Science and Technology News

Monday, October 1, 2012

National Science Foundation Awards Grants for Research on Coupled Natural and Human Systems

Studies should lead to new understanding of how humans and the environment interact

Mile-a-minute weed or forest killer, it's called. Mikania micrantha is an exotic, invasive species that spreads quickly, covering crops, smothering trees and rapidly altering the environment.

Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program will explore the factors that led to an invasion of M. micrantha in Chitwan National Park in Nepal.

The project is one of 18 funded this year by the CNH program, which addresses how humans and the environment interact. Total funding for the 2012 awards is $17.6 million.

NSF's Directorates for Geosciences; Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences and Biological Sciences support research conducted through the CNH program.

CNH is part of NSF's Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability investment.

Research funded by CNH awards will provide a better understanding of natural processes and cycles and of human behavior and decisions--and how and where they intersect.

"We're dependent on our environment and the resources it provides us, yet we often don't recognize that many of our most pressing problems can only be tackled by considering them as a single, interconnected system," says Sarah Ruth, program director in NSF's Directorate for Geosciences.

"CNH grants seek to explore that system, and to foster a better understanding of our place in it."

New CNH awardees will study such subjects as tree-ring records of past climate, estimates of grassland productivity and livestock abundance, and what lake sediment records of water quality in Mongolia can reveal about the rise and fall of the former Mongol Empire. Researchers will also study urban mosquito ecology in socioeconomically diverse communities and social-ecological complexity and adaptation in marine systems.

Awardees will also conduct research on indigenous fire regimes, land-use ecology and contemporary livelihoods in northern California. In addition, they will examine conflict and fisheries in the Lake Victoria Basin in Africa and study the influence of the size of protected areas on ecological and economic effectiveness.

CNH scientists are asking questions such as: How can we enhance the resilience of coastal ecosystems and human communities to oceanographic variability? What are the effects of distributed water storage tanks on the vulnerability of subsistence-level agriculture in India?

"For more than a decade, the CNH program has supported projects that have explored the complex ways people and natural systems interact with each other," says Tom Baerwald, CNH program director in NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.

"This year's awards have the same broad range, exploring topics for which basic researchers seek enhanced understanding and practical insights, while improving the ways people function and prosper while maintaining and improving environmental quality."

Other questions include: How do climate, water and land-use decisions in the Argentine Pampas intersect? How do social and ecological processes along urban-to-rural gradients affect land use and forest conservation? To what extent do agroecosystem-based climate resilience strategies affect the Blue Nile headwaters in Ethiopia?

"Social and natural scientists must work together to understand how human societies and ecological systems depend on each other," says Peter Alpert, CNH program director in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. "The CNH program remains at the forefront of support for this key research on sustainability."

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