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Photo of Diane Pataki

About

Dr. Diane E. Pataki is a Foundation Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University (ASU). She also led the creation of the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine, a National Science Foundation supported Regional Innovation Engine, for which she currently serves as the Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy CEO. Dr. Pataki has spent over two decades studying the relationships between people, nature, and the environment in natural, managed, and urban ecosystems 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, she 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. As a result she has founded and continues to lead several programs, centers, and consortia focused on collaborative, STEM-enabled solutions to local and global environmental challenges.

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 national and 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, integrative discipline aimed at both understanding and stewarding the modern, post-industrial world. She began leading interdisciplinary studies of greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions in cities, the role of nature in urban sustainability, and nature-based solutions to drought, biodiversity loss, and climate change.

 

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 Arizona State University, 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, a member of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and continues to serve on the NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education.

Currently, her projects are focused on climate and nature-based solutions for sustainable cities, as well as innovative partnerships between researchers, communities, public and private organizations, and STEM learners.

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