National Science Foundation awards $19.4 million for research on coupled natural and human systems

September 25, 2013

How and why is tea quality vulnerable to changing climate conditions, and how do these changes affect farming communities and land-use strategies?

Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program will use tea production and consumption systems as a case study to explore the complex interactions among human and natural systems.

They will look at how links among tea agroecosystems, markets and farmers are affected by increased climate variability and resulting socioecological feedbacks.

The project is one of 21 funded this year by NSF's CNH program, which addresses how humans and the environment interact. Total funding for the 2013 awards is $19.4 million.

NSF's Directorates for Biological Sciences; Geosciences; and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences support research conducted through the CNH program. CNH is part of NSF's Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability investment.

"An important application of advancing the understanding of natural and human systems is improving our ability to predict the environmental and social consequences of alternative policies for resource use, and our chances of choosing wisely for the future," says Peter Alpert, CNH program director in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

"This year's CNH awards look into the past, across the present and into some of our most productive agricultural systems to make these scientific advances."

Research funded by CNH awards will provide a better understanding of natural processes and cycles and of human behavior and decisions--and how and where they intersect.

New CNH awardees will conduct research on such subjects as an ecological trap for parasites and the parasites' effects on human disease risk, balancing water needs and water uses for humans and nature and building a socioecological understanding of tropical reforestation.

Also being studied are pastoralism in transition: linking localized interactions and system behavior to evaluate socio-ecological vulnerability, water availability and arid land management and coupling burning practices, vegetation cover change and fire regimes to determine fire-emission dynamics.

Grantees will look at subjects as diverse as disturbance interactions and ecosystem resilience in the Northern forests of New England, the effects of China's Grain-for-Green Program in rural China and a socio-ecological analysis of nitrogen in agricultural systems of the Upper Midwest.

"This year's CNH awards examine the way in which people deal with natural environmental processes in a broad range of settings, including cities, agricultural regions, arid lands and forests," says Tom Baerwald, CNH program director in NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.

"Findings from these projects will enhance our understanding of, and increase our capabilities to improve, environmental quality and the well-being of people."

CNH scientists are asking questions such as: how are land-use policies, agricultural intensification, habitat fragmentation and socio-ecological resilience linked in a tropical biological corridor?

And how can the United States better plan for more sustainable agriculture and development of towns and cities by learning from the ancient land-use histories of Neolithic sites in Spain and Italy?

"In CNH, we consider humans and our environment as one interconnected system," says Sarah Ruth, program director in NSF's Directorate for Geosciences.

"Each of these new projects brings together teams of researchers from across the social and natural sciences to help us better understand how this complex system functions, and ultimately, how we may best manage our finite environmental resources."

2013 Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Awards

National Science Foundation

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