Atkinson Center announces student grant awards

Graduate students and postdoctoral associates conducting research addressing pressing environmental questions such as how to quantify greenhouse gases emitted from pasturelands are receiving research grants from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF).

"We are pleased to announce the 17 students awarded funding for their innovative and interdisciplinary research through our Sustainable Biodiversity Fund (SBF) and the Cross-Scale Biogeochemistry and Climate Small Grants Program co-sponsored with the National Science Foundation," says Frank DiSalvo, ACSF director.

For example, Gui Becker, a Ph.D. candidate in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Ellen Crocker, graduate student in the field of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, are among the nine students to receive up to $7,000 each from the SBF for research aimed at protecting the diversity of the Earth's biota. Becker's research investigates how different patterns of deforestation influence amphibian migration. Crocker focuses on how invasive species may interact with or avoid plant pathogens.

Other SBF recipients include graduate students Courtney Couch, Ian Brosnan, Nathan Senner, Ben Freeman, Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, Renee Petipas and postdoctoral associate David Rodriguez, all working in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, earth and atmospheric sciences. Funding for the SBF comes from the Toward Sustainability Foundation and the ACSF.

The recipients attend a seminar run by Anurag Agrawal, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and are expected to present their research progress at the end of the spring semester.

"This remarkable set of students is addressing diverse questions, spanning our backyard biodiversity to the far reaches of the planet," says Agrawal.

DiSalvo also announced the eight student awardees receiving up to $4,000 each for research and travel through the inaugural annual competition for the Cross-Scale Biogeochemistry and Climate (CSBC) Small Grants Program, which is part of a new Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program at Cornell sponsored by the NSF.

The program "supports interdisciplinary research conducted by modelers and empiricists studying the biogeochemical causes, consequences and feedbacks of global climate change from microbe to the whole earth system," says Christy Goodale, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the CSBC-IGERT.

CSBC grant recipients are: Marc Barker, Samuel Chamberlain, Zhen Han and Fiona Soper, ecology and evolutionary biology; Erin Eggleston, Chris Gaby and Constance Armanda Roco, microbiology, and Thea Whitman, crop and soil sciences.

Chamberlain's research, for example, focuses on improving the understanding of greenhouse gas dynamics on pasturelands and quantifying total emissions --information critical to governments and organizations seeking to regulate or trade greenhouse gas emissions. Han studies how landscape characteristics and climate change interact with management practices to impact emissions of nitrous oxide, an important greenhouse gas.

Awardees are expected to participate in the Biogeochemistry, Environmental Science and Sustainability weekly seminar series and graduate student association, as well as the program's annual retreat and other activities.

The SBF and the CSBC grant programs follow a third grant program the ACSF also launched last year -- the Agrarian and Rural Transformation Fellowship Program, which awarded $4,000 each to eight advanced doctoral students and postdocs to integrate their work in agriculture with multiple disciplines to improve human well-being and contribute to sustainable rural communities across the globe.

"Providing these small grants to our extremely talented graduate students is one of the best investments we can make, since many of these projects are highly novel and wire new connections on campus," says Drew Harvell, ACSF associate director for the environment.

Lori Sonken is a policy specialist at ACSF.