Landscape & Biodiversity

Los Angeles is where urban meets wild

Located near the Santa Monica Mountains in a garden-like setting, UCLA’s landscape provides respite and connection, as well as habitat for campus wildlife, as highlighted in this UCLA Magazine piece: Pockets of Paradise on Campus. In recent years we have transitioned ornamental turf areas to native and climate resilient plants, as well as activating outdoor study spaces. As our campus grows and evolves in our rapidly changing climate, the updated UCLA Landscape Plan provides a framework and vision for the campus landscape that will guide these transitions and create a holistic approach. UCLA’s Landscape Plan supports the Sustainability Plan’s water, landscape and biodiversity, and planetary health and human health sections.

UCLA is addressing biodiversity region-wide through the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, the interdisciplinary university-wide initiative aimed at applying UCLA research, expertise, and education to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050 — making it the most livable, equitable, resilient, clean and healthy megacity, and an example for the world. The 2021 Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Ecosystem Health Report Card for Los Angeles County provides an in-depth look at the region’s efforts in moving toward a more resilient environment and community for people and native wildlife. UCLA experts also serve on the City of LA Biodiversity Expert Council and contribute to developing policies and metrics for the City of LA Biodiversity program.

You can help track biodiversity on campus and in your neighborhood through the iNaturalist app and website, and view other observations at UCLA through the UCLA Campus Biodiversity iNaturalist project. Professor Wayne Dollase also created an online database of the more than 550 plant species on the UCLA campus. Learn more in the video below.

UCLA is a living laboratory for biodiversity research and teaching with students, faculty and staff collaborating on campus. In 2015, a team of students in the Sustainability Action Research program conducted bird and insect surveys and identified 37 species of birds. The Shaffer Lab is studying reptiles and amphibians on campus and Tom Gillespie‘s classes conduct research on an area of campus known as Sage Hill. 

Sage Hill

Sage Hill, located in the northwest corner of campus, is 3.4 acres of native California habitat that is home to a high diversity of flora and fauna — including 50 native higher plant species, 7 native mammal species, 17 butterflies species, and almost 30 resident and migratory bird species. Overseen by the Institute of Environment and Sustainability, Sage Hill serves as an outdoor learning space, providing hands-on, meaningful teaching and undergraduate research opportunities for students in all fields. In the past, UCLA faculty have used Sage Hill as a site for instruction for courses in geography, ecology, environmental science, sustainability, zooarcheology, film, and many other topics. It is a frequent site for continued student and faculty driven restoration projects. Visit the Sage Hill website for the most up to date information.

Stone Canyon Restoration Project

UCLA students, staff, and faculty have partnered with The Bay Foundation and thousands of volunteers to help restore the ecosystem of the only natural creek on campus. These efforts are currently led by Professor Alison Lipman and the student organization Ecological Restoration Association at UCLA. Serving as a “living laboratory”, this area teaches students how to restore natural habitats by removing invasive species and allowing natives to thrive.

The once mighty Stone Canyon Creek was formerly a dominant feature of the UCLA campus. But over the years, as the campus expanded, the creek was routed underground and now only this small segment runs behind the Anderson School of Management. Volunteers continue to eliminate invasive vegetation, replant the area with native vegetation, and restore the ecosystem. The newly established vegetation removes pollutants from the water and serves as habitat to birds and other wildlife on campus. You can learn more about Stone Canyon Creek Restoration on this page.

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

On the south of campus, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden (MEMBG) is a living museum, having special collections designed to assist the undergraduate teaching mission at UCLA and to augment the capability for research on campus. MEMBG serves as a long-term repository for unusual plants, a refugium for biodiversity. This facility offers its educational content to the campus community, residents of Los Angeles, and visitors from around the world to enhance learning about plants and promote greater appreciation for relevance of plants to society.

Hummingbird Canyon

Not far from the botanical garden, near the Court of Sciences is an area between Franz Hall and Geology fondly called “Hummingbird Alley” or “Hummingbird Canyon. Former UCLA assistant researcher Melanie Barboni became known widely on campus and now across the nation as the “hummingbird whisperer“. She began feeding hummingbirds from her office and the population grew to a colony of 200 plus birds. Once Melanie left UCLA and the feeder project ended, students in the Bruin Birding Club got a grant from the Audubon Plants for Birds program to remove ivy and plant native pollinator supportive plants in the area to create more habitat for the hummingbirds. Other hotspots for hummingbirds include the botanical garden, Sculpture Garden, and the patio at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Reserves Off-Campus

Off campus, the UCLA Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve forms one of 39 ecological reserves operated by the University of California Natural Reserve System (NRS), and is the only reserve managed by UCLA .The NRS network of reserves spread across all parts of California provides venues for world-class research and education in the environmental sciences, and is a unique resource unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Also in the Santa Monica Mountains, the La Kretz Field Station is a unique, collaborative project between the UCLA La Kretz Center and the National Park Service. The location is ideal for facilitating students and visitors alike to work on collaborative conservation projects in the Santa Monica Mountains and across Southern California. The Field Station provides a natural bridge between our more laboratory-based activities on the UCLA campus and collaborative ecological work in the field. The La Kretz Center for Conservation Science helps preserve California’s biodiversity and ecosystems through research, education and public programs. They supply the scientific research needed to inform management actions to protect and restore California’s fragile biodiversity resources.

In the Owens Valley, UCLA Manages the White Mountains Research Center, which consists of four research stations located along a 10,000-foot elevational gradient. Owens Valley Station, located in the town of Bishop, lies within the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Basin and Range biogeographical province to the east. Surrounded by semiarid scrubland and riparian woodland, it provides a base for year-round research in the region. Roughly 6,000 feet higher and 1.5 hours of driving time away are the log walls of Crooked Creek Station, sited amidst montane woodland and sagebrush hills. Nearby grow two groves of bristlecone pine that include the oldest trees in the world. Higher still are Barcroft Station, surrounded by alpine fellfield and sporadic permafrost above treeline, and Summit Station, subject to extreme solar radiation and fierce winds.