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Meet Erika Zavaleta

Dr. Erika Zavaleta is a community and ecosystem ecologist.  She received her BA and MA in and Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University.  At UC Santa Cruz, she is a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. There, she and her research group study the drivers and consequences of shifting biological diversity and the role of ecology in order to implement successful conservation practices. This year, she was the recipient of the 2021 Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award.

Erika continues to make outstanding contributions with her research on cross-scale ecological response to climate and biodiversity, but the absence of diverse perspectives in the ecology field, specifically from low-income, indigenous, Black and Latino backgrounds is something that Erika seeks to change. To counteract the lack of diversity, she began working with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Programs in 2013 and started the UCSC Doris Duke Scholars hub in 2015 to grow diverse leadership and community in the ecology field. In 2017, she started the campus counterpart to the national Doris Duke Program, CAMINO (the Center the Advance Mentored, Inquiry-based Opportunities) in Ecology and Conservation, where the focus is on propelling excellence in the field by undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds in science.  Since both programs are heavily field-based science and learning, Erika also works with the Build a Better Fieldwork Future program.  This program seeks to build capacity across disciplines and sectors to make field science safer by preventing harassment and assault in the field and building attention to climate into field safety protocols.  

As of 2021, Erika has been appointed to the California Fish and Game Commission, where she will be responsible for setting policies to be implanted and enforced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While working there, Erika will be able to enhance conservation efforts and use science to bear on regulatory decisions.

Erika has been a member of ESA since 1999 and was elected a fellow in 2018. In 2008, she also received the Ecological Society of America Sustainability Science Award.  Erika’s research in ecology has always focused on understanding and enhancing stewardship under conservation and climate challenges; her research incorporates adapting conservation practices to climate change and the specific needs of the community.