Erika Zavaleta honored for diversity efforts by Ecological Society of America

Erika Zavaleta
Erika Zavaleta (photo by Matt Kroll)

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has chosen Erika Zavaleta, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, to receive its 2021 Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award.

The award recognizes long-standing contributions toward increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

The ESA’s announcement of the award noted that “Zavaleta’s development of innovative and accessible field experiences has enhanced the science skills, confidence, and leadership potential of many underrepresented students in conservation science, who are now pursuing or fulfilling their goals of an environmental career and sharing her vision to diversify today’s environmental workforce.”

Zavaleta has launched and directed three diversity in ecology programs at UCSC in the last five years, and these programs have impacted several hundred students by mentoring them through their career pathways.

Since 2015, she has directed the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, which recruits a diverse cohort of students each year for experiential training in field research and conservation leadership. As a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, Zavaleta launched the Center to Advance Mentored, Inquiry-Based Opportunities (CAMINO) for students in ecology and conservation programs and developed a training program for preventing sexual harassment in field biology activities. Student testimonials attest to the success of her programs and her ability to share her commitment to human diversity in ecology.

Zavaleta’s science communication skills have also been impactful, as seen in her 29 short field-based films about California’s ecology and conservation and in her award-winning book, Ecosystems of California, co-edited with Hal Mooney.

Her scholarship has also focused on developing inclusive field experiences for students from diverse backgrounds and on elevating the human dimension in her research on climate change impacts on ecosystem function and services. A fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the California Academy of Sciences, Zavaleta has received several awards for her innovative work, including the 2006 ESA Sustainability Science Award. She was named a HHMI professor in 2018.

ESA will present the 2021 awards during a ceremony at the Society’s upcoming Virtual Annual Meeting, which will take place in August.

“This year’s award recipients have shown remarkable leadership and creativity,” said ESA President Kathleen Weathers. “On behalf of the Ecological Society of America, I congratulate the award winners and thank them for their significant contributions to building both ecological knowledge and the community of ecologists.”