Husker ecologists forge an international network with a focus on Ag and climate resilience


LINCOLN, Neb. – Two researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are playing a leading role in building a “network of networks” that brings together some of North America’s most pioneering interdisciplinary collaborations with a focus on agriculture and climate resilience, as well as food and water security.

Husker ecologists Craig Allen and Tala Awada lead a team that recently received a four-year grant of $ 400,000 from the National Science Foundation to build the network for integrated agricultural resilience research, the first of its kind in the field Area is. By sharing data, resources and expertise, affiliated researchers will develop new research paradigms that address the diversity and complexity of agriculture and farming in North America on a larger scale than previously possible.

“With the nature of replication and long-term focus these networks have, we anticipate a dynamic that we otherwise could not have revealed,” said Allen, professor of natural resources and director of the Nebraska Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes (CRAWL .). . “Most ecological research is carried out on a spatial scale of square meters and a time scale of two to three years. We now want to conduct research on a much larger scale in an age of big data and longer-term data series. “

The network brings together the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR) funded by the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service; Canada-based ResNet and the Agriculture Canada Living Labs Initiative; and the international, theory-oriented Resilience Alliance. With an additional $ 150,000 from the University of Nebraska Collaboration Initiative program, Allen and Awada are adding partners in Mexico to ensure the network spans North America.

Although the specific focus of each participating network is different, they share a vision that collaboration is essential to pursuing global food security, Allen said. In isolation, no single network can effectively examine the sustainability of modern agricultural practices in the face of external forces such as climate change, land use changes, and changed social behavior. Together, they may be able to identify the tipping points at which agricultural systems are prone to undesirable, destabilizing regime changes – for example, turning a grassland into a forest.

“Often there is a tradeoff between efficiency and resilience,” said Allen, who will act as network coordinator. “We are interested in what this compromise is and what these compromises cost.”

Allen and Awada’s leadership in the new network underscores Nebraska’s commitment to research focusing on climate resilience and sustainable food and water security, which are two of the seven thematic areas of the university’s Grand Challenge. It also underscores the university’s global leadership in agricultural resilience: in addition to the CRAWL center, which aims to help decision-makers use resilience theory to increase agricultural production, Nebraska is home to an NSF-funded, resilience-focused graduate education program and a USDA-funded research project that focused, among other things, on increasing pastureland production.

Tala Awada, Interim Director of the School of Natural Resources. Photo by Greg Nathan, college communications photographer.

Awada, assistant dean and director of the Nebraska Agricultural Research Department and professor of plant ecophysiology at the School of Natural Resources, has helped the network achieve its original goal of creating the resilience working group within the LTAR network of which they are a Location co-lead for Nebraska. The working group will facilitate communication between the four member networks.

“Our various landowners and managers are interested in multiple outcomes on their land and the networks involved will look beyond efficiency and profitability to include sustainability and resilience metrics and indicators across all scales,” said Awada.

Network scientists will develop a research agenda that focuses on three trajectories. You will examine heterogeneity and scope by examining which attributes of agricultural systems strengthen resilience; Identifying thresholds that may precede regime changes; and locate early warning signs for such shifts. Her work in these areas is expected to result in large-scale, interdisciplinary proposals that pool the network’s broad expertise and access to data from organizations such as the USDA’s Climate Hubs, the NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network, and Ameriflux.

To flesh out the agenda, network scientists will conduct an extensive literature review to identify critical gaps in research and set up a public website aimed at engaging the public and researchers outside the network. You plan to involve students and stakeholders, including tribal and underrepresented groups, throughout the process.

Researchers will collaborate through annual conferences, webinars, workshops, and monthly meetings. Allen said the overarching goal is to build a sustainable network infrastructure and strong transdisciplinary collaborations that will long outlast the four years of the NSF scholarship.

“Hopefully this network is only the beginning of transnational and institutional cooperation,” he said.


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