Hi. Thanks for visiting. My name is Mike Shanahan.

The blog will focus on the environment — particularly climate change and biodiversity loss — and how we communicate about these issues.

I got interested in these subjects before I went to university and then spent a few years working in rainforests in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) and on a volcanic island off Papua New Guinea for my doctorate at the University of Leeds. I was there to study the ecologically super-important fig trees (Ficus species) and the animals that eat their figs and disperse their seeds — hence the title of this blog (a banyan is a kind of fig tree).

After I left Leeds, I worked on environmental and human rights projects in Asia and Latin America for the Environmental Justice Foundation — this included work on pesticide poisoning in Cambodia, bear farming in Vietnam and mangrove deforestation in Ecuador. I then spent a couple of years as the news editor at SciDev.Net, and nearly eight years as the press officer for the International Institute for Environment and Development. I’m now a freelance writer and editor.

I have written for The Economist, Nature, The Ecologist, Newsweek, Scientific American, Mongabay, Ensia, BBC Earth, Atlas Obscura and New Scientist, and have illustrated a biology book called Extraordinary Animals.

In 2016 , my own book came out. Published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven and in North America as Gods, Wasps and Stranglers, it is about how fig trees have shaped our world, influenced diverse cultures and can help us restore life to degraded rainforests. You can read a summary and advance praise here.

You can find me on Twitter @shanahanmike and Mastodon or email me at mikeshanahan[at]yahoo.com

16 thoughts on “About

  1. Hello Mike,
    Thank you for “poping up”as resource person on environment at a time when i really needed such a sholve! Early this year, one friend of mine visited and announced he was venturing into publishing.He’s been a salesman for some magazine and before i knew it he handed over a parcel of business cards with my name as editor! Can you imagine this?
    In January 2006, i sat for an english proficiency exam and passed with exemplary grades in the writing component 8 out 9 (IETS) and am sure Collins this friend of mine drew his confidence from this performance.
    The environment and biodiversity is not a new subject to me. Its has been close to my heart after majoring in Geography (single subject) honours under one very prominent professor of geography in East Africa.Prof. Joseph Ouma Muga is an epitome of the subject he taught and i cannot hide my total respect for this academic giant that was later to found, The environment Institute at Moi University(K).To pursue his environmental ambitions,he joined politics and the rest our readership know.
    Teaching geography for well over 15 years at senior secondary schools upto A-level has exposed me to many environmental issues that i find intriguing. Geography/Environmental studies is a mangement discipline. When i was appointed a principal of a learning institution, those management concepts that i had long embraced became practical reality. The science and art of working in and for the environment are facts of life and i find my energy renewed working in concert with learned friends like you Mike.
    I look forward to growing again with “milk and wine” of your blogs!

  2. Mike, it was so great having you here in Montreal for a month. The entire media team really appreciated your work and your perspective. As we work our way towards the Nagoya meetings, I am looking forward to your thoughts and continued input on how to better communicate the biodiversity issues.

  3. Dear Mike,
    Thank you so much for being such a great resource through out the year 2011, you have provided us with great materials and information that have helped us in our writing. Have the best of festive season and a great 2012. I hope the new year will be even bigger and better.
    Peter K.

  4. Hello Mike,

    I’m a young conservationist who really interested in your post “The near empty forest that proves conservation is failing”. Saying I’m a Vietnamese and the same sad thing is happening to the forest of Vietnam, I would like to translate your post into Vietnamese and put it up to my non-profit e-magazine for young Vietnamese to insprite them and let them know what is happening to the nature in Vietnam and in the world. The magazine is e-magazine and can be downloaded free, I’m doing the first volume of it and I would be very much happy if you agreed.

    You can have a look at my facebook page, the page called Tôi Yêu Động Vật – Vietnamese for I love Animals however it written in Vietnamese only: https://www.facebook.com/ToiYeuDongVat

    I’m look forward to hearing from you,

    Trang Nguyen

  5. Hi Mike, I lived for two years in Sabah in the mid 60s with the Peace Corps and working for the Agriculture Dept and haaving studied tropical Ag at the U of Hawaii. For the last 15 years I have become, because of my love for the fig..the “figman of New Mexico” and teach propagation workshops all over New Mexico and have collected 92 historic fig tree(ficus Carica..common, self pollinating figs in many colors including stripes. Do you recall in any of your fig love and study the use of fig leaves from non ficus carica being used medicinally? I am wintering currently in Oaxaca, Mexico and teaching a workshop on air-layering to local non profits and interested expats and community organizers. What say you? Lloyd Kreitzer, figman of New Mexico…www.landofenfigment.com nmfigman@gmail.com

    • Hi Lloyd
      Thanks for writing. Yes, fig leaves of wild (non-carica) Ficus species feature in many traditional remedies around the world.
      For example, in Nepal, the leaves of Ficus auriculata are crushed and applied to wounds. Ficus benjamina leaf juice is used to as a flea-repellent, while juice of Ficus hispida leaves is used to treat earache. See more examples here: http://www.lyonia.org/viewArticle.php?articleID=480

  6. Hi Mike,
    I have just ordered your book and look forward to reading it. I just arrived back from Sabah where I was doing research on Fig trees for my MSc. I am looking at the density and distribution of fig trees between primary and secondary forest to determine how ecologically important logged forests are in terms of food source. I have read you research papers from your time in Malaysian Borneo, very helpful for my project. Your blog is really interesting and there is some great research out there, particularly interesting is the study on figs as important for restoration. Looking forward to reading more of your blogs,

    • Hi Nicola, thanks so much for ordering my book. I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to know more about your research in Sabah. I never made it over there when I was based in Sarawak.

      • Hi Mike, yeah I hear the culture is quite different between the 2 states, i hope to go back soon and do conservation work.
        My research was part of a larger PhD project funded by UNDP and SEARRP. Drones were used to fly over the canopy to detect Orang-Utan nests and fig trees, images were uploaded to Zooniverse website for processing using citizen science. My project is looking at the difference in density and distribution of strangler fig trees between primary and secondary forest. I am hoping the data will show how important fig trees are in secondary forests for wildlife and that secondary forests need to be protect and restored instead of converted to palm oil.

      • Cool project! I have been fig- and nest-spotting on the Zooniverse site. It was addictive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s