Becky Barak PhD Candidate

Major adviser: Daniel Larkin, PhD

Research Interests: Restoration ecology, landscape ecology, invasive species, seed biology, science education

Current Research

Restoration ecology is a means to mitigate ecosystem services lost to habitat degradation and to build biological communities more resilient to future change. However, restored sites typically fall short of restoration goals and non-restored remnant habitats. For my dissertation, I am studying patterns of plant biodiversity in remnant and restored tallgrass prairies in relation to management decisions and landscape factors. Plant community diversity is linked to many important ecosystem functions, including stability, productivity and invasion resistance. Exploring several facets of plant community diversity, including phylogenetic and functional diversity may provide additional insight for modeling restorations after extant native communities.

Past Research 

My MS research focused on identifying native forb species for use in post-fire reseeding projects in the intermountain west. I found several “native winners” that are improvements over species currently seeded in terms of germination percent and tolerance of competition from invasive cheatgrass. See the CARICE website for more information (link below, MS advisor – Krissa Skogen).

In addition to these research interests, I am also interested in science education, and formerly served as as the Climate Change Education Coordinator at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as a classroom teacher. I worked with teachers to develop curriculum that addresses climate change. Through the curriculum, students are able to analyze authentic climate data, and participate in Project BudBurst, a national citizen-science project (with Jennifer Schwarz Ballard).

Honors and Awards

  • 2016 North American Prairie Conference, Best student talk
  • 2016 Society for Ecological Restoration Midwest Great Lakes, Student Research Grant
  • 2015 Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals, Student Research Award, First Place
  • 2015 Plant Biology and Conservation (PBC) Research Award
  • 2015-16 Dr. John N. Nicholson Fellowship, Northwestern University                 
  • 2013 Applied Ecology Section of Ecological Society of America Student Travel Award
  • 2013 Plant Biology and Conservation (PBC) Research Award
  • 2012 Excellence in Rangeland Ecology Student Travel Award from Rangeland Ecology section of Ecological Society of America
  • 2012 PBC Travel Award
  • 2009 & 2010  Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) scholarship
  • 2009  Shaw Fellowship, Plant Biology and Conservation
  • 2009  Mary R. Ginger Research Fellowship at the School of the Chicago Botanic Garden
  • 2004  Magna Cum Laude graduate of Princeton University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Barak, RS, AL Hipp, W Pearse, J Cavender-Bares, J Callaway, S Hotchkiss, DJ Larkin. 2016 Taking the long view: Integrating recorded, paleoecological, and evolutionary information into ecological restoration. International Journal of Plant Sciences. 177:90-102.

Barak, RS, “Recipe for an Aster: Prairie Restoration in Chicago,” Parks and Recreation Magazine, May 1, 2016.

Riebkes, J.L., R.S. Barak, and A.T. Kramer. 2015. Evaluating seed viability in prairie forbs: a test of three methods.Native Plants Journal 16:(2) 96-106.

Barak, R.S., K.A. Skogen, A.T. Kramer and J.B. Fant. Assessing the value of potential "native winners" for restoration of cheatgrass-invaded habitat. Western North American Naturalist 75:55-69. 

Hipp, A.L., D.J. Larkin, R.S. Barak, M.L. Bowles, M.W. Cadotte, S.K. Jacobi, E. Lonsdorf, B.C. Scharenbroch, E. Williams, E. Weiher. 2015. Phylogeny in the Service of Ecological Restoration. American Journal of Botany, doi:10.3732/ajb.1500119. 

Selected Presentations

Barak, R.S. Big green things start tiny in Up-Goer five challenge: Using common language to communicate your science to the public. Ecological Society of America, Fort Lauderdale, FL, August 2016. (Covered in PLOS Ecology Blog)

Barak, RS, EV Lonsdorf, EW Williams, DJ Larkin. Shopping for a prairie: Diversity and composition of commercially available seed mixes for prairie restoration. North American Prairie Conference, Normal, IL, July 2016.

Barak, R.S., D.J. Larkin, A.L. Hipp, M.L. Bowles, "Using phylogenetic information to guide prediction in tall grass prairie restoration," Ecological Society of America, Baltimore, MD, August 2015. 

Barak, R.S., A. Hipp, M.L. Bowles, W. Sluis, R.K. Tonietto, D. Larkin. Patterns of phylogenetic diversity in remnant and restored tallgrass prairies in Illinois. Midwest-Great Lakes Society for Ecological Restoration Chapter meeting. Chicago, IL. March, 2015.

Barak, R.S., A. Hipp, M.L. Bowles, W. Sluis, R.K. Tonietto, D. Larkin. Patterns of phylogenetic diversity in tallgrass prairie restorations. Wild Things: A Chicago Wilderness conference for people and nature. Chicago, IL. January, 2015.

Barak, R.S. The faces of climate change: a hands-on introduction to the Chicago Botanic Garden's climate change curriculum. Chicago Wilderness Climate Clinic for Educators, Chicago Botanic Garden, May, 2014.

Barak, R.S., M.L. Bowles, J. McBride and D. Larkin. Surrounding land-use and management, but not size, predict species richness of remnant prairies in Illinois. Ecological Society of America. Minneapolis, MN August, 2015.

Larson, K, R.S. Barak, and D. Guritz. Citizen science and youth engagement in Chicago’s wilderness. Chicago Wilderness Leave no Child Inside Conference. River Grove, IL January, 2013.

Barak, R.S., K.A. Skogen and J.B. Fant. Assessing competitive potential of native forbs from cheatgrass-dominated habitats. Ecological Society of America. Portland, OR August, 2012.

CARICE – Conservation and Restoration in Changing Environments 

Chicago Botanic Garden Climate Change Curriculum

INAI – Illinois Natural Areas Inventory