Plant Ecology and Global Change: Science Motivated by Conservation


The Ackerly Lab is in the Dept. of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. We study plant ecology, evolution, climate change and conservation biology, with a special focus on native plants of California.


Current research in the Ackerly lab is focused on studies of climate change impacts on California biodiversity, including distribution modeling, long-term vegetation dynamics and focal studies of selected plant species. Graduate students and post-docs are working on evolution of physiological traits, demography of alpine plants, and species distributions on fine-scale spatial gradients.

Climate Change and Conservation in the SF Bay Area

Climate change poses a grave threat to California biodiversity. We are researching projected impacts of climate change on California native plants, with a current focus on conservation planning in the San Francisco Bay Area. Loarie et al. (2008) examined projected range shifts for the endemic flora of California. The projections suggest widespread declines in plant diversity, and highlight the potential importance of mountainous regions as future conservation refugia. In a related project, supported by California State Parks, we have examined patterns of neo-endemism in California’s endemic flora to assess ‘evolutionary hotspots’ and their relevance to conservation priorities (Kraft et al., 2010). Most recently we have focused on the geography of climate change (Ackerly et al., 2010), and the implications of spatial heterogeneity in climate conditions. Loarie et al. (2009) conducted global analyses of the velocity of climate change – the rate that organisms or populations will have to move to keep pace with changing temperature and precipitation.

We collaborate with Lisa Micheli at Pepperwood Preserve, and jointly lead the Terrestrial Biodiversity and Climate Change Collaborative ( TBC3 is a collaboration of academic, NGO and USGS researchers linking climate change, hydrology, biodiversity and conservation planning. One of our main goals is to evaluate the resilience of the Bay Area Open Space Council’s Conservation Lands Network in the face of climate change. The CLN provides a strategic plan to expand the open space network in the Bay Area from its current coverage of more than 1 million acres up to as much of 50% of the region (about 2 million acres!). See the web site for recent reports, publication and workshop activities.

Our main projects involve modeling of vegetation distributions in the Bay Area, and the recent installation of permanent plots to study woodland vegetation dynamics at Pepperwood Preserve. The 50 plots, each 20 x 20 m, including deciduous oaks (blue and oregon oak), mixed evergreen woodlands, and douglas-fir. Initial surveys were conducted in 2013, and we plan on resurveys every 5 years, and additional projects examining seedling demography, fuel surveys, etc. A report on the project is available here.

Scroll to Top