Promoting Community Science

Students in the UCLA Bruin Naturalist Club explore tide pools with staff from the LA Natural History Museum during a field trip I organized in January of 2019.

Community science projects are a powerful way for local stakeholders and students of all ages to get involved directly in monitoring the environment and biodiversity around them. I believe, well designed community science projects have the potential to revolutionize ecology and environmental science by connected users around the world and bridging the gap between the interested public and research scientists. In recent years, I have been a dedicated contributor and promoter of iNaturalist and eBird.

Contributions to iNaturalist

I got hooked on iNaturalist during a 2017 Bioblitz of the Amargosa River organized by the Nature Conservancy. Since then I have been an enthusiastic contributor and promoter of iNaturalist. Here I summarise my contributions to and work to promote iNaturalist in the UCLA community:

  • I have contributed nearly 4000 observations, mostly from the Los Angeles area (link to iNat profile).
  • I created the UCLA Biodiversity Project to collect observations of nature from the UCLA campus. So far we have documented 498 species on campus!
  • February 2019, I led two workshops at the UCLA Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden to help students and community members get started with iNaturalist.
  • November 2019, I gave a presentation about how iNaturalist could transform research in ecology and evolution to UCLA graduate students.
  • August 2018, I met up with other iNaturalist users at the annual Ecological Society of America meeting in New Orleans: iNat mixer 2018.
  • I am working on expanding and updating the rinat package for R which makes accessing iNaturalist data easier for researchers.
  • I have contributed to the annual City Nature Challenge in Los Angeles and Southern Oregon.
  • I Regularly participate in the online iNaturalist discussion forum.

UCLA Bruin Naturalist Club

I am a trip leader and adviser for the Bruin Naturalist Club which provides undergraduates of all majors at UCLA opportunities to explore nature in Southern California. In each of these trips we introduce students to iNaturalist and show them how to document the plants and animals they find. Recently I’ve helped with inlcude:

  • 11/15/19 Corn Springs and the Salton Sea.
  • 05/25/19 UCLA Stunt Ranch Bioblitz.
  • 02/24/19 UCSB Sedgwick Reserve
  • 01/20/19 BNC Trip to tide pools of Palos Verdes with Regina Wetzer, Kathy Omura and Dean Pentcheff of the LA County Natural History Museum.

UCLA Audubon Club and eBird

The UCLA Birding Club on a recent visit to the Sonny Bono NWR at the south end of the Salton Sea.

I have been an avid birder since participating in the Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count in 2005. Since then I have contributed hundreds of checklists to eBird (link to profile). At UCLA, I have worked to document the birds on campus (96 species so far). In 2017, I helped M.S. student Samuel Bressler start the UCLA Birding club and Audubon Chapter (featured in the Daily Bruin). I lead weekly birdwatching trips on campus and regular weekend trips with the birding club to hotspots around Southern California.

Townsend's Warbler
A Townsend's Warbler in the UCLA Botanical Garden.


UCLA students, staff and the general public on a birdwatching tour of the UCLA Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden (photo: Nurit Katz).

I mentor undergraduate researchers, teach hands-on computing and statistical analysis workshops in R, and lead natural history field trips for K-12 students and the general public.

UCLA IoES Capstone Advisor

I am currently a faculty advisor for the IoES senior practicum at UCLA. The practicum gives undergraduates a chance to engage in meaningful research aimed at solving real world environmental issues. This winter and spring I am working with seven highly motivated undergraduates in evaluating native seed sources and restoration opportunities in the Los Angeles Basin.

Software Carpentry

I am trained instructor for The Carpentries. In spring of 20218, I led a Software Carpentry workshop for the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCLA UCLA EEB 2018-4-7. Our workshop focused on teaching the basics of the unix shell, git and github for coding collaboration and R for data analysis, data visualization and GIS.

Environmental Education

I have a deep commitment to teaching ecology and natural history to the general public and to K-12 students. From 2009 to 2010 I volunteered as Vice President and led environmental education and birdwatching field trips for elementary school students for San Francisco Nature Education. While working in the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy I served as a mentor for the LINC Program which provides summer-long work and education experiences for highschool students within Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

I lead weekly birdwatching field trips on campus for the UCLA Bruin Audubon Society (recently featured in the Daily Bruin). I also have been involved as a board member and trip leader for the UCLA Bruin Naturalist Club.

Undergraduate Mentoring

Throughout my career I have mentored many exceptional undergraduate research projects. I am currently working with a talented undergraduate at UCLA on a study of annual plant functional ecology and how increased night time temperatures may affect the growth rates of annual plants native to coastal California grasslands.

One of the highlights of my career was working with undergraduates at Utah State University during my PhD. One of my undergraduate mentees, Nicole Pendleton, was an author on a recent paper from the Adler lab on how ‘snow-molds’ (subniveal fungal pathogens) affect cheatgrass population growth rates. Her experiments as a summer REU ended up being instrumental to showing snowmold was a likely cause of higher cheatgrass mortality in heavy snowpacks.

Undergraduate Biology

While a M.S. student, I taught lab sections for Biol. 110: “Biological Inquiry” and Biol. 121: “Diversity Structure and Function” for the Department of Biology at Sonoma State University.

Selected Publications

More Publications

. Mechanisms underlying higher order interactions: from quantitative definitions to ecological processes. In bioRxiv, 2019.


. Leaf nutrients, not specific leaf area, are consistent indicators of elevated nutrient inputs. In Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2019.



At UCLA, my postdoctoral research has focused on two main projects:

  1. Providing a general definition for higher order interactions (HOIs) and in testing for their strength in natural ecosystems. biorXiv Preprint
  2. Building on previous work in the Kraft lab Kraft et al. 2015 I am working to develop a more general understanding of how plant functional traits influence community composition and competition between species.

The links below provide more details about these and other ongoing projects.

Ecological Forecasting

Can ecological models actually predict how populations will respond to future climate change?

Recent Posts

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health has been releasing detailed data on Covid-19 cases across Los Angeles County. I’ve used this data to create a an interactive map of COVID-19 cases in the county and to display the increases in cases across different neighborhoods. The map of cases of per 1000 residents clearly shows higher frequency of laboratory confirmed cases (LCC) in what are known as wealthier neighborhoods such as Beverly Crest, Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Melrose, West Hollywood and Hancock Park.