The Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo has received the third year of funds for its National Science Foundation Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) program.
The funds amount to $1 million of which $730,000 are direct funds to support faculty and students in CREST and $270,000 are indirect funds that support research in general at UH Hilo. In its entirety, the CREST project is a five-year cooperative agreement amounting to $5 million, including $1.3 million in indirect funds to UH Hilo.
Dr. Donald Price, TCBES director, is the principal investigator of CREST along with Drs. Patrick Hart, Elizabeth Stacy and Misaki Takabayashi as co-principal investigators and Drs. Donna Delparte, Brian Perry, Jonathan Price, Jason Turner, and Tracy Wiegner as senior personnel.
Terrilani Chong is the administrative assistant, Doreen Koizumi is the fiscal assistant, Dr. Lois-ellen Data and Herbert Poepoe are the program evaluators.
The overarching theme of the TCBES CREST project is Tropical Ecology and Evolution in Marine and Terrestrial Environments. The project goals are to enhance faculty research capacity and recruit and mentor students, many from groups under-represented in the sciences, in the TCBES graduate program and guide their progress to PhD programs and professional careers.
Of the students who earned a master’s degree since TCBES began, 80 percent are working in jobs such as botanist for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and research technician for the USDA; 20 percent are continuing toward their PhD.
The CREST program comprises three highly synergistic research teams of faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. The Evolutionary Genomics and Ecology of Local Adaptation and Speciation (EGES) team is using cutting-edge genetic technologies to examine how native fungi, insect and plant species respond to environmental change over contemporary and evolutionary time scales.
Understanding how these endemic insect and plant species and associated fungi and microorganisms respond to environmental shifts can help conserve Hawaii’s unique terrestrial communities in the face of climate change.
The Coral Reef Ecosystem (CRE) is investigating the correlations between water quality characteristics to coral disease prevalence and severity around Hawaii Island, as well as the impacts coral diseases have on the rest of coral-based food web.
The Terrestrial Ecology and Climate Change (TECC) team is using the dramatic environmental gradients on the Big Island as a model system to contribute to our understanding of the long-term impacts of climate change on forest dynamics, bird and plant community structure, and species interactions.
All three teams engage in collaboration with faculty and graduate students across the subprojects, with colleagues from federal and state agencies in Hawaii, and with researchers from PhD-granting institutions in Hawaii and across the mainland U.S.
The TCBES program actively recruits students from UH Hilo’s many undergraduate degree-granting and research-experience programs that target under-represented students in the sciences and engages these students in a vibrant research community of 64 graduate students, 30 UH Hilo faculty and over 50 affiliated faculty from U.S. federal and state agencies and PhD-granting institutions.
All TCBES students incorporate analytical, genetic, and/or GIS/remote-sensing technologies in their original research, thereby improving their technological expertise in these highly marketable skills.
Through CREST support, the TCBES network and its diverse academic, research and career-mentoring programs continue to expand and improve to better prepare TCBES students for entry into the professional workforce and PhD programs.
Engaging local students, especially individuals from Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, in conservation biology and environmental science will help to prepare the next generation of professionals to tackle Hawaii’s growing environmental challenges.