People / Professor Emeritus

John Harte

John Harte is a physicist turned ecologist.  His research interests span ecological field research, the theory of complex systems, and policy analysis.  Current interests include applying insights from information theory to the analysis of complex ecosystems and empirical investigation of climate-ecosystem feedback dynamics.

He is a Professor of the Graduate School and previously held a joint pro­fes­sor­ship in the Energy and Resources Group and the Ecosys­tem Sci­ences Divi­sion of the Col­lege of Nat­ural Resources. He received a BA in physics from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity in 1961 and a PhD in the­o­ret­i­cal physics from the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin in 1965. He was an NSF Post­doc­toral Fel­low at CERN, Geneva, dur­ing 1965–66 and a Post­doc­toral Fel­low at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Lawrence Berke­ley Lab­o­ra­tory, dur­ing 1966–68. Dur­ing the next 5 years, he was Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Physics at Yale Uni­ver­sity and has been at Berke­ley since 1973. Harte’s honors and awards include elected fellowship to the Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Soci­ety and the California Academy of Sciences, a Pew Schol­ars Prize in Con­ser­va­tion and the Envi­ron­ment, a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship, Phi Beta Kappa and University of Colorado Dis­tin­guished Lec­tureships, the Leo Szi­lard prize from the Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Soci­ety, the UC Berke­ley Grad­u­ate Men­tor­ship Award, a Miller Pro­fes­sor­ship, and a George Polk award in investigative journalism.  He has served on six National Acad­emy of Sci­ences Com­mit­tees and has authored over 200 sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing eight books, on top­ics includ­ing bio­di­ver­sity, cli­mate change, bio­geo­chemisty, and energy and water resources.

Harte’s research inves­ti­gates the effects of human actions on, and the link­ages among, bio­geo­chem­i­cal processes, ecosys­tem struc­ture and func­tion, bio­di­ver­sity, and cli­mate. His work spans a range of scales from plot to land­scape to global and uti­lizes field inves­ti­ga­tions, math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing, and the­ory devel­op­ment. He also con­ducts pol­icy stud­ies that attempt to con­nect the sci­ence to its soci­etal impli­ca­tions. Two themes, feed­back and scal­ing, weave through much of his research.

One area is climate-ecosystem link­ages. Since 1990, and with con­tin­u­ous NSF sup­port, he and his grad­u­ate stu­dents have been study­ing the effects of cli­mate warm­ing on a sub­alpine meadow (the “warm­ing meadow”) at the Rocky Moun­tain Bio­log­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory (RMBL) in Col­orado. His pio­neer­ing approach has been to arti­fi­cially warm meadow plots and directly study responses. To extend the gen­er­al­ity of the warm­ing meadow find­ings, he and his stu­dents have also car­ried out field inves­ti­ga­tions of climate-ecosystem inter­ac­tions in forests in the Rock­ies and the Sierra Nevada, and grass­lands in the Tibetan Plateau and the Marin Head­lands. Method­olog­i­cally, all these stud­ies blend together field manip­u­la­tions in exper­i­men­tal field plots, obser­va­tions across nat­ural eco­log­i­cal and cli­mate gra­di­ents, and math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing. Whereas the exper­i­men­tal manip­u­la­tions pro­vide a means of dis­cov­er­ing the actual mech­a­nisms gov­ern­ing ecosys­tem responses to warm­ing, the gra­di­ent stud­ies and the math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els pro­vide a means of scal­ing up the impli­ca­tions of these mech­a­nisms from plot to land­scape scale. The sin­gle most impor­tant con­clu­sion from Harte’s climate-ecosystem inves­ti­ga­tions is that ecosys­tem responses to cli­mate change are likely to trig­ger large feed­back effects and that most of these will enhance, not reduce, global warming.

A sec­ond major area of research is under­stand­ing pat­terns in the dis­tri­b­u­tion and abun­dance of species across spa­tial scales and across habi­tats and tax­o­nomic groups. Knowl­edge of such pat­terns is cen­tral to for­mu­lat­ing local, national and global con­ser­va­tion and land use poli­cies, as well as to under­stand­ing the prin­ci­ples gov­ern­ing ecosys­tem struc­ture, func­tion, and tem­po­ral dynam­ics. Toward that end, Harte has devel­oped a uni­fied and par­si­mo­nious the­ory of the dis­tri­b­u­tion, abun­dance, and ener­get­ics of species. Exten­sive tests of the the­ory show it to be remark­ably accu­rate, even though it has no adjustable para­me­ters, and directly applic­a­ble to many issues in con­ser­va­tion biol­ogy. The the­ory derives directly from infor­ma­tion the­ory and by anal­ogy from ther­mo­dy­nam­ics. The max­i­mum infor­ma­tion entropy infer­ence pro­ce­dure, or Max­Ent for short, is at the core of the theory.  Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press Book 2011: Max­i­mum Entropy and Ecol­ogy: A The­ory of Abun­dance, Dis­tri­b­u­tion, and Ener­get­ics, by John Harte

In their new book, “Cool the Earth, Save the Econ­omy: Solv­ing the Cli­mate Cri­sis is EASY,” John and his wife Mel present a blue­print for reduc­ing US emis­sions by 75% by 2030 … and with­out car­bon seques­tra­tion, bio­fu­els, or a car­bon tax. Go to for a free down­load of the book.

Curriculum Vitae



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