Date:  May 7, 2012




Keck Futures Initiative Awards More Than $1 Million for 12 Research Projects


Projects selected range from developing an interactive video game that will improve understanding and valuation of ecosystem services to assessing the feasibility of using roadway buffer strips to produce energy crops sustainably while providing ecosystem services such as habitat establishment, water resource protection, and greenhouse gas mitigation


WASHINGTON — The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced today the recipients of its latest round of grants.  Each was awarded to support interdisciplinary research on ecosystem services, the benefits that people obtain from nature.  The 12 projects chosen represent a variety of approaches to such research, which was the subject of the ninth annual Futures conference held last November.


"We received far more high-quality proposals than funds available," said Stephen R. Carpenter, director of the Center for Limnology, and S.A. Forbes Professor of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.  "We scored the grants based on their interdisciplinarity, relevance to ecosystem services, riskiness/boldness, and the importance and potential impact if the grant is funded.  We believe that the group of collaborations selected will result in the most 'generative' findings."


These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap in funding for research on new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual.  The Futures grants allow researchers to start recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data -- all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.


The award recipients and their grant research topics are (public investigators (PI) listed first, then co-PIs):


Brian Allan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Joel Cohen, Rockefeller University

Ricardo Gürtler, University of Buenos Aires

New molecular, ecological, and mathematical analyses of the domestic and sylvatic transmission cycles of Chagas disease in the perspective of ecosystem services and disservices - $50,000

This project will combine ecological, molecular, and mathematical approaches to improve understanding and control of the complex transmission cycles of Chagas disease, a neglected major source of human morbidity and mortality.  These three approaches will be united through an ecosystem perspective on the habitats where Chagas disease occurs.


Kate Brauman, University of Minnesota

Taylor Ricketts, University of Vermont

Healthy ecosystems and healthy people: Bridging disciplines to understand health impacts of environmental change - $100,000

Changes in the environment, from wildlands to local parks, can both directly and indirectly affect human health. Understanding the linkages between ecosystems and health allow landscape, air, and water management to reduce the burden of disease.  These researchers will create a novel framework to incorporate existing research into a new analysis of these relationships.


Robert Costanza, Portland State University

Ida Kubiszewski, Portland State University

Austin Troy, University of Vermont

Lisa Wainger, University of Maryland

Interactive games to value ecosystem services - $75,000

These researchers propose a prototype system to combine elements of choice modeling, ecosystem modeling, and interactive multiplayer games to better understand and value ecosystem services.  Research results will enable an estimation of ecosystem service values by observing the informed trade-offs that individuals and groups are willing to make in a simulated environment.


Gautam Dantas, Washington University School of Medicine

Mike Bemen, University of California, Merced

Francis de los Reyes, North Carolina State University

Catherine Febria, University of Maryland

Margaret Palmer, University of Maryland

Microbial ecosystem services: Identifying global solutions from genes to communities - $50,000

Experts from across the medical sciences, engineering, and ecology will synthesize the state of the knowledge on microbial ecosystem services that includes a framework of transferrable hypotheses, priority research questions, and opportunities for interdisciplinary innovation.  The outputs from this workshop will include synthesis publications and communication resources needed to move this emerging field forward.


Kimberly Gray, Northwestern University

Gayathri Gopalakrishnan, Argonne National Laboratory

The energy highway: Marginal land and the effects of heavy metal contamination on energy crop production - $100,000

This research evaluates the feasibility of using an overlooked land resource -- roadway buffer strips -- to produce energy crops sustainably while simultaneously providing ecosystem services such as habitat establishment, water resource protection, and greenhouse gas mitigation.  A specific aim of this research is to evaluate the unintended consequence of metal uptake on plant growth.


Carolyn Kousky, Resources for the Future

The challenges and opportunities for integrating ecosystem services into federal policy: A case study of flood mitigation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - $100,000

There are economic, institutional, and biophysical barriers to using ecosystem services for flood risk reduction.  This project will identify these barriers and strategies for overcoming them in Corps of Engineers projects to better operationalize the concept of ecosystem services for policy and improve integration of ecosystem-based approaches into federal decision making.


Claire Kremen, University of California, Berkeley

Elena Bennett, McGill University

Kimberly Carlson, Yale University

Holly Gibbs, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Nathalie Walker, National Wildlife Federation

Assessing the sustainability of agricultural commodity chains: Contrasting ecosystem service impacts of small-scale agriculture and large-scale agribusiness - $100,000

Creating sustainable food production systems requires mitigating environmental impacts of agriculture as food is produced, transformed, and distributed.  By analyzing data on how smallholder agricultural production and large-scale agribusiness affect ecosystem services along commodity chains, this research will inform international policies to meet global food security needs without sacrificing the environment.


Shahid Naeem, Columbia University

Jane Carter Ingram, Wildlife Conservation Society

Establishing an open access global science standards for payment for ecosystem services projects - $100,000

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) projects are a promising new face of conservation and sustainable development, but they lack scientific coherency.  This project will bring together NAKFI scientists and PES practitioners to develop global, science-based standards for PES programs that will aid in the design and success of programs worldwide.


Lydia Olander, Duke University

Todd BenDor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

William McDowell, University of New Hampshire

James Salzman, Duke University

Lisa Wainger, University of Maryland

Ecosystem services as an alternative foundation for development, urban planning, and water infrastructure in the U.S. - $100,000

Through a series of interconnected and multidisciplinary working groups, this project explores the new ideas, approaches, and applications involved in placing green infrastructure and ecosystem services at the foundation of urban and regional planning processes, and the potential for better environmental and social outcomes.


Jean Ristaino, North Carolina State University

Linda Hanley-Bowdoin, North Carolina State University

Louise Jackson, University of California, Davis

Jan Leach, Colorado State University

Sally Miller, Ohio State University

Ecosystem services modeling to manage the emerging infectious plant diseases of Africa - $75,000

Emerging plant diseases plague African food crops. Introduction of pests and pathogens with trade between countries requires improved diagnostic capabilities and deployment of resistant varieties.  These researchers will develop a research network, hold a conference on "Ecosystem Services and Emerging Infectious Plant Diseases of Africa," and educate African women in research.


Diego Rose, Tulane University

Fabrice DeClerk, Bioversity International

Jessica Fanzo, UN REACH, World Food Program

Brian Luckett, Tulane University

Econutrition within REACH: Incorporating an ecosystems approach into the United Nations' Partnership to End Child Hunger - $100,000

This project will develop a conceptual framework and produce a decision-making strategy integrating ecosystem services into the U.N. REACH's program for ending child hunger and undernutrition.  The strategy will address agrobiodiversity, dietary diversification, and other aspects of the multifaceted role that ecosystem services can play in improving nutrition.


Osvaldo Sala, Arizona State University

Elena Bennett, McGill University

B.L. Turner II, Arizona State University

Woody-plant encroachment: Degradation or a shift in the portfolio of ecosystem services? - $75,000

Grasslands, shrublands and savannas cover 50 percent of Earth's land surface and are home to 30 percent of the human population.  A large fraction of these ecosystems are shifting from grasses to woody-plant dominance.  This project will assess changes in the portfolio of ecosystem services (ES) that result from woody-plant encroachment.


A summary of the conference, "Ecosystem Services: Charting a Path to Sustainability," will be available online in early June at 


Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public -- with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers.  The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields.  The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.  For more information about NAKFI, please visit  For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit 



Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer


Kimberly Suda-Blake, Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative



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