Email Print Share

News Release 13-164

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

Studies will lead to new understanding of how humans and the environment interact

Photo of northern forests in New England.

NSF CNH scientists will look at the ecosystem resilience of northern forests in New England.

September 25, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

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

Brian Allan, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, CNH: An ecological trap for parasites and its impacts on human disease risk, nutrition, and income

Heidi Asbjornsen, University of New Hampshire, CNH: Experimental frameworks for evaluating net effects of hydrologic service payments on coupled social-ecohydrological systems

Ana Barros, Duke University, CNH-Ex: Balancing water needs and water uses for humans and nature

C. Michael Barton, Arizona State University, CNH: The emergence of coupled natural and human landscapes in the Western Mediterranean

Michael Blum, Tulane University, CNH: Diversity and disease in a post-trauma urban landscape

Aram Calhoun, University of Maine, CNH: Small natural features with large ecosystem functions in urbanizing landscapes

Arianne Cease, Arizona State University, CNH: Linking livestock markets and grazing practices with the nutritional ecology of grasses and locusts under Alternative Property Rights regimes

Robin Chazdon, University of Connecticut; CNH-RCN: Tropical Reforestation Network: Building a socioecological understanding of tropical reforestation

Jiquan Chen, University of Toledo, CNH: Ecosystems and societies: Divergent trajectories and coevolution

Melinda Daniels, Kansas State University, CNH: Coupled climate, cultivation, and culture in the Great Plains: Understanding water supply and water quality in a fragile landscape

Jennifer Dunne, Santa Fe Institute, CNH: Socio-ecosystem dynamics of human-natural networks on Model Islands

Paul Evangelista, Colorado State University, CNH: Assessing vulnerability of provisioning services in the Southern highlands of Ethiopia

Elizabeth King, University of Georgia, NSF CNH-Ex: Pastoralism in transition: Linking localized interactions and system behavior to evaluate social-ecological vulnerability

Kimberly Kirner, California State University-Northridge, CNH-Ex: Coping with change: Water availability and arid land management

Paul Laris, California State University-Long Beach, CNH-Ex: Coupling burning practices, vegetation cover change, and fire regimes to determine fire-emission dynamics

Colin Orians, Tufts University, CNH: Climate effects on tea quality and socioeconomic responses

Judith Perlinger, Michigan Technological University, CNH: Managing impacts of global transport of atmosphere-surface exchangeable pollutants in the context of global change

Erin Simons-Legaard, University of Maine, CNH-Ex: An analysis of disturbance interactions and ecosystem resilience in the northern forest of New England

Conghe Song, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, CNH: The effects of China's Grain-for-Green Program on the dynamics of coupled natural-human system in rural China

Diana Stuart, Michigan State University, CNH: A social-ecological analysis of nitrogen in agricultural systems of the Upper Midwest

Lisette Waits, University of Idaho, CNH-Ex: Quantifying linkages among land-use policies, agricultural intensification, habitat fragmentation, and social-ecological resilience in a tropical biological corridor


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

mail icon Get News Updates by Email 

Connect with us online
NSF website:
NSF News:
For News Media:
Awards database:

Follow us on social