable development  2018

Ecology and Society - Integration across a metacoupled world  2017

Pandas and People - Coupling Human and Natural Systems for Sustainability   2016

Science - Systems integration for global sustainability  2015

Ecology and Society - Framing Sustainability in a Telecoupled World  2013

PNAS - Environmental Impacts of Divorce  2007

Science - Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems  2007

Nature - China’s Environment in a Globalizing World-How China and the Rest of the World Affect Each Other  2005

Nature - Effects of household dynamics on resource consumption and biodiversity 2003

Science - Ecological degradation in protected areas: The Case of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas 2001

Publications and Research Profiles:

Selected Media:


panda_ThumbnailPandas and People