NSF grant boosts student-driven ecological research

Arizona State University Professors Heather Throop and Osvaldo Sala have been awarded an International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) grant from The National Science Foundation of approximately $294,000. The grant, initiated under the auspices of the Global Drylands Center (GDC), will fund ecological research projects led by the collaborative effort of GDC and the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in Namibia. IRES supports research for U.S. students contributing to the development of a diverse and globally engaged workforce. Student-driven projects will explore how broad-scale climate patterns and local-scale factors (e.g. soil properties) interact to control dryland ecological processes.
GDC map
Distribution of global drylands (delineated by dashed lines) and the number of peer-reviewed studies on dryland ecology by country (modified from Maestre et al. 2012). Namibia is located in the red circle.
Eighteen U.S. students, selected from ASU and surrounding institutions in the southwestern U.S., will participate in the three-year project. ASU recruitment will be evaluated by the PIs, Heather Throop, a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Osvaldo Sala, director of the Global Drylands Center and Regents' Professor in the School of Life Sciences. Drylands (arid and semi-arid ecosystems) are potential flashpoints for environmental, humanitarian and political crises. These issues are compounded by high human population growth and projections of dryland expansion due to climate change. The GDC research will advance our understanding of how drylands function currently while improving our capability for predicting dryland dynamics under future climate scenarios. This research will be conducted within the Namib Desert due to its unique physical structure; large rainfall differences are present across short geographical distances. This dramatic difference in vegetation engages students in easily visualized research questions.