Dr. Diane E. Pataki is a Foundation Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University (ASU). She has spent over two decades studying the relationships between people, nature, and the environment in cities with the goal of helping to reverse climate change and biodiversity loss. Despite the current widespread pessimism about society's ability to cope with climate change, Dr. Pataki has come to believe that humanity now has the tools to successfully address the global environmental crisis. In fact, given recent advances in ecology, sustainability, the social sciences, humanities, and Indigenous and traditional knowledges, there has never been more potential to shape a future in which all people and nature can thrive.
Dr. Pataki was born and raised in New York City to Romanian immigrant parents. After attending public schools in Jamaica, Queens, she was trained as an ecologist with a B.A. in environmental science from Barnard College and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment. She began her career studying the effects of drought and climate change on forest and desert ecosystems, measuring the ways in which trees and desert shrubs respond to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and periods of low rainfall. After postdoctoral research at the Desert Research Institute, in 1999 she joined the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme as a Science Officer for the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems core project. Working under Jim Ehleringer at the University of Utah, she coordinated international syntheses of how ecosystems respond to climate change, land use change, and pollution.
As a result of this work, Dr. Pataki soon found that while ecologists were focused on natural ecosystems and some types of agricultural systems, urban ecosystems were left out of the global research agenda on climate change and biodiversity. Yet, most of the human population now lives in cities. Why would the ecological sciences neglect urban ecosystems and designed landscapes - the ecosystems that affect our daily lives the most? There were several reasons, including the historic split between human and ecological sciences, and western society's separation between people and nature. Given the accelerating environmental crisis, Dr. Pataki changed focus to look for new ways of restoring ecology as a holistic discipline aimed at both understanding and healing the modern, post-industrial world. She began leading interdisciplinary studies of greenhouse gas emissions in cities, the role of nature in urban sustainability, and nature-based solutions to the global environmental crisis.
Today Dr. Pataki's lab has published more than 140 papers on local and global carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles and urban biodiversity, forestry, ecohydrology, and socioecology. Dr. Pataki is a Fulbright Global Scholar, a James B. Macelwane Medalist, a Leopold Leadership Fellow, and an elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Ecological Society of America (ESA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has previously held positions as the Director of the School of Sustainability at ASU, and Associate Vice President for Research, Associate Dean, Professor of Biological Sciences, and Adjunct Professor of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, as well as joint faculty in the Department of Earth System Science and the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. She has also served as a Program Director in the Ecosystem Science cluster at the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Currently Dr. Pataki is continuing to explore ecological holism within and across disciplines ranging from the natural and social sciences, engineering, and the humanities, including ideas and traditions that challenge the dominant western and colonial paradigms.