Diane E. Pataki

2008 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

James Badro, Emily E. Brodsky, and Diane E. Pataki were awarded the 2008 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 17 December 2008 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by a young scientist of outstanding ability.”


I am pleased to cite Diane E. Pataki for the 2008 AGU James B. Macelwane Medal. Diane is recognized for her research using stable isotope and flux measurements of plants to explore coupled water and carbon cycles. She is recognized for using this understanding to lead in the study of human-ecosystem interactions, particularly the importance of water, energy, and carbon cycle dynamics in urban systems. Diane’s work has drawn new attention to the importance of including urban ecosystems in the larger efforts to understand global change impacts on the world’s ecosystems and on carbon-water cycles. Her research also highlights the benefits derived from developing bridges and links among physical, biological, and social scientists.

As society faces questions of how to cope with future climate changes, Diane’s efforts and leadership have delivered novel and groundbreaking research that identifies how human-managed ecosystems may store and release carbon, water, and energy. This work also provides a mechanistic understanding of the patterns of energy and fuel use in urban areas that can be used to improve our modeling of fossil fuel emissions, likely the most uncertain term in predictions of future CO2 levels.

In other publications, Diane has contributed significantly to our understanding of how physiological controls influence plant function in nonnative environments. Trees in urban environments, particularly those in the rapidly urbanizing portions of the southwestern and western United States, operate far outside the conditions of their normal habitats. Here differences in fundamental water-loss patterns and responses to changing conditions (for example, water availability) make very clear the importance of physiological controls on plant function. Pataki led a research team that has been able to show consistent differences in transpiration losses from ring-porous versus ring-diffuse tree species. This elegant work links evolutionary biology to plant physiology, and plant function to geographical distribution, and is a new insight with ramifications for how plants will respond to changes in precipitation patterns. This work has been extended to understand what controls observed “woody encroachment” in the Owens Valley of California, another region where human water needs, nutrient availability, and land use interact to alter ecosystems.

Vision and leadership are two skills that Diane has brought to bear on understanding how coupled carbon-water-energy cycles will be affected under climate change, particularly in human-dominated landscapes. Diane’s ability to forge productive collaborations among social, physical, and biological scientists is a key to her success today and a positive indication of the great advances we can expect from her in the future. Receiving the Macelwane Medal is a fitting recognition for Diane, whom I regard as one of the brightest young stars in biogeosciences today.

—JAMES EHLERINGER, University of Utah, Salt Lake City


Thank you very much, Jim, for your kind words, and for all of your inspiration and support.

I sincerely thank AGU for this award. It’s a very great honor to be in the company of those who have received this award before me. The AGU annual meetings have always been a dynamic and receptive environment for discussing new research, and over the past few years it’s been very exciting to participate in the Biogeosciences section as it has grown.

My interest in environmental research started with a group of outstanding educators at Barnard College. We all know that great teachers make all of the difference, and I certainly learned that at Barnard. Peter Bower, Joe Liddicoat, and Helen Young are still my role models for teaching, and every day I spend in the classroom I try to pass along at least a little bit of their inspiration to my own students. I would like to thank my graduate and postgraduate mentors: Ram Oren and many other faculty members at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment; Jim Coleman, now at Rice University; and of course Jim Ehleringer at University of Utah. Their advice and instruction have been and continue to be invaluable.

I was very privileged to work with the talented and enthusiastic scientists who participated in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystem core project, and its leaders Lou Pitelka and Pep Canadell. I sincerely thank all of my colleagues at University of California, Irvine, who have been so supportive of my work, even when I explored areas of interdisciplinary research that might be seen as high risk and sometimes even unorthodox. My students, staff, and postdocs have contributed enormously to all of my research, and I thank them for all of their hard work.

Finally, I gratefully acknowledge my collaborators at University of Utah, University of Kansas, University of California, Los Angeles, NASA, and the U.S. Forest Service. Recently, we lost a very close colleague, Craig Forster, so I want to give special mention to him. Without his dedication and coordination of our interdisciplinary projects together, several of my research contributions would never have happened. Craig is greatly missed by all of his friends and colleagues.

Thank you again for your nomination and for including me in this community.

—DIANE PATAKI, University of California, Irvine