Dr. Erika Zavaleta

erika smilingFor Erika being a naturalist is someone who enjoys observing organisms or interactions and does not need to be a taxonomic expert. Dr. Erika Zavaleta is originally from Manhattan, New York and got into the natural world at a young age. Erika grew up in the city where it was highly developed, yet that did not stop her from explore her naturalist curiosities. She noted and observed and played with 

erika under a bridge

many organisms like pigeons, toads, and the vast plant diversity around the city. She is now a professor at the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UC Santa Cruz and focuses on the impacts of global change on ecological communities. She thinks one of the best way new naturalists to become more involved with nature, is to just go outside because no matter where you are, there is always nature. In Santa Cruz, Erika enjoys showing her children the many curiosities in nature, where they especially enjoy counting sand crabs on the beach. One of Erika’s most memorable field experience happened when she was working in the New Zealand when she was on a boat with her daughter. They were sailing around and her daughter noticed that the seabirds broke formation every time they got near. It was one of her daughter’s first “Eureka” moment in discovering natural patterns. Dr. Zavaleta thinks that we can create a more diverse and inclusive naturalist environment in Santa Cruz by addressing the culture in natural history. Many underrepresented groups cannot see themselves as a naturalist because there is a lack of mentors or prominent naturalists of similar background. Furthermore, underrepresented groups often do not have funds for supplies or gear that is perceived to be necessary to be a naturalist and a lack of paid opportunities further exacerbate this issue. Erika believes addressing diversity at the highest level is important before change will ensure systematic changes for newcomers.