Kai Zhu

Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies
Affiliated Faculty, Coastal Science and Policy

Kai is interested in global change ecology, ecological modeling, and environmental data science, where he enjoys integrating ecological theory with advanced tools in statistics and computer science. His current research focuses on plant and soil responses to environmental change, both spatially and temporally. Recent projects include quantifying climate change impacts on forest geographic distribution and growth in North America; synthesizing a multi-factor global change experiment in California grassland; understanding soil fungi and tree mutualisms across geographical gradients in the United States; detecting land surface phenology change in Northern Hemisphere. Kai is a recipient of the New Phytologist Tansley Medal. Kai completed his postdoc with Chris Field and Tad Fukami at Stanford University and received his PhD in ecology with Jim Clark and MS in statistics with Alan Gelfand from Duke University.

CV: link
Google Scholar: link
New Phytologist profile: link
Email: kai dot zhu at ucsc dot edu

Kai Zhu | Zhu Lab UC Santa Cruz

Peter Pellitier

Postdoc, Stanford Biology & UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies

Peter studies plant and fungal interactions, with a particular fondness for the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis. He is broadly interested in the functional biogeography of fungal communities, determinants of fungal community assembly, and the role of symbiotic fungi in plant response to climate change. Peter employs large scale field surveys, field and laboratory manipulations, and various DNA sequencing approaches to address fundamental questions in fungal ecology. Peter received his PhD in 2020 advised by Don Zak at the University of Michigan and holds an MS in Post-Secondary Science Education, also from Michigan. Peter joined the Peay Lab at Stanford University as a postdoc, and also works with Kai Zhu at UC Santa Cruz and Rob Jackson at Stanford. In 2021 he will start an NSF PRFB, studying the decay attributes of ECM communities at the continental scale.

Email: ptpell at stanford dot edu

Nicky Lustenhouwer

Postdoc, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Nicky is fascinated by how populations grow and evolve in the spatially and temporally varying environments emerging under global change. Her main research focus is on spreading plant populations, in the context of both invasions by exotic species introduced to a new continent, and range shifts by native species in response to climate change. She is studying Dittrichia graveolens (stinkwort), an annual plant species that is rapidly expanding its native range in Europe as well as its exotic range in California, where it was first observed in 1984. Together with Miranda Melen, she is studying these two range expansion gradients to better understand how spreading plant populations evolve in response to novel abiotic conditions (phenology), novel biotic interactions (the soil microbial community), and the spread process itself (dispersal). She received her PhD degree from ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), working with Jonathan Levine. Nicky is currently funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and advised by Ingrid Parker.

CV: link
Email: nlustenh at ucsc dot edu

Kai Zhu | Zhu Lab UC Santa Cruz

Clara Qin

PhD student, Environmental Studies

Clara is an ecologist, statistician, and critical researcher with a broad interest in wildfires and the Anthropocene. Her ecological research examines how changing climates and fire regimes influence soil microbial communities, plant-fungal mutualisms, and carbon storage dynamics in US forests and grasslands. Her sociological research explores the environmental activism of queer and trans Asians and Pacific Islanders in the San Francisco Bay Area. Clara completed her bachelor’s degree in biology with Kabir Peay at Stanford University, where she also completed her master’s degree in statistics.

CV: link
Email: claraqin at ucsc dot edu

Yiluan Song

PhD student, Environmental Studies

Yiluan is broadly interested in the impacts of climate change and disturbance regime shift on vegetation. Funded by the Hammett Fellowship, she currently focuses on comparing the pace of plant phenological shift to that of climate change using satellite remote sensing data. She is also interested in using statistical and mechanistic models to forecast the future of the earth’s vegetation under global change, in terms of phenology, carbon storage, and distribution. She graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Life Sciences, with a specialization in Environmental Biology.

CV: link
Email: ysong67 at ucsc dot edu

Sarah Lummis

PhD student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Sarah’s research focuses on community ecology and coastal sustainability. She studies seagrass ecosystems, and how the function and services of these ecosystems will be impacted by climate change and anthropogenic impacts to the coast. She is committed to sharing her results with resource managers, and with local schools and communities. She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. Sarah is currently co-advised by Kristy Kroeker.

Email: slummis at ucsc dot edu

Megan Cao

Undergraduate, Environmental Studies & Business Management Economics

Megan is interested in examining the ways brands use social media marketing to convey certain brand images to consumers. Her research compares the trends in green buzzword use and trends in carbon emissions to see if there is any relationship between the image that brands put out on social media accounts and the actual changes in the environmental impact they have.

Email: metcao at ucsc dot edu

Noa Mills

Undergraduate, Computational Mathematics & Computer Science

Noa’s research focuses on the applications of data science and machine learning to wildfire data to analyze and predict trends in wildfire severity and frequency.

Email: nkmills at ucsc dot edu

Benji Weaver

Undergraduate, Environmental Studies

Benji is interested in post-fire forest regrowth and regeneration. His research focuses on utilizing remote sensing and GIS analysis to categorize burn intensity and severity to understand what fire intensity forests recover from best. He will compare wildfire recovery to different forest treatment methods such as mechanical thinning and prescribed burning to infer which treatment methods are most effective at stimulating regrowth and reducing fire danger.

Email: bkweaver at ucsc dot edu

Chris Zajic

Undergraduate, Biology & Earth Sciences

Chris is interested in questions regarding changes in vegetation growth in response to climate change. He is a recent graduate, having received bachelor’s degrees from UC Santa Cruz in both Biology and Earth Sciences.

Email: czajic at ucsc dot edu

Former members

  • Priscilla Lam, undergraduate, 2019-2020. Climate change and wildfire.
  • William Jiajie Li, undergraduate, 2018. Urban ecology and remote sensing.
  • Lan Liu, visiting postdoc, 2018. Plant-microbe interaction.
  • Brian Steidinger, postdoc, 2019. Biogeography of soil fungi.
  • Cong Wang, postdoc, 2017-2018. Remote sensing and vegetation phenology.