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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.

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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, Neil Pederson, LDEO, Columbia University
Ancient Siberian pine tree in central Mongolia; the trees hold records of past precipitation. Neil Pederson, LDEO, Columbia University  

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."

CNH 2012 awardees, their institutions and projects are:

Li An, San Diego State University:
CNH: Impacts of Ecosystem Service Payments in Coupled Natural and Human Systems

Christopher Anderson, University of North Texas:
CNH-Ex: Ecology, Culture, and Outcomes: Linking Human Perceptions and Socio-Ecological Thresholds for Ecosystem Restoration (ECO-Link)

Paul Armsworth, University of Tennessee, Knoxville:
CNH-Ex: The Influence of the Size of Protected Areas on Their Ecological and Economic Effectiveness

Nandita Basu, University of Iowa:
CNH-EX: Monsoon Harvests: Assessing the Impact of Distributed Storage Tanks on the Vulnerability of Subsistence-Level Agriculture in Tamil Nadu, India

Rebecca Bird, Stanford University:
CNH: Indigenous Fire Regimes, Land-Use Ecology, and Contemporary Livelihoods in Northern California

Sarah Glaser, College of William & Mary:
CNH-Ex: Conflict and Fisheries in the Lake Victoria Basin

Amy Hessl, West Virginia University:
CNH: Pluvials, Droughts, Energetics, and the Mongol Empire

Shannon LaDeau, Institute of Ecosystem Studies:
CNH: Urban Disamenities and Pests: Coupled Dynamics of Urban Mosquito Ecology and Human Systems Across Socioeconomically Diverse Communities

Nina Lam, Louisiana State University:
CNH: Coupled Natural-Human Dynamics in a Vulnerable Coastal System

Simon Levin, Princeton University:
CNH: Social-Ecological Complexity and Adaptation in Marine Systems

Fiorenza Micheli, Stanford University:
CNH: Enhancing Resilience of Coastal Ecosystems and Human Communities to Oceanographic Variability: Social and Ecological Feedbacks

Mark Moritz, Ohio State University:
CNH: Exploring Social, Ecological, and Hydrological Regime Shifts in the Logone Floodplain of Cameroon

Timothy Murtha, Pennsylvania State University, University Park:
CNH-Ex: Land, Water, and Territory: A 3,000-Year Study of Niche Construction and Cultural Evolution in the Tikal National Park, Guatemala

Guillermo Podesta, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science:
CNH: From Farm Management to Governance of Landscapes: Climate, Water, and Land-Use Decisions in the Argentine Pampas

Anne Short, Boston University:
CNH-Ex: Shifting Land Use and Forest Conservation: Understanding the Coupling of Social and Ecological Processes Along Urban-to-Rural Gradients

Christine Wiedinmyer, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research:
CNH: Cooking Up Clean Air: Scaled-Up Air Quality and Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Ghana

Scott Yabiku, Arizona State University:
CNH: Feedbacks Between Human Community Dynamics and Socioecological Vulnerability in a Biodiversity Hotspot

Ben Zaitchik, Johns Hopkins University:
CNH: Agroecosystem-Based Climate Resilience Strategies in the Blue Nile Headwaters of Ethiopia