Nearly half of California is protected in some land status that prevents most kinds of intensive human land uses.  These lands support extensive natural habitats, and for many species, are a critical stronghold in an increasingly human-dominated world.

Yet, changes in the landscape in and near these places have left many in a degraded and precarious condition. Catastrophic wildfire, invasive species, and climate change threaten vast swathes of the state. Protected lands are becoming increasingly isolated by urban and agricultural development, roads, and other infrastructure. Such obstacles can limit a species’ ability to move to across the landscape and adapt to climate change.

Conservancy scientists are working to enhance the resiliency of protected lands in the face of rapid change, and to maintain the landscape connections necessary for plants and animals to adapt over time. 

Science in Action

Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science

Rewilding the San Joaquin Valley

40 years of science sets the course for the largest recovery of species in U.S. history

Terrestrial | Science

Island Fox

How do we bring the endemic island fox back from the brink of extinction?

2024 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Potential impacts of proposed lithium extraction on biodiversity and conservation in the contiguous United States

Sophie S. Parker, Michael J. Clifford, Brian S. Cohen

To address climate change, the United States is incentivizing the production of electric vehicles containing domestically derived lithium batteries. Extracting this lithium may have environmental impacts, including impacts on biodiversity. To reveal what these impacts could be, the authors mapped 72 proposed lithium extraction…


2024 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund - 2024 RFP

Brynn Pewtherer

The Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund was established in 2000 in memory of Dr. Oren Pollak, a leading grassland ecologist and restoration pioneer, as well as an ardent champion and mentor for grassland ecology students. As The Nature Conservancy’s lead ecologist in California in the…


2024 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Expert bioblitz on the Atwood Preserve

Michael Clifford, Sophie Parker, Matt Rader, Lydia Bailey, Naomi Fraga, Chris Hass, Estella Hernandez, Jan Kempf, Lois Merkler, Michael Swink

The Amargosa River supports one of the most outstanding suites of endemic and imperiled species in the world. In 2019, TNC acquired the Atwood Preserve in the river’s headwaters, the management of which could impact river flows, condition, and biodiversity. With the support of the…


2023 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Mojave Desert land-use change: revisiting conservation values after a decade of growth and development

Michael J. Clifford, Sophie S. Parker, Brian S. Cohen, Elaine York, Joel Tuhy

This paper provides an assessment of changes in the conservation value of lands in the Mojave Desert of Nevada and Utah resulting from renewable energy and other development between 2010 and 2018. The authors use conservation value as determined by the Mojave Desert Ecoregional…


2023 | Terrestrial | Economics | Publications & Reports

Wildfire Resilience Insurance: Quantifying the Risk Reduction of Ecological Forestry with Insurance

The Nature Conservancy with Willis Towers Watson, Sarah Heard

California has the highest wildfire risk in the US, and climate change will continue to exacerbate the risk, at least in the foreseeable future. As a result, California is facing an insurance crisis, as insurers are finding it harder and harder to write insurance in…


2023 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Statistical evaluation of the similarity of characteristics in springs of the California Desert, United States

Adam H. Love, Andy Zdon, Naomi S. Fraga, Brian Cohen, Maura Palacios Mejia, Rachel Maxwell, Sophie Parker

This paper presents results from the Mojave Desert Springs research project. The authors present a comprehensive statistical analysis of similarities between California desert springs. An observed lack of correlation between the springs’ hydrologic and ecological parameters suggests that each spring represents a somewhat unique…


2023 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Ear mite infection restructures otic microbial networks in conservation–reliant Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae)

Jasmine Lu, Emily E. Hamblen, Lara J. Brenner, Julie L. King, Bridgett M. VonHoldt, Alexandra L. DeCandia

Over 50% of federally threatened Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) develop life-threatening ceruminous gland tumors in their ear canals. Previous work suggests that tumors may result from a combination of ectoparasites, disruption of the host-associated microbiome, and host immunopathology. We found that in…


2023 | Terrestrial | Economics | Publications & Reports

Building California’s Forest Resilience Workforce

Sarah Heard, Bradley Franklin

Wildfires in California, and across the western U.S., are increasing in frequency and severity, threatening both ecosystems and communities. Restoration—a combination of ecological thinning and prescribed fire—is one of the best tools to build forest resilience and prevent catastrophic wildfires, by reducing the buildup of…


2023 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund - 2023 RFP

Brynn Pewtherer

The Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund was established in 2000 in memory of Dr. Oren Pollak, a leading grassland ecologist and restoration pioneer, as well as an ardent champion and mentor for grassland ecology students. As The Nature Conservancy’s lead ecologist in California in the…


2023 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Floristic patterns and conservation values of Mojave and Sonoran desert springs in California

Naomi S. Fraga, Brian S. Cohen, Andy Zdon, Maura Palacios Mejia, Sophie S. Parker

This paper presents novel botanical inventories of 48 desert springs as part of the Mojave Springs Research Project. The authors assess plant species composition and richness within and between springs and evaluate how botanical diversity relates to physical and hydrological parameters. The results of…


2023 | Terrestrial | Marine | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Minimizing conservation impacts of net zero energy systems in the western United States

Grace C. Wu, Ryan A. Jones, Emily Leslie, James H. Williams, Andrew Pascale, Erica Brand, Sophie Parker, Brian Cohen, Joseph Fargione, Julia Souder, Maya Batres, Mary G. Gleason, Michael H. Schindel, Charlotte K. Stanley

This paper presents the results of the Power of Place-West project. The authors combined energy modeling with ecosystem and wildlife habitat data to determine the costs and impacts associated with deploying clean energy infrastructure across 11 states in the American West. The results of…


2022 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Assessing the effectiveness of landscape-scale forest adaptation actions to improve resilience under projected climate change

Charles J. Maxwell, Robert M. Scheller, Kristen N. Wilson, Patricia N. Manley

The authors hypothesized that mimicking the historic fire-return interval, by matching it with the combined frequency of natural disturbances (wildfire) and management (i.e., thinning and prescribed fire), will maintain forest resilience despite a changing climate. To test our hypothesis, we deployed a forest landscape simulation model, LANDIS-II,…


2022 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Interspecific Asymmetries in Behavioral Plasticity Drive Seasonal Patterns of Temporal Niche Partitioning in an Island Carnivore Community

Victor Y. Zhang, Calypso N. Gagorik, Lara J. Brenner, Christina L. Boser, Tad C. Theimer, C. Loren Buck

Despite occupying similar niches in a relatively resource-poor environment, island foxes and island spotted skunks have coexisted for years through fine-scale spatial, temporal, and dietary niche partitioning. Using collar-mounted accelerometers, we investigated the activity patterns of these two insular mammalian carnivores. Our results suggest that…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Developing an adaptive management approach to cowbird control on the Santa Clara River, California

Sophie S. Parker, Linnea S. Hall, Mary J. Whitfield, Laura Riege, Kathryn R. Selm, René Corado

This paper presents results from a field-based study that can be used to benefit songbirds in riverside habitats like those found along the Santa Clara River in Ventura County, California. Songbirds such as the Least Bell’s Vireo suffer population declines in part because Brown-headed…


2022 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Spatiotemporal impacts of the Anthropocene on small mammal communities, and the role of small biological preserves in maintaining biodiversity

Maria C. Viteri, Elizabeth A. Hadly

This paper investigates the ability of small protected spaces to conserve small mammal diversity in urban areas. The authors identified small mammal bones from both modern owl pellets and archaeological sites along an urbanization gradient in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA and compared their…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Potential Lithium Extraction in the United States: Environmental, Economic, and Policy Implications

Sophie S. Parker, Bradley Franklin, Brian S. Cohen, Melissa M. Rohde, Michael Clifford, Andrew Williams

Climate change will cause severe financial, social, and environmental upheaval if a massive reduction in carbon emissions is not achieved by 2030. To address this challenge, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries will play a key role in transitioning the energy and transportation sectors away from fossil fuel…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Restoration richness tipping point meta-analysis: finding the sweet spot

Christopher J. Lortie, Maria Florencia Miguel, Alessandro Filazzola, Harry Scott Butterfield

Climate change, drought, and water scarcity are driving major land transformations in dryland ecosystems globally. Historically these ecosystems have been disproportionately degraded due to widespread agricultural conversion. Because of these pressures, there are significant opportunities for rewilding and restoration of these dryland ecosystems. This global…


2022 | Terrestrial | Planning | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

A framework to select strategies for conserving and restoring habitat connectivity in complex landscapes

D. Richard Cameron, Carrie A. Schloss, David M. Theobald, Scott A. Morrison

Protecting or restoring habitat connectivity in landscapes undergoing rapid environmental change requires multiple conservation and restoration strategies. These strategies have different risk profiles, costs, and require various types of expertise to conduct. This diversity in landscape context and strategic approach requires more nuance than traditional…


2022 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Data

The Resilient Connected Network in California

Carrie Schloss, Dick Cameron, Elizabeth McGovern

As declines in biodiversity are further exacerbated by changing climate conditions, it is critical to ensure that plants and animals are resilient to the effects of climate change.  This means protecting the places plants and animals are already thriving, important movement routes, and ensuring that…