Lauren E. Oakes is an ecologist and human-natural systems scientist. She is an Adjunct Professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University and a Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society's Climate Adaptation Program. Lauren teaches workshops and short-courses in narrative science writing and interdisciplinary environmental sciences, and she combines ecological research with methods from the social sciences to understand how people adapt to climate change impacts. She earned her PhD from Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (2015) and her bachelor’s degree from Brown University (2004) in Environmental Studies and Visual Art, studying film and photography. Her first book, In Search of the Canary Tree (Basic Books, Hachette Book Group), is a narrative science memoir about finding faith in the ability of people to cope with a rapidly changing planet. Science Friday selected the Canary as one of the Best Science Books of 2018.

For nearly 20 years, Dr. Oakes has worked on a suite of environmental issues as a researcher, scholar, advocate, and documentarian (Alaska Gold 2012; Red Gold 2008). During that time, she confronted changes in rural communities and challenges in conservation, such as mining development in pristine watersheds in Alaska or road development through the temperate forests of Chile. She witnessed whole communities transformed by oil and gas development in the American West. She spent six years studying climate change impacts to forest ecosystems in the Alexander Archipelago, Alaska. At the core of her passions for research, teaching, and communicating issues of environmental change is the desire to improve resource management and conservation practices.

Oakes is the lead author of peer-reviewed publications in the sciences, but she also writes for popular media outlets. She has written about her research for the New York Times and contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. Her work has been profiled by The Atlantic, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Outside Magazine, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, Adventure Kayak Magazine, and ClimateWire, among other outlets. With years of experience in professional outdoor guiding, she has also lead multi-day expeditions for National Geographic Expeditions and co-designed/co-taught Stanford field courses in Alaska and the Grand Canyon.

Academic Appointments

  • Lecturer, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources

Honors & Awards

  • Gerald J. Lieberman Fellow, Stanford University (2013-2014)
  • Certificate for Outstanding Mentoring in the School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University (2013)
  • Kimmelman Family E-IPER Fellowship, Stanford University (2012-2013)
  • Graham Family E-IPER Fellowship, Stanford University (2011-2012)
  • George W. Wright Climate Change Fellow, National Park Service and University of Washington (2011)
  • Gloria Barron Scholar, The Wilderness Society (2011)
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, National Science Foundation (2009-2011; 2012-2013)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Member, Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (2019 - Present)
  • Science Advisor, Adventure Scientists ( (2017 - Present)
  • Founding Member, Inian Inslands Institute ( (2013 - Present)
  • Member, Society of Environmental Journalists (2015 - Present)
  • Member, Society for Conservation Biology (2013 - Present)
  • Member, Ecological Society of America (2011 - Present)

Professional Education

  • PhD, Stanford University, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (Ecology and Land Change Science) (2015)
  • AB, Brown University, Environmental Studies (Honors); Visual Art (Film & Photography, Rhode Island School of Design) (2003)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

SPECIALIZATION: Climate Change Impacts to Forest Ecosystems; Human Adaptation to Climate Change; Narrative Science and Science Communication; Human-Natural Systems; Values of Nature

All Publications

  • In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World Oakes, L. E. Basic Books. 2018
  • Forest ecosystems and human values of nature in a changing climate Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference. Webb, A. edited by Beach, R., Share, J. Routledge. London, United Kingdom.. 2017: 27–29
  • Emerging climate-driven disturbance processes: widespread mortality associated with snow-to-rain transitions across 10° of latitude and half the range of a climate-threatened conifer. Global change biology Buma, B., Hennon, P. E., Harrington, C. A., Popkin, J. R., Krapek, J., Lamb, M. S., Oakes, L. E., Saunders, S., Zeglen, S. 2016


    Climate change is causing rapid changes to forest disturbance regimes worldwide. While the consequences of climate change for existing disturbance processes, like fires, are relatively well studied, emerging drivers of disturbance such as snow loss and subsequent mortality are much less documented. As the climate warms, a transition from winter snow to rain in high latitudes will cause significant changes in environmental conditions such as soil temperatures, historically buffered by snow cover. The Pacific coast of North America is an excellent test case, as mean winter temperatures are currently at the snow-rain threshold and have been warming for approximately 100 years post-Little Ice Age. Increased mortality in a widespread tree species in the region has been linked to warmer winters and snow loss. Here, we present the first high-resolution range map of this climate-sensitive species, Callitropsis nootkatensis (yellow-cedar), and document the magnitude and location of observed mortality across Canada and the United States. Snow cover loss related mortality spans approximately 10° latitude (half the native range of the species) and 7% of the overall species range and appears linked to this snow-rain transition across its range. Mortality is commonly >70% of basal area in affected areas, and more common where mean winter temperatures is at or above the snow-rain threshold (>0 °C mean winter temperature). Approximately 50% of areas with a currently suitable climate for the species (<-2 °C) are expected to warm beyond that threshold by the late 21st century. Regardless of climate change scenario, little of the range which is expected to remain suitable in the future (e.g., a climatic refugia) is in currently protected landscapes (<1-9%). These results are the first documentation of this type of emerging climate disturbance and highlight the difficulties of anticipating novel disturbance processes when planning for conservation and management.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/gcb.13555

    View details for PubMedID 27891717

  • The fate of nature: Rediscovering our ability to rescue the earth JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION Oakes, L. E., Kelsey, E., Brody, M. J. 2016
  • "I know, therefore I adapt?" Complexities of individual adaptation to climate-induced forest dieback in Alaska ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY Oakes, L. E., Ardoin, N. M., Lambin, E. F. 2016; 21 (2)
  • “I know, therefore I adapt?” Complexities of individual adaptation to climate-induced forest dieback in Alaska ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY Oakes, L. E., Ardoin, N. M., Lambin, E. F. 2016; 21 (2)
  • Conservation in a social-ecological system experiencing climate-induced tree mortality BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION Oakes, L. E., Hennon, P. E., Ardoin, N. M., D'Amore, D. V., Ferguson, A. J., Steel, E. A., Wittwer, D. T., Lambin, E. F. 2015; 192: 276-285
  • Long-term vegetation changes in a temperate forest impacted by climate change ECOSPHERE Oakes, L. E., Hennon, P. E., O'Hara, K. L., Dirzo, R. 2014; 5 (10)
  • Where we draw lines: Policy and wilderness Wilderness Bloomfield, D., Williams, T. T. UNM Press. 2014: 109–113