Erika Zavaleta

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I am a community and ecosystem ecologist broadly interested in implications of interacting global and regional environmental changes, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and stewardship of wild ecosystems. My research group studies ecological and conservation responses to climate and atmospheric changes, drivers and consequences of changing biological diversity, and effective and equitable conservation practice. Current projects address the effects of climate variability and change on alpine songbirds and tree distributions; the effects of land and water use changes on bat communities; the effectiveness of riparian conservation measures in California and community forestry efforts in Brazil and Nepal; and the nature and effectiveness of conservation responses to climate change.

I strive to bridge ecological theory, training and research to sound conservation and management practice. Our lab incorporates collaboration with conservation practitioners and elements of economics, public policy, and anthropology in our research, and I serve in advisory roles to conservation non-profits and to government. Finally, I work on inclusive, field-based education and its effects on learning, belonging and success in ecology and conservation.

Recent Awards:
2018: Fellow of the Ecological Society of America
2017: Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences
2016: California Book Award – Gold Medal for Contribution to Publishing
2008: Ecological Society of America Sustainability Science Award

BA and MA in Anthropology (Stanford University, 1995)
Ph.D in Biological Sciences (Stanford University, 2001)

Erika Zavaleta

Erika Zavaleta, 2018

Dr. Abe Borker

Director of the UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program

I work to improve conservation of our home in three ways, pursuing useful research, teaching future conservationists, as well as mentoring and accelerating students with the potential to transform conservation efforts.

My research on scalable acoustic monitoring and ecoacoustics, stems from a desire to empower conservation practitioners to accurately measure outcomes, and find the best solutions. My teaching and mentoring, at UCSC and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program stems from a desire to build a more inclusive, socially just, and effective conservation movement.

For fun, I love natural history, photography, birdwatching and coffee.

Dr. Justin Cummings

Founding Director of the UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program

I’m an educator and environmentalist. I moved to Santa Cruz to pursue an education in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCSC, and I earned my Ph.D. in 2013. My work for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program allows me to support conservation efforts around the globe and to educate a new generation of environmental and conservation leaders.

My mother, a public-health nutritionist, and my father, a criminal defense attorney who served in the Harold Washington administration in Chicago, instilled in me the value of public service.

Roxanne Beltran, PhD

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am a postdoctoral researcher supported by an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology and a UCSC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. I hope to better understand the strategies that allow marine mammals to thrive in the open ocean, especially how their behavior and survival may be impacted by our changing planet.

I am also passionate about science communication and inclusion of underrepresented minority students in scientific research. I have combined these two passions using a mathematical approach to understand how learning in nature can engage and retain undergraduate students in STEM.


Sushmita Poudel

PhD student

I am broadly interested in understanding the effectiveness of community forestry in terms of biodiversity conservation in Nepal. I am interested in understanding how the different management systems (government and community-managed forests) affect plant biodiversity and the overall sustainability of the forest.

Flavia Oliveira

PhD candidate

I am researching the role of community-based governance of common-pool resources (CPRs) for promoting forest conservation within traditional farming systems from Southern Brazil. I work in areas where there are high levels of forest degradation due to large-scale monoculture agriculture and logging, but also evidence of traditional landscape management leading to forest conservation.

Graduate directory:

A peek at my doctoral research in Southern Brazil:

Kyle Reid

PhD: Assessing California bat community structure changes in response to land use, elevation and climate factors.

I am interested in the ecology and conservation of Chiroptera (bats). Currently, I am interested in studying the effects of human-modified ecosystems throughout California. Large parts of land in California are undergoing increased modification from wilderness to ranch land, to vineyards and suburban environments due to urban sprawl.

I will be using acoustic and visual monitoring techniques to access current and predict future changes while promoting citizen science programs to raise awareness for these important but often misunderstood creatures.

Kat Bernier

Masters student

My research interests draw me upwards, toward the alpine zone of mountains and the diversity of life that thrives under harsh environmental conditions. What niches can cold-hardy, high-elevation species utilize? What drives individual species’ habitat selection? How will their requirements continue to be met or change under rapidly advancing climatic shifts?

My current research explores population size and habitat variables that drive local densities in Brown-capped Rosy Finches (Leucosticte australis),  a generalist alpine songbird nearly endemic to Colorado. In conjunction with this project, I hope to incorporate years of field research experience to implement achievable, long-term monitoring frameworks for potentially vulnerable high-altitude ecosystems.

Paulo Quadri

PhD Candidate

I am broadly interested in the ecology and conservation of mountain ecosystems, especially tropical mountains; how are climate change and land use change affecting these environments, and how do social factors (institutions and economics) may interact with biophysical factors to determine different socio-ecological outcomes (i.e. species distribution shifts, tree growth and forest regeneration, poverty, and economic activities).

My PhD research explored how local habitat variability modulates the impacts of climate change on high altitude tropical conifers (both on their eco-physiology and distribution). During the 21st century mountain ecosystems will increasingly depend on our ability to protect critical habitats where species can persist and adapt to climate change. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand how conservation policies and instruments impact local societies and economies. Thus, part of my research also examined how protected areas affect local economic outcomes and how these outcomes vary with time and space.

I am also obsessed with volcanoes. Badly…

Tim Brown

PhD Student

I am broadly interested in understanding how alpine mountain species cope with climate variation. Specifically, I am interested in better understanding environmental constraints to the distribution of one of North America’s highest-elevation breeding birds, Sierra Nevada Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis dawsoni).

I am also interested in understanding environmental mechanisms that drive their elevational movement during non-breeding periods and what role phenotypic differentiation may play in this story.

My website

Judy Straub

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Program Coordinator

Internship and Fields Programs Coordinator

Judy Straub is the Graduate Program Coordinator as well as the Internship and Fields Programs Coordinator in UCSC’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She supports the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, the Center to Advance Mentored, Inquiry-Based Opportunities (CAMINO), and the Coastal Science and Policy graduate program. She is an active mentor in STEM fields and has a keen interest in recruiting and supporting women and underrepresented populations in science careers.

Judy worked in the biotech industry on HIV and cancer treatments previous to her academic appointment. She holds a BS from Duke University, MS from Northwestern and PhD from Emory University. She recently relocated to Santa Cruz from Philadelphia where she was an assistant professor in organic chemistry and biochemistry at LaSalle University.

Judy Straub