NAU college receives $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation


NAU’s College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences (CEFNS) has recently been awarded $2.5 million grant funds by the National Science Foundation for experiment and research purposes. This grant will go toward constructing the Southwest Experimental Garden Array, in which scientists will be able to better discern the impacts of climate change on various plant genotypes and communities throughout northern Arizona.

Tom Whitham, regents professor in the department of biological sciences, is the lead investigator for this project. He said the construction of this garden array is a great achievement for NAU and will help scientists study how plants are directly affected by our planet’s changing climate.

“By having an array along an elevational gradient, we can really study how climate change affects the plants that we all depend upon for survival,” Whitham said. “An array, as we have it, is a series of experimental gardens or forests that are spread out from low elevation to high elevation, and as climate change kicks in what’s currently living at higher elevations is going to be forced to move up to higher and higher elevations, to find the same temperature and moisture.”

Not only will this garden array be beneficial for NAU and scientists throughout northern Arizona, but Whitham said that people in other professions will take an interest in the outcome of the experiment because climate change affects everyone.

“The combination of that environmental sensitivity and this kind of research facility opens up all sorts of educational opportunities and research opportunities for our undergraduates,” Whitham said. “I think it’s really important to go just beyond the scientific community to the large, because ultimately we’re all going to feel the effects of climate change.”

The Dean of CEFNS, Paul W. Jagodzinski, said receiving this grant is an honor for NAU and speaks volumes of the students and faculty members on this campus.

“This is a very important grant for our college,” Jagodzinski said. “It shows that NAU and our college has significant expertise and reputation in climate science research, in environmental research, and ecological research. So it actually reflects very, very positively on the institution and the people who are here.”

This image shows different elevational gradients and the different places where the gardens will be constructed. (Courtesy of: SEGA Main Proposal)

Jagodzinski also said that this experiment will be a unique way for students in numerous majors to get involved in different types of research and work with professional scientists during the project.

“The project not only involves the department of biological sciences, but also electrical engineering, computer science, and also involves someone from the forest services,” Jagodzinski said. “Students will have an opportunity to learn how you develop these garden arrays and how you study them, and that’s really the key.”

Erin Abbott, a junior biology major and chemistry minor, said that climate change is an important issue that needs to be dealt with; and researching plants, and how they react to different climates is a great way to go about this experiment.

“I believe in climate change because it’s happening, and one of the best ways to research it is through plants,” Abbott said. “Since plants can be so area specific, you will either see an evolution in the plants’ genetics or decline in population.”

The Southwest Experimental Garden Array will be a multiyear experiment which will aid scientists in further discovering how climate change affects various plants and how they can help fix the problem facing society today.



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