PSW scientist honored with American Geophysical Union’s Ambassador Award

Portrait photo: woman back-packing in the mountains
Connie Millar, senior research ecologist, USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station. USDA Forest Service photo.

CALIFORNIA — Connie Millar, senior research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, was recently selected for the 2019 Ambassador Award given annually by the American Geophysical Union.


Millar was one of five people selected this year for the award by AGU, the world's largest organization of Earth and space scientists, in recognition for "outstanding contributions to one or more of the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool."


Among Millar's most recent achievements, her 2007 paper "Climate Change and Forests of the Future: Managing in the Face of Uncertainty" was recognized by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in 2015 as "one of the most notable papers ever published" in an ESA journal. In Science in 2015, "Temperate Forest Health in an Emerging Era of Mega-disturbance," Millar and co-author Nate Stephenson outline a shift from managing for resilience to manage landscapes that are beginning to transform from forests to shrublands or grasslands in the coming decades.


As a pioneer in multidisciplinary research, Millar founded and has fostered collaborations through interdisciplinary groups such as the Consortium for Integrated Climate Research in Western Mountains (CIRMOUNT) and the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA), to provide a foundation for needed guidance for forest managers.


Millar's expertise in mountain ecosystems led her toward observing pikas in 2007 as part of her research on climate change and its effect on sub-alpine environments.A member of the rabbit family, pikas are poor thermal regulators and do not dissipate heat well, so they must find a cool environment in order to survive. With thick fur and high basal metabolisms, they are much more suited for colder temperatures.


Unconvinced by conventional expectations that warming temperatures could lead the pika toward extinction, Millar set out to make her own determination about the fate of the pika. She found their range to be quite broad and that they are widely distributed throughout the Sierra Nevada and the western Great Basin. She then collected data on the conditions in which the pika live and found that while surface air temperatures were rising to a lethal level for pikas, much cooler conditions prevailed in the rocky talus fields that trap the cold nighttime air. Millar concluded that the pika have been able to adapt behaviorally by seeking refuge in those areas during the day.


Millar's work on climate adaptation, particularly with reference to fire and planning, has been highly influential within the U.S. Forest Service. Agency leaders regularly quote her work and rely on her to weave together various disciplinary ideas in a way that land mangers can use.


For this work, she received the Forest Service Chief's Excellence in Science and Technology Award in 2013 for "developing and delivering scientific principles, partnerships, and actions for adaptation to climate change in national forests," and the 2016 Distinguished Science Award for "leadership and exceptional scientific productivity."


Millar holds a bachelor's degree in forest science from the University of Washington and earned her master's degree in wildland resources science as well as her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California. Some of her recently published works include:


Recently published works or collaborations include:

Headquartered in Albany, California, the Pacific Southwest Research Station is part of the USDA Forest Service’s Research and Development branch developing and communicating science needed to sustain forest ecosystems and other benefits to nature and society. Pacific Southwest Research Station scientists are engaged in research across a network of 14 experimental watersheds, ranges and forests and eight research facilities in California, Hawaii and the U.S.–affiliated Pacific Islands. Research is organized into five research units: conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem function and health, fire and fuels, urban ecosystems and social dynamics, as well as Pacific Islands forestry. Click ahead for more information the Pacific Southwest Research Station.