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UI/Costa Rican Interdisciplinary Study Receives National Science Foundation Grant

Thursday, October 17 2013

MOSCOW, Idaho – Bats. Pineapple. People. What do they all have in common?

All are factors in an interdisciplinary study recently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The $249,000 Coupled Natural Human Ecosystems grant is the first of its kind received by the University of Idaho. Lisette Waits, a professor in the UI College of Natural Resources’ Department of Fish and Wildlife, leads the project, which was written jointly by five faculty members from UI and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, or CATIE, in Costa Rica.

Under the grant, an interdisciplinary group of doctoral candidates is studying the relationship between humans and ecosystems in an area with expanding agriculture in Costa Rica.

“Understanding the linkages and interactions between social and ecological systems is critical for conservation of biodiversity and human well-being,” Waits, the principal investigator on the project, said.

The study area is a biological corridor in central Costa Rica that was historically forested. Much of the harvested areas and rangelands are being converted to farmland, often pineapple plantations. The study looks at the impact of these changes on people of the region and on the landscape, including effects on plants and animals that live in this corridor. Bats transfer plant seeds, and their movement may be affected by the change in the landscape from trees to low-growing crops.

With this new funding, five students will be able to further their research. They have been working in Costa Rica for three years under an NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). The IGERT project is in conjunction with Costa Rica’s CATIE, where UI has had a joint doctoral program since 2001. At the conclusion, the students will earn doctoral degrees from both UI and CATIE.

“This grant is an exciting addition to the University of Idaho’s longstanding work in Costa Rica and our contribution to ecological research worldwide,” said Jack McIver, UI’s vice president for research and economic development. “Our continued partnership with CATIE will advance not only graduate education, but also a better understanding of changing ecosystems – a vital issue around the globe.”

Nilsa Bosque-Pérez, a professor in UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences, leads the IGERT project and is co-principal investigator of the new grant.

“Studies that consider both social and ecological factors are critical when assessing complex systems like the one we are examining in Costa Rica. Our students were actively involved in the development of the interdisciplinary CNH proposal and this highlights the high quality of doctoral students we have been able to attract to UI through our IGERT and the JDP with CATIE,” said Bosque-Pérez.

“It is a new model of graduate education,” said Waits. “The students work in interdisciplinary teams to do their thesis. It is challenging to bring ideas together across disciplines but produces new insights.”

The students will produce interdisciplinary papers. Information and conclusions will be shared with the Costa Rican communities, including how the area would be impacted if the land use were to change.
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Media Contact: Jodi Walker, College of Natural Resources, (208) 885-2737,