Nebraska leads Track-2 research team on agricultural resilience

October 9, 2019

Track-2 FEC engages Nebraska, Montana researchers in generating tools for proactive agricultural resilience

University of Nebraska–Lincoln ecologist Dirac Twidwell is the principal investigator for National Science Foundation-funded research titled “Resilience Informatics for the Convergence of Critical Capacities to Address Regional-scale Environmental Change.” The grant is through NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and is a “Track-2 Focused EPSCoR Collaboration (FEC)” from August 2019 through July 2023. The project’s nearly $4 million in funding will be shared with collaborators at the University of Montana.

Increasingly fueled by global environmental change, ecosystem shifts – from grassland to a cedar woodland or from fertile farmland to desert in a Dust Bowl-like scenario, for example – can cause community consequences ranging from reduced food and water security, to heightened wildfire risks, and more.

Twidwell’s team will develop and implement first-of-their-kind screening tools that enable earlier, more precise detection of subtle changes that foreshadow destabilizing ecological transitions. They’ll also use cutting-edge, big data-based social science methods to identify groups most likely to adopt the tools.

The tools enable the researchers to identify changing landscape patterns that portend ecological disruption in enough time for land managers to make adjustments that will stop or mitigate the damage. The team aims for use of the tools to help flip agricultural resilience from a reactive discipline – where a problem is diagnosed, then treated – to a proactive one that curbs a problem before symptoms emerge.

“The approach is meant to mimic the philosophy of medicine, so we can start to nail down, as early as possible, where we see problematic changes that we know carry a host of severe consequences to ecosystem services (similar to) people’s well-being,” said Twidwell, associate professor with UNL Agronomy and Horticulture.

He terms the intended beneficial outcome “agricultural resilience.” In 2017, the same Nebraska team earned a $3 million grant from NSF to launch a resilience-focused graduate training program focused on the Platte River Basin. Earlier this year, Twidwell was part of a multi-institutional team that received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to foster a 20% increase in rangeland production.

Nebraska has also been forming the Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, or CRAWL, aimed at helping decision-makers use resilience theory to boost agricultural production and meet the increasing global demand for food, feed and fuel.

Twidwell’s Nebraska team includes Craig Allen, director of CRAWL and the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; Simanti Banerjee, associate professor with UNL Agricultural Economics; and Daniel Uden, postdoctoral research associate with UNL Agronomy and Horticulture.

The project also includes training the next generation of leaders in agricultural resilience, providing support for a diverse group of postdoctoral scholars and graduate students at Nebraska and Montana, as well as creating a resilience-focused faculty position at Nebraska.

Edited from UNL Office of Research and Economic Development info