Joanna Nelson, PhD

Founder and Principal, LandSea Science



Dr. Joanna Nelson leads LandSea Science by building interdisciplinary teams to create solutions for conservation, heightened resilience, and the well-being of humans and nature.  Trained as a scientist in ecology for a changing world, she earned a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and MS and BS degrees from Stanford University in Earth Systems.

Joanna does award-winning work in sustainability. Chosen as a NatureNet Science Fellow with the Nature Conservancy and Stanford University, her innovative projects include supporting upstream landowners to protect and create the natural and restored ecosystems that provide clean, consistent water supplies in the face of water-scarcity risk. At the coastal margin, she investigates and quantifies how salt marsh buffers the coastal ocean from land-based runoff, including research in the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve of California.

Born and raised in California, from Bodega Bay to Monterey Bay, Joanna is deeply connected to the region and dedicated to collaborative environmental solutions. Her expertise expands to US West Coast marine systems, wildfire and glaciology in Alaska, water funds in Latin America, ridge-to-reef connections from timber harvests to coral-reef fisheries in Melanesia, and investments in hydrologic services in South Africa. All of her projects, near and far, reflect an overarching commitment to supporting thriving communities and natural systems from headwaters to the sea.

Joanna’s research has been recognized with the Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America. She has recently been invited to speak, teach, or contribute to working groups in California, Fiji, South Africa, and Australia.

Joanna also holds a black belt in Aikido, the martial art of conflict resolution. She likes to surf, bicycle, backcountry ski, and backpack.

What stands out about Joanna is her creativity. I’ve seen her hit a wall in an investigation and start working on something else, put out feelers, discover connections nobody could have anticipated, and follow those connections to a robust answer by a route I never would have dreamt up. It adds up to both innovation and completion of a project.
Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, PhD

Lead Scientist, Freshwater and Terrestrial team, The Natural Capital Project

We connect scientific research to local knowledge for better stewardship of land, air, and water, whether freshwater or saltwater. We help diverse groups of people to work together successfully to synthesize their forms of understanding, to articulate the social and environmental problems they face, and from there move to potential solutions. We believe that a key part of successfully working together is to find shared understanding of what the problems are before embarking on creating solutions.
Joanna has published in leading scientific journals. Her publications span diverse fields, including the ecology of estuaries; land-change impacts on clean, consistent water supplies in Latin America; climate change and wildfire ecology, including solving wicked problems — environmental problems, for example, with no clear solution and where every problem-solving iteration changes the nature of the problem; unintended social and ecological consequences of food-safety measures in Central California agriculture; and improving conservation practices.
Photo credit: Cindi Stephan, Two Irises