Emily Burns, Ph.D. joined Sky Island Alliance in 2019 with 15 years of research, conservation, and restoration experience. Most recently, Emily was the Science Director for Save the Redwoods League in California. As Science Director, she led the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, Redwood Genome Project, multiple conservation planning efforts, and co-founded Redwoods Rising, a public-private partnership to restore more than 70,000 acres of logged coast redwood forest in Redwood National and State Parks. She started the citizen science project, Fern Watch, to track the health of a common understory plant (Western sword fern) along forests of the Pacific Northwest to learn how climate change and recent drought affects this inhabitant of coastal forests. Under Emily’s leadership, Save the Redwoods League established a restoration program, grew the education program to teach more students how climate change affects their local forests, grew a stewardship program to care for thousands of acres of private redwood forestland, and sequenced the coast redwood and giant sequoia genomes to aid conservation efforts for the species. Emily received her doctorate in 2010 from the University of California, Berkeley in Integrative Biology and conducted postdoctoral research on drought tolerance in ferns at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she remains a research associate today.
Emily focused her early scientific career studying how plants adapt to drought and is fascinated by the climate extremes within the Madrean Archipelago of the Sonoran Desert. While working in the coast redwood forest of Northern California, she discovered that most redwood forest plants are able to absorb fog water directly into their leaves and stems, an adaptation helping redwood forest flora take advantage of ephemeral water sources and stay hydrated during rainless times of year. She also discovered that the most common plant in the coast redwood forest, Western sword fern, shrinks in size during drought, making this species an excellent indicator of forest hydration and climate change. Emily is eager to learn more about the unique adaptations of the Sky Island species and dedicate herself to protecting the diversity of life, habitats, and water sources of this spectacular region. When she isn’t hiking around in hopes of witnessing reptiles like desert tortoises and gila monsters in the wild, she enjoys doing modern botanical embroidery.