Elsa Cleland is a Professor and Vice Chair of the Ecological, Behavior & Evolution Section of the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego. She studies the potential for ecological theory to predict how plant communities and ecosystems will respond to global environmental changes. She is particularly interested in seasonal variation in species activity among native and invasive plant communities.
Her 2010 Hellman Fellowship enabled her to undertake a large field experiment to evaluate how drought differentially impacts groups of plants in Southern California. The project supported the research of a masters student of color leading to her first publication and inspiring her to pursue her Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz. The resulting dataset was instrumental in a successful National Science Foundation grant that helped establish the Cleland Research Lab which studies how resources and climate influence the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems and identifies novel ways to increase their resilience.