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News Release 15-102

NSF awards $20.4 million for research on how humans, environment interact

Studies continue mission of Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program

drawing showing an American kestrel  bird

NSF CNH grantees will study how predators like American kestrels help crops in fruit-growing areas.

September 11, 2015

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.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 do predators contribute to reducing crop losses in agricultural ecosystems? By consuming crop-eating insects and rodents, according to Catherine Lindell of Michigan State University.

Lindell is one of 16 recipients of grants made in 2015 by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program.

She and colleagues are investigating whether predatory bird populations, in this case American kestrels, increase when researchers provide nest boxes in fruit-growing regions--and whether these predators reduce crop damage.

The scientists are also studying factors that may influence fruit growers' decisions about the use of predator nest boxes, including economic and consumer preference considerations. The project addresses how humans and the environment interact--and where predators such as American kestrels fit into the picture.

Another new CNH project, by Andrew Ashton of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, looks at how coastlines are influenced by physical processes. Project researchers are developing a set of integrated models to better understand shoreline evolution in different geologic settings, development scenarios, legal and regulatory regimes, and with different climate variables and strategies for coastal protection and response.

Studying complex interactions

Total funding for the 2015 CNH grants is $20.4 million; the program has been issuing awards since 2001.

CNH is co-funded by NSF's Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Geosciences (GEO), and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE).

"Past CNH-supported research has examined the complex and often unanticipated ways human actions interact with biophysical processes," says Tom Baerwald, CNH program director for SBE. "The 2015 awards will lead to new insights into, and perspectives on, linked human and natural systems that are important at local, regional, national and global scales."

This year's grantees will look at ways in which people deal with environmental processes in a range of settings, including cities, mountains, grasslands and forests.

Findings from the projects, scientists believe, will enhance society's understanding of environmental quality and the well-being of people.

The 2015 research subjects include community management of tropical forests, links between ecosystem services and governance of water resources in urbanized landscapes, humans and wildlife as coupled systems, social and ecological consequences of conservation easements, and globally driven subsistence changes in rural Alaska.

"As human populations expand and the environment changes, that creates complex environmental issues that are best investigated by multidisciplinary teams," says Betsy Von Holle, CNH program director for BIO. "CNH provides support for natural and social scientists to work together to examine these complex human-environment interactions. The results can then be applied to other regions experiencing similar issues."

The CNH program considers humans and the environment as one interconnected system.

"CNH brings together expertise in physical, biological, and social science to solve real and complex problems affecting people," says Richard Yuretich, CNH program director for GEO. "These range from sustaining fisheries for local communities to examining the practical aspects of shoreline erosion to determining how human behavior and environmental factors interplay in the spread and prevention of water-borne disease. Every CNH project considers humans as an integral part of the functioning of this planet, which indeed we are."

2015 NSF CNH awards:

Kathleen Alexander, Virginia Tech: The Coupled Dynamics of Human-Dryland River Systems: Linkages and Feedbacks Between Human and Environmental Drivers of Water Quality and Human Health

Andrew Ashton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Coastal Processes and Human Response to Shoreline Change

Jay Banner, University of Texas at Austin: The New 100th Meridian: Urban Water Resiliency in a Climatic and Demographic Hot Spot

Todd Brinkman, University of Alaska Fairbanks: Adaptive Coupling of Human Environment Linkages in Response to Globally Driven Changes in Subsistence in Rural Alaska

Catherine Cardelus, Colgate University: Understanding the Effective Processes by Which Communities Manage Tropical Forests

Kelly Cobourn, Virginia Tech: Linking Land-Use Decision Making, Water Quality, and Lake Associations to Understand Human-Natural Feedbacks in Lake Catchments

Caitlin Dyckman, Clemson University: Coupled Social and Ecological Consequences of Conservation Easements

Sarah Glaser, University of Denver: The Potential for Aquaculture in Lake Victoria and Implications for Wild Fisheries and Fish Commodity Markets

Heather Leslie, Brown University: Resilience and Adaptive Capacity of Small-Scale Fishing Communities and Coastal Marine Ecosystems to Environmental and Economic Variability

Catherine Lindell, Michigan State University: Linkages Among Farmer Decision Making, Beneficial Bird Species, and Pest Management in Fruit-Growing Systems

Jianguo Liu, Michigan State University: Complex Dynamics of Telecoupled Human and Natural Systems

Laura Lopez Hoffman, University of Arizona: A Telecoupling Model to Account for Spatial Subsidies of Ecosystem Services Provided by Transboundary Migratory Species in North America

Brenda McCowan, University of California, Davis: Processes and Factors Affecting Humans and Wildlife As Coupled Systems

Daene McKinney, University of Texas at Austin: Science-Driven, Community-Based Approach to Reducing Glacier Lake Outburst Flood Risks

Thomas Meixner, University of Arizona: Linking Ecosystem Services and Governance of Water Resources in Urbanized Landscapes

Emi Uchida, University of Rhode Island: Poverty Traps and Mangrove Ecosystem Services in Coastal Tanzania


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.

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