Francisco Laso

Assistant Professor


Francisco received his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2021. His research delved into the interconnections between agriculture, wildlife, and conservation in the Galapagos Islands.

His dissertation work positioned farmers as essential components for the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Utilizing a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, he assessed the complex interactions between land use, invasive plants, and protected wildlife. One of his significant achievements was spearheading the creation of the first high-resolution land cover map of agricultural areas in the Galapagos. This exhaustive mapping project, spanning two years, involved a participatory and iterative process with local farmer populations, incorporating land uses previously absent from ecological literature.

In addition to publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Remote Sensing and Drones, and presentations at academic conferences including the American Association of Geographers, the American Anthropological Association, and the Galapagos Research and Conservation Symposium, Francisco ensured his research reached wider audiences. He engaged with farmers, students, and institutions in the Galapagos, effectively communicating the practical implications of his findings.

Francisco's doctoral research endeavors were generously supported by the World Wildlife Fund, the Graduate School, and the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



Ph.D. in Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2021

Research Interests

Recent research: 

Since arriving at Western, Francisco has begun expanding the scope of his work in the Galapagos and here at WWU campus.

This past summer, Francisco collaborated with Dr. Carter Hunt, U Penn Anthropologist, in the creation of a cultural inventory of the Galapagos islands as part of an NSF grant titled, “Cultura en Camino: non-native minds and human relationship to the environment in the Galapagos Islands”. The archipelago is known for its unique flora and fauna, but humans have inhabited these islands since the 1800s. Because people have all immigrated to the islands, there is a common belief that there is no unique culture in the Galapagos. The project challenges this notion using a card-sorting method that combines qualitative and quantitative data analysis. The team aims to determine if there are shared ways in which the environment of the Galapagos has shaped how its non-native inhabitants conceptualize the world within the islands, potentially indicating the genesis of a unique Galapagos culture.

Furthermore, while in the Galapagos, Francisco began establishing an interdisciplinary network of scientists and farmers to perform long-term monitoring of the agricultural areas. The goal is to systematize the collection, management, and dissemination of data relevant to both farmers and conservation scientists. This includes variables related to the local climate, biodiversity, soil, and agricultural practices. The generated information will be published in peer-reviewed journals and, importantly, translated into mediums and language accessible to non-technical audiences. This approach ensures that farmers can actively engage in and benefit from the knowledge production process.

As a pilot study for this agricultural monitoring initiative, Francisco traveled to the Island of Floreana. Floreana was the first island successfully inhabited by settlers due to the presence of fresh water. However, among the four inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana), it has the smallest population (<200 inhabitants) owing to its small size and remote location. Its extensive human history has resulted in lasting impacts, including the extinction of its native tortoise and hawk populations. Conservation scientists recently initiated one of the world's most ambitious ecological restoration projects on this island. They are working to eradicate introduced rat and feral cat populations to facilitate the reintroduction of tortoises to Floreana. The rat eradication program could significantly impact the local biota. Francisco organized a team of scientists from Universidad San Francisco de Quito to monitor the local biodiversity of agricultural areas before the intervention. This monitoring included studying birds, reptiles, insects, and soil microorganisms. A year from now, the team will return to the islands to measure these variables again, assessing the impact on agricultural areas.

Francisco is also utilizing maps to benefit the local community at WWU. He received the 2023 Diversity and Social Justice Grant for his project “Mapping Access and Disability at WWU.” The project aims to engage with the disabled community in participatory mapping of the WWU college campus. Its goal is to visualize barriers and highlight areas without obstacles. These maps seek to enhance the utility and accessibility of existing campus maps by aligning more closely with the lived experiences of disabled individuals and addressing their specific needs.



  • Laso, F. J., & Arce-Nazario, J. (2023). Mapping Narratives of Agricultural Use Practices in the Galapagos Composition of the Galapagos Highlands. In S. J. Walsh (Ed.), Island Ecosystems, Social and Ecological Interactions in the Galapagos Islands (pp. 225–243). Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Retrieved from
  • Pike, K. N., Blake, S., Gordon, I. J., Cabrera, F., Rivas-Torres, G., Laso, F. J., & Schwarzkopf, L. (2022). Navigating agricultural landscapes: responses of critically endangered giant tortoises to farmland vegetation and infrastructure. Landscape Ecology, (0123456789).
  • Laso, F. J. (2021). Agriculture, Wildlife, and Conservation in the Galapagos Islands. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Colloredo-Mansfeld, M., Laso, F. J., & Arce-Nazario, J. (2020). Drone-based participatory mapping: examining local agricultural knowledge in the Galapagos. Drones, 4(62), 1–19.
  • Walsh, S., Brewington, L., Laso, F., Shao, Y., Bilsborrow, R. E., Arce-Nazario, J., … Pizzitutti, F. (2020). Social-Ecological Drivers of Land Cover/Land Use Change on Islands: A Synthesis of the Patterns and Processes of Change. In S. J. Walsh, D. Riveros-Iregui, J. Arce-Nazario, & P. H. Page (Eds.), Land Cover and Land Use Change on Islands (pp. 63–88). Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland AG.
  • Shao, Y., Wan, H., Rosenman, A., Laso, F. J., & Kennedy, L. M. (2020). Evaluating Land Cover Change on the Island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos Archipelago of Ecuador Through Cloud-Gap Filling and Multi-sensor Analysis. In S. J. Walsh, D. Riveros-Iregui, J. Arce-Nazario, & P. H. Page (Eds.), Land Cover and Land Use Change on Islands (pp. 167–182). Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland AG.
  • Laso, F. (2020). Galapagos is a Garden. In S. J. Walsh, D. Riveros-Iregui, J. Arce-Nazario, & P. H. Page (Eds.), Land Cover and Land Use Change on Islands (pp. 137–166). Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland AG.
  • Laso, F. J., Benítez, F. L., Rivas-Torres, G., Sampedro, C., & Arce-Nazario, J. (2020). Land cover classification of complex agroecosystems in the non-protected highlands of the Galapagos Islands. Remote Sensing, 12(65), 1–39.
  • Bostwick, M., & Laso, F. J. (2018). Survival of the Fittest : Variable Selection on Agricultural Data from the Galápagos Islands. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved from