Kristin Berry

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2004.
Degree                                               Ph.D. 1972 (UC Berkeley)
Position                                             Wildlife Biologist (Research)
Organization                                     USGS: Riverside, CA
When did you get interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?
From early childhood, my interests were focused on the outdoors, especially the plants and animals.  From the time I was 2 or 3 years old through high school, my family spent summers at the beach on Puget Sound, where I enjoyed the tide pools, the beach at low tides, fishing with my father, digging for clams and looking a crabs and worms, hunting for garter snakes and reading Between Pacific Tides.  The rest of the year, we lived in the Mojave Desert and our house was on the desert edge.  Favorite activities were hunting for lizards, collecting fairy shrimp, becoming familiar wild flowers and shrubs, and basically enjoying the animal and plant life.
There was no one, single person.  Several factors influenced my career in arid lands ecology:

  1.  long-term interests in deserts, desert plants, and desert animals from childhood;
  2. growing up in a neighborhood and place with a very high concentration of scientists and spending all my time with children of scientists (the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake);
  3. personal observations of changes in plant and animal communities from various types of disturbances; and
  4. course work at Occidental College in botany, at the University of California, Los Angeles, with Ken Norris and Mildred Mathias, and work with Robert Stebbins and Starker Leopold at the University of California, Berkeley.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
My formal upper division and graduate training was in population biology, specifically in plant, animal and community ecology, physiological ecology, animal behavior, evolution, herpetology, mammalogy, and ornithology.  On my own I have learned the plant taxa of the ecosystems where I conduct research, and am learning more about surficial geology, and veterinary medical work. I have held several positions in the U. S. Department of the Interior with the Bureau of Land Management as a program leader for wildlife in the California Deserts and as the Research Program Leader for the Desert Tortoise.  I’m currently a research ecologist with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and spend most of my time conducting research on the desert tortoise, a Federally-threatened species, and anthropogenic impacts to the ecosystems it occupies. One major challenge for me, as a research ecologist, was being the first such scientist hired by the Bureau of Land Management, and a female in addition.
I needed to interest Bureau employees in subjects that were relatively new to them (they were previously acquainted with fish and game species that were valuable for hunting, fishing, or trapping), to communicate ecological principles and research findings effectively, and to have ecological principles incorporated into land-use and management plans.  One of my early tasks was to identify potential rare, threatened, and endangered species, unique areas to be conserved or managed as Natural Areas, and necessary changes in land management.   Since the agency hosts a wide variety of employees with diverse views in different disciplines (e.g., mining/geology, livestock grazing/range science, recreation), good communication skills were important.   These skills are still critical today in my position with the USGS because I continue to work with employees from other agencies and the general public on an almost daily basis.
I sought the information myself.  I wanted a career where I could use science and ecological principles in the conservation and management of public lands in the West, particularly the arid Southwest (basically lands managed by agencies within the Department of the Interior).  I visited offices to learn about potential available positions. The official government title for the position is Wildlife Biologist (Research).  I call myself an ecologist, which is what I am, and am Project Leader for several research programs dealing with desert tortoises and desert ecology.
What key advice would you offer a student today?
Increasingly ecologists are likely to be addressing complex questions that require interdisciplinary teams of scientists.  I recommend that students who are majoring in ecology or similar topics obtain a broad-based background in several closely-related disciplines such as geology, soils, plants, invertebrates, vertebrates, and veterinary medicine  (e.g., epidemiology).  By learning the vocabulary and basic principles of some of these sciences, new ecologists can be several steps ahead of those with more limited educational experience.  The observational powers of the students will be enhanced in the field, and they will be likely to use more creative and in-depth approaches to addressing ecological questions. Communication skills are equally important. I personally am stimulated by and enjoy enormously the interdisciplinary team work with colleagues in geology, veterinary medicine, and biogeography.  I highly recommend working in the areas where ecology interfaces  medicine, geology, and other topics.