Jed Kaplan was born in Berkeley, California USA. He lived mostly in California until beginning his university studies. He graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire USA with a double degree in Earth Sciences and Geography with honors in 1994. In 1995, after a brief experience as a teacher in an international school in the Swiss Alps, he started his Ph.D. studies in Plant Ecology at Lund University, Sweden, where he was advised by Prof. Colin Prentice. His thesis: Geophysical Applications of Vegetation Modeling, contained studies on modeling arctic vegetation, wetland methane emissions during the Last Glacial Maximum, and the stable carbon isotope composition of global vegetation. He subsequently held postdocs at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany and the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. From 2003-2005 he was a Marie Curie Fellow at the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, where he collaborated with atmospheric chemists to improve our understanding of the global methane budget. In 2005, he returned to Switzerland and was senior scientist in the Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern. A year later he became senior scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research in the Land-use Dynamics Unit.
It was at this time that Jed became interested in human-environment interactions and the long-term impact of anthropogenic land cover change on global biogeochemical cycles and climate. From 2008 to 2013 Jed was a Swiss National Science Foundation Professor in the Environmental Engineering Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). In 2012, he was awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant for the project COEVOLVE, which was originally hosted in the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva. In March 2014 Jed left Geneva and joined the Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics in the faculty of Geosciences and Environment at the University of Lausanne. In August 2017, he joined the Department of Archaeology of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, where he is finishing the ERC COEVOLVE project.
Prof. Kaplan has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and raised important funding from the ERC, the Swiss and U.S. National Science Foundations, and other national and international research funding bodies. His current research interests center around the study of human-environment interactions in the late Quaternary, from the global expansion of hunter-gatherers during the last glacial cycle, to the development of agriculture, urbanism, and complex societies in the preindustrial world. He is interested in how the changing physical environment affected human activities over this period, and how developments in diet, technology, trade, and social organization affected the environment in turn, that is to say, the co-evolution and feedbacks between natural and human systems that led to the development of the contemporary earth system.