Seed Funding Awards

The GEM3 Seed Funding program allows the program to respond to new opportunities as well as pursue high impact, potentially transformative research and educational projects. Its principal objective is to create a mechanism to catalyze new research on focal species, species interactions, ecosystems, genomics/phenomics, or other emerging areas related to the scope of GEM3. It is aimed at groups or individuals that emphasize the collaborative development and testing of important ideas and theories, cutting-edge analysis of recent or existing data and information, and/or investigation of social ecological systems issues.

Topic areas may be identified during the annual review of the NSF-approved RII Strategic plan, the Project Advisory Board (PAB) and External Evaluator, and the NSF Reverse Site Visit. Three types of awards will be available as noted below. Seed funding awardees are expected to use results of the work as a basis for pursuing external funding, co-authoring peer reviewed papers, and/or developing other GEM3-related innovations. It is also an important mechanism to broaden participation of institutions, faculty, and students from underrepresented groups.

Internal GEM3 Funding

  • Small Research Seed Funding (up to $50K, 1 year): The primary purpose of these awards will be to support early career faculty who are initiating research in topics related to GEM3; established faculty with innovative ideas are also eligible to apply. The award will provide support for exploratory and/or high-risk research for which preliminary data are needed.
  • Large Research Seed Funding (up to $150K): These 2-year awards will support collaborative research in topics related to GEM3. To broaden participation, proposing teams must include faculty from at least one other institution and discipline. Funding will support M.S. and Ph.D. research and allow for student exchanges within the state.
  • Workforce Development Seed Funding (up to $30K, 1 year): These awards will provide support to strengthen internship or training opportunities with existing institutional agency, underrepresented community, or Tribal collaborators. Proposed activities must be coordinated with ongoing GEM3 programming.

Award Year 1

Mapping and modeling to forecast ecosystem recovery after megafires in sagebrush steppe

Award Type: Large

Award Dates: September 1, 2019 - September 1, 2021

PI: Trevor Caughlin

Co-PI(s): Donna Delparte

Project Description

The increasing prevalence of megafires (>100,000 acres) is a key driver of ecosystem degradation in the American West. The devastating impacts of megafires on biodiversity, ecosystem function, and human livelihood raise the question of how fast ecosystems can recover from this major disturbance. Sagebrush steppe is particularly vulnerable to fire-induced degradation, and efforts to restore sagebrush plants to millions of hectares of degraded land are ongoing with varying success rates. Quantitative forecasts of ecosystem recovery could play a major role in spatial planning to assist restoration efforts. However, a scale mismatch between the limited spatial extent of field plots and the large spatial extent of many disturbances has impeded the development of restoration ecology as a predictive science. We will resolve this scale mismatch by fusing data on post-fire demographic rates of individual sagebrush plants with remotely-sensed imagery at landscape scales. Our data fusion approach will enable us to develop demographic process models for regional dynamics of sagebrush recovery. We will match time series of sagebrush population recovery with land management units, providing a direct link between human decision-making and sagebrush population dynamics. Overall, our project will address the ecological future of Idaho landscapes impacted by a novel social-ecological system (SES) disturbance.

Towards a genomic model to predict drought tolerance in sagebrush: Preventing embolism as a key adaptation

Award Type: Small

Award Dates: September 1, 2019 - August 31, 2020

PI: Sven Buerki

Co-PI(s): Stephen Novak, Bryce Richardson Marcelo Serpe, Marie-Anne de Graff (BSU)

Project Description

The GEM3 project currently lacks a hypothesis connecting genomic with a specific phenomic processes underpinning sagebrush adaptive capacity to drought. The proposed project will contribute to fill this gap by using a genotype-by-environment (GxE) approach that integrates into the existing common garden approaches supported by GEM3. The novel components of this proposal is that we: 1) used existing legacy data to identify two genotypes of Artemisia tridentata that represent different levels of drought tolerance via phenotypic adaptation and 2) compare key drought-related phenotypes that are genetically determined. We hypothesize that drought-related mortality in sagebrush seedlings can be predicted by xylem adaptations preventing embolism (or cavitation) and ultimately hydraulic failure. We also hypothesize that this phenotypic trait is heritable (genetically determined) and therefore comparative genomic analyses will allow us to discover and characterize the genes and their expression contributing to drought-tolerance. Specifically, we predict that drought-tolerant sagebrush seedlings will exhibit i) less cavitation, thus less reduction in xylem conductivity, ii) significantly smaller vessel length and lumen diameter in roots and iii) respond to imposed drought by differential expression of genes associated with xylem anatomy and pathways involved in stress responses, compared to drought-sensitive seedlings. The morphology of xylem will be determined using X-ray micro-computed tomography and the discovery and characterization of genes will be determined by sequencing mRNA transcripts from stem and root tissues using the PacBio Iso-Seq technology. We will identify population-level genotypic differences for drought tolerance in sagebrush using the following assumptions: i) climatic conditions across the geographic distribution have been relatively stable during the last 1000 years, and ii) these climate conditions have selected for individuals and populations that are genetically adapted to drought conditions. Based on these assumptions and legacy data provided by our federal partners, we will select populations that are representative of two genotypes that have been shaped by the duration and intensity of drought. Comparative phenotypic and genomic analyses will be conducted on those genotypes to discover and characterize genes that increase drought tolerance in sagebrush.

Seasonal and thermal regulation of hormone signaling, growth, and reproductive success in free-living redband trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss gardneri

Award Type: Small

Award Dates: October 1, 2019 - January 31, 2021

PI: Devaleena Pradhan

Co-PI(s): Ernest Keeley

Project Description

The abundance and distribution of redband trout due to long-term impacts such as landscape shifts and climate change can be managed effectively by understanding the endogenous physiological mechanisms that help fish to adapt to changing environments. Salmonids adapt to these changes by modifying their hormonal pathways that regulate phenotype, such as growth rates (including body mass, bone and muscle density) and development of secondary sexual characteristics, sperm production, and sexual behavior. Natural changes in ambient fresh water temperatures occur during seasonal shifts, such as summer, fall and early winter, with highest temperatures in July and August, and declining temperatures into the fall. These observations raise the question of whether trout living in warmer rivers have higher thermal tolerance and/or chronic stress responses compared to those from cooler rivers. In fish, cortisol functions to maintain energy balance and food consumption. During the acute stress response, cortisol levels increase rapidly to maintain homeostasis, while chronically elevated cortisol (e.g. during heat stress), can negatively impact growth and all the levels of the reproductive axis, from reproductive behavior to gamete quality and embryo/larval development. Our fish collection sites north of Snake River represent lower temperature stress habitats, and southern sites represent high temperature stress habitats. Objective #1 is to determine the effects of shifts in seasonality and temperature on chronic stress response and growth. For each fish, we will measure morphology, feeding behavior and metabolic hormones such as cortisol, growth hormones and insulin-like growth factor 1. For Objective #2, we will determine the effect of thermal stress on reproductive behavior, steroid hormone profiles (such as cortisol, 11- ketotestosterone, and estradiol) and reproductive success. These studies will help determine the mechanisms by which hormones regulate sex and age differences in life history transitions and the phenotypic plasticity of redband trout in response to thermal stress.

Pathways to Conservation Careers

Award Type: Workforce Development

Award Dates: September 1, 2019 - March 31, 2021

PI: Amber Greening

Co-PI(s): Mark Beaver, Kitty Griswold, Morey Burnham, Sonia Martinez

Project Description

The long term goals of this proposed project are to (1) increase participation of underrepresented minority (URM) students in natural resource conservation, STEM, and GEM3 related career paths and fields of study at Idaho State University (ISU) and (2) establish a nearpeer mentor network between high schools, early and upper-division college students, faculty, and natural resource agencies and organizations across Southern Idaho. Idaho’s landscapes continue to develop at a rapid pace and the necessity for diverse perspectives in conservation and natural resource management jobs is essential and requires an academic pipeline that reflects that same diversity. Unfortunately, URM student enrollment in STEM and GEM3 related academic programs in the state are low and follow a larger, national trend of underrepresentation of minority groups in STEM fields.

Award Year 2

Time travel with the sagebrush micobiome: connecting microbial composition with chemistry and adaptive capacity over three magnitudes of time

Award Type: Large

Award Dates: August 2020 - July 2022

PI: Leonora Bittleston

Co-PI(s): Kathryn Turner Carolyn Dadabay (COI)

Project Description

Microbes, despite being very small, have large-magnitude effects on our ecosystems and are increasingly relevant for understanding and managing anthropogenic environmental changes, such as species invasions. They drive biogeochemical cycles and influence the health and fitness of larger organisms. In recent years, new findings have emerged highlighting the importance
of plant-associated microbes. For example, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can significantly improve resistance to salinity, drought, and nutrient deficiencies, and fungal and bacterial endophytes can modify disease severity, promote growth and protect against herbivory. Compared with soil microbes, above-ground plantassociated microbes have received relatively little attention, and we are still learning about their importance.

Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is an iconic foundational species of the vast American sagebrush steppe, and plays a large role in structuring the community of other plants and animals. It can support the growth of other plants, and provides food for threatened non-game species (sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit), economically important big game species, and domestic species. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem is currently under threat; it has been declining and is becoming increasingly fragmented, partially due to anthropogenic development and increasing frequency of fire that promotes the invasion of exotic grasses. Though increasing effort is devoted to preventing this decline, sagebrush restoration efforts have mixed and often disappointing results.

Past research on sagebrush has built a large body of knowledge about plant physiology, leaf chemistry, and herbivory. Variation in leaf chemical phenotypes, or the ‘chemotype’, is thought to be a key mediator of the role of sagebrush in the ecosystem, and may determine whether a particular population or individual can deter herbivores or is suitable food for threatened species like sage-grouse. Leaf associated microbes, may, in fact, be the source of some of the leaf chemistry. For example, in a related species, Artemisia annua, fungal endophytes produce bioactive metabolites with strong anti-fungal activity towards plant pathogens. Despite this, much work remains to characterize sagebrush-associated microbial communities, and to our knowledge, there are no studies of the above-ground microbiome. A plant’s microbiome is a link between an individual’s genotype/phenotype and its environment, as it is generally influenced by both host and habitat characteristics. Thus, the microbiome is part of the ‘extended phenotype’ and has high potential to drive evolutionary feedback. A key missing piece in our knowledge of how ecosystems function is how microbial communities mediate adaptive capacity of plants in changing environments.

Local adaptation to biotic drivers: Integrating the evolutionary consequences of soil microbial communities into sagebrush population dynamics

Award Type: Small

Award Dates: September 2020 - August 2021

PI: Marie-Anne de Graaff (BSU)

Co-PI(s): Trevor Caughlin, Leonora Bittleston Allison B. Simler-Williamson

Project Description

Local adaptation fundamentally shapes diversity and population persistence in heterogeneous landscapes, and this evolutionary process is foundational to predictions of species’ responses to rapid environmental change (Kawecki & Ebert 2004). Yet, studies rarely assess the relative contributions of the underlying abiotic and biotic mechanisms that generate local adaptation (Wadgymar et al. 2017), in which genotypes exhibit fitness advantages at native sites, compared to other environments. Species interactions, including mutualism, predation, and parasitism, can generate selection (Lau and Lennon 2011, Kalske et al. 2016, Bjorkman et al. 2017), and inclusion of biotic selective agents can alter conclusions about local adaptation based on climate alone (Hargreaves et al. 2019). Nevertheless, predictions about the importance of biotic local adaptation remain elusive because 1) many studies of phenotypic plasticity seek to minimize species interactions, and 2) translocation can trigger diverse fitness impacts, associated with suites of species interactions (Brady et al. 2019). Understanding the role of biotic drivers in genotypeenvironment interactions (GxE) is of key importance as climate adaptation actions increasingly translocate populations beyond existing ranges. These actions rarely consider biotic interactions and their possible contributions to the success of translocated genotypes in new environments (Simler et al. 2019).

Both ecological and evolutionary drivers may explain variation in the observed importance of biotic local adaptation among populations (terHorst and Zee 2016, Van Nuland et al. 2016). Firstly, biotic selection pressures may vary with abiotic gradients that determine the frequency and costs of negative or positive species interactions (Johnson et al. 2010, Wilhelmi et al. 2017, Freeman et al. 2018). In addition, local population dynamics may influence finer scale variation in biotic selection pressures, representing a potential eco-evolutionary feedback (Van Nuland et al. 2017). For instance, soil microbial communities exert selective pressures on plant populations, with fitness impacts that vary along landscape-scale abiotic gradients (Revillini et al. 2016). Yet, individual plants also “condition” soils, locally altering pathogen, symbiont, or resource abundances and impacting conspecific fitness (Comita et al. 2014). Thus, legacies created by spatial and genetic signatures of local populations, as well as regional abiotic gradients that shape species interactions, may jointly determine impacts of biotic interactions on translocation.

Failing to account for variation in biotic interactions among populations and across environmental gradients is a crucial gap in our understanding of plasticity and population persistence under rapid global change (Wadgymar et al. 2017). We propose a novel investigation of the relative importance of species interactions on phenotypic plasticity in big sagebrush populations, focusing on plantassociated soil microbial communities. We will generate mathematical models and manipulative experiments to isolate the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms determining the strength of biotic local adaptation across this species’ range, a complement to GEM3’s current work.

Toward understanding interactions between large herbivores and abiotic factors on plant species distributions in sagebrush systems: a pilot study to validate predictive spatially

Award Type: Small

Award Dates: May 2020 - May 2021

PI: Jocelyn Aycrigg

Co-PI(s): Tracey Johnson

Project Description

Biotic and abiotic forces interact to influence the distribution and quality of forage plants, and altered abiotic conditions associated with climate change are predicted to affect ecophysiological characteristics of forage plants into the future. Declines in forage quality and availability are contributing to declining ungulate populations across Idaho, and also affect the production of domesticated ungulates (i.e., livestock). Thus, understanding the relative importance of biotic and abiotic mechanisms responsible for forage plant distribution and quality and how these characteristics are predicted to respond to future climate uncertainty is critical for managing both wild and domesticated ungulate populations within the sagebrush biome. Despite the need for this knowledge, current national vegetation mapping efforts (e.g., the USGS Gap Analysis Project) have mapped plant communities at a coarse taxonomic resolution across large spatial scales and lack information on distributions of individual forage species. At relatively finer scales, species distribution models (SDMs) are used to study species-environment relationships and make predictions of species occurrence. Approaches include data-driven statistical analyses (generalized linear models, Bayesian hierarchies, and occupancy models), and principal component analyses (e.g., MaxEnt). However, most SDMs are applied locally rather than across landscapes, such as the sagebrush systems in Idaho.

A Cooperative Faculty Position Bridging Between Idaho State University and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes

Award Type: Workforce Development

Award Dates: TBD

PI: Colden Baxter


Project Description

This description is meant to share ideas developed during discussions between the ShoshoneBannock Tribes (“Tribes”) and Idaho State University (“ISU”) that have focused on the creation of an innovative educational and research position. Using the recently funded NSF-EPSCoR “GEM3” grant as a catalyst, tribal staff and ISU faculty and staff have been discussing the establishment of a new faculty position that builds on the objectives outlined in the jointly developed 2010 and 2019 MOA’s. Here, we give an overview of the conceptual framework for this position with the objective of broadening the discussion and creating a working group that includes key leaders within the Tribes and ISU. We are in the midst of these discussions and as such feedback and constructive comments that strengthen the vision and feasibility of this effort are being solicited.

The shared vision emerging from the working group expresses the desire to jointly create a newly designed faculty position that will benefit educational, research, cultural, and economic opportunities at ISU and Fort Hall. If successful, the Tribes and ISU could emerge as leaders in developing such innovative educational initiatives. This effort could serve as a model for other cooperative efforts between tribal nations and academic institutions within the state of Idaho and the nation, and would also serve as an important, sustained outcome associated with the GEM3 program.

The objective of this effort is to create a new position that increases Tribal representation on the ISU campus and creates a bridge to the Ft. Hall community. The person in this position (to be clear, the group has typically envisioned this person as being Native American) would jointly support the Tribes and ISU’s missions and research and educational services. For example, the person in this position might conduct community-based, participatory research and lead education activities that would address the information and educational needs and issues of the Fort Hall community. As an additional example, a native scholar in this position could teach courses from an indigenous perspective and offer Indigenous knowledge as a valued resource for education.

Visiting Tribal Scholars Program

Award Type: Workforce Development

Award Dates: August 2020 - July 2022

PI: Dennis Becker (UI)


Project Description

Few programs and fewer STEM faculty are available to mentor Native American STEM students in their first-to-second years. Students of color and from low-income backgrounds are also more likely to perform lower than their white peers when lacking a connection in traditional classrooms that relates to their cultural background (Castango & Brayboy, 2008). Culturally responsive schooling (CRS), as described by Castango and Brayboy (2008), provides vital connections and culturally responsive pedagogy that helps Native American students succeed.
The rates of Native American students in the STEM colleges at the university are flat or decreasing. In the College of Natural Resources, total enrolled Native American students decreased from 41 students in 2017 to 37 in 2019 (“Race and College Summary,” n.d,). While small, decreases in Native American enrollment of any level represents a significant portion of overall Native American students at the university. During that same time, total Native American faculty at the UI consisted of fewer than five. A lack of Native American faculty and professional mentors limits the ability of the university to attract Native American students and expand culturally appropriate instruction and scholarly work.

In September 2015, a Tribal Summit on Natural Resources was held at the UI to discover areas of intersection in the College of Natural Resources and Tribal Natural Resources to promote workforce development that is inclusive of Traditional Knowledge and culture. Tribal leaders and faculty identified the need for and interest in building capacity through collaboration, the need for understanding of and imbedding indigenous ways of knowing, pedagogies, and values into the curriculum. In February 2020, UI faculty hosted a second conference on Tribal Nation Building in Higher Education to further identify ways in which institutions of higher education could facilitate indigenous student education, increase enrollment, and increase success rates of
existing students.

Building on themes identified during this meetings, the aim of the visiting scholars program is to increase completion rates for Native American students by providing culturally responsive support in the form of mentoring to indigenous students, indigenizing curricula in the affiliated programs, and by providing direct linkages to regional tribes to engage in research or projects of mutual interest to the scholar and host college. The intention is that visiting scholars might also model the value of STEM training for indigenous students in regional communities to increase enrollment.

STEM Scholars Program

Award Type: Workforce Development

Award Dates: April 2020 - December 2020

PI: Yolanda Bisbee


Project Description

Students of color and from limited income backgrounds are more likely to perform lower than their white peers when lacking a connection in traditional classrooms that relates to their cultural background (Castango & Brayboy, 2008). Culturally responsive schooling (CRS), as described by Castango and Brayboy (2008), provides vital connections and culturally responsive pedagogy that helps
underrepresented students succeed. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) utilized as a part of culturally responsive schooling can assist in the connection of vital cultural understandings of science with the importance of success in Western science-based university settings.

The four STEM-focused colleges at the University of Idaho have a total of 532 underrepresented minority (URM) undergraduate students enrolled for fall semester 2019. Figure 1 below shows the breakdown of URM student enrollment for each college. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has 120 URM students enrolled. The College of Engineering has 186 enrolled. The College of Natural
Resources has 69 enrolled, and the College of Science has 157 URM students enrolled. While the colleges have enrollments that range between 800 to over 1,500 students, the URM students enrolled in the colleges range from 8% and 14% of total college enrollment. Furthermore, the rates of Native American students specifically in the STEM degrees are decreasing. In the College of Natural Resources for instance, total enrolled Native American students has decreased from 41 students in 2017 to 38 in 2019 (Institutional Effectiveness & Accreditation, 2020). While small, decreases in Native American enrollment of any level represents a significant portion of overall Native American students at the university. This can account for lack of representation, visibility, and connection to the larger college community and cause URM students to suffer in their studies that can affect retention and completion of degrees.