NSF renews UH Hilo’s $5 million CREST grant

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Date: Thursday, March 20, 2014
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) Program has been awarded a second $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) CREST (Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology) Program. The award represents Phase II funding of the original $5 million grant received in 2009, and covers a five-year period.

The CREST: TCBES Project brings together a diverse, inter-disciplinary team spanning several natural sciences led by Principal Investigator and TCBES Director Dr. Donald Price, with Drs. Patrick Hart, Elizabeth Stacy and Misaki Takabayashi as Co-Principal Investigators. Other senior personnel on the project are Drs. Jonathan Awaya, Jie Cheng, Abby Cuttriss, William Mautz, Adam Pack, Jonathan Price and Michael Shintaku along with Terrilani Chong and Doreen Koizumi. The project’s overarching theme is Understanding Biotic Response to Environmental Change in Tropical Ecosystems Through a Place-Based Context.

“To fully understand the impact of climate change you need to start with the leading indicators, which are those life forms, whose well-being is tied to the state of their environment,” Price said. “The CREST team we’ve assembled will employ emerging genetic, physiological, bioacoustic and bioinformatic tools to examine various effects of anthropogenic change on animals, plants and microbes.”

The project is organized around three sub-components for which separate teams will be formed to develop interactive research programs with each team contributing to the overall synergistic center theme.

An Organismal Response to Environmental Change (OREC) team will analyze the short- and long-term responses of key organisms to a range of steady and fluctuating environmental conditions in their respective habitats, which will be incorporated into landscape-level response to climate change.

The Behavioral Responses to Environmental Change (BREC) team will examine how behaviors central to the survival and reproductive success of animals have evolve through natural and sexual selection in conditions that greatly differ from today’s ecological environment.

A third team will examine Dynamic Interactions between Symbioses and Environment (DISE), or how symbiotic relationships between macro and micro organisms can shift in response to environmental changes.

The results of the research is expected to produce a deeper understanding of the impacts climate change will have on the geographic ranges as well as social and symbiotic interactions of species in Hawaiʻi and the broader Pacific region.

“Hawaiʻi’s unique natural resources are our heritage, and it is our kuleana to be effective stewards to provide for future generations," said Chancellor Don Straney. “The CREST: TCBES project will provide the next generation of scientists and professionals with the depth of knowledge and the inter-disciplinary perspective required to both study and effectively manage those spectacular, yet fragile, resources.”

Beyond its discovery value, the CREST Project is expected to enhance faculty research capacity and attract students from groups traditionally under-represented in the sciences, whose participation will open up opportunities in Ph.D. programs and professional careers. As involvement from students of native Hawaiian and Pacific Island ancestry grows, so too should the application of indigenous knowledge to environmental issues as they forge ties with federal and state agencies, along with researchers from Ph.D. granting institutions throughout Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland.

“In the span of its 10-year history, TCBES has established itself as a truly outstanding graduate program with both national and international distinction,” said Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Matt Platz. “Through the CREST project, the program is taking another important step in its development as a center of excellence for research and training throughout Hawaiʻi and the Pacific region.”


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