Becky Barak

Doctoral Student
Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation
Northwestern University
and Chicago Botanic Garden

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

Current Research


With cheatgrass competition study in the CBG greenhouse (photo: Sadie Todd)


On a seed collecting trip to Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (photo: Andrea Kramer)




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 (PhD advisor – Dan Larkin)

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

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

CARICE – Conservation and Restoration in Changing Environments 

Chicago Botanic Garden Climate Change Curriculum

INAI – Illinois Natural Areas Inventory



February 17, 2015