Scientists from ASU and Berkeley receive NSF grants to provide new insights

Editor's Note: Arizona State will take on the University of California, Berkeley, Nov. 25, at 8:15 p.m. in Sun Devil Stadium.

Scientists at Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley have been chosen to receive National Science Foundation grants to advance the understanding of how humans and the environment interact.

They represent four of 20 projects selected for funding this year by the NSF’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program. In its fifth year, the program aims to provide a better understanding of natural processes and cycles, and of human behavior and decisions – and how they intersect.

Their research sites range from the wetlands of California, to rural sites in Africa, to the arid landscapes of northern Mexico.

ASU President’s Professor Margaret Nelson and J. Marty Anderies, associate professor, both in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, are leading two of the projects.

Working in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico, Nelson and her team will study configurations of diversity in ecological landscapes and in social organizations that influence capacity to cope with significant environmental or social changes. They will focus on five archaeological cases, to understand how diversity affected these societies’ abilities to thrive or transform.

Anderies will study how small-scale irrigation systems cope with change and evolve under pressure. Because small-scale farms constitute 90 percent of farms worldwide, enhancing their adaptive capacity is critical in order to maintain food security and alleviate poverty.

Two professors from Berkeley were chosen: Steven Beissinger, professor of conservation biology, and Justin Brashares, associate professor of wildlife ecology. Both are in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

Beissinger and his team will study ecological and social processes in wetlands in the Sierra Foothills of California, to understand how landowner practices, attitudes and perceptions of wetlands have affected wetlands’ number, size and distribution. They also will study mosquito populations, West Nile Virus and the threatened black rail bird species.

Brashares’ research will take place at nine rural sites in Ghana, Kenya and Madagascar. He will integrate ecology, economics, sociology and public health to understand and predict how human health and household wealth affect human reliance on biodiversity.

The NSF is bringing together researchers from a wide variety of academic fields, to provide valuable new insights into the ways in which humans, the environment and natural resources act as one interconnected system.

 Written by Sarah Auffret