Caylor group receives Princeton Grand Challenges Seed Grant

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Our group has been awarded a seed grant through Princeton University’s “Grand Challenges” program.

Our group has been awarded a seed grant titled “The importance of green feedbacks on biodiversity conservation and management of savanna ecosystems”. The award has been given through Princeton University’s “Grand Challenges” program, which is a University-wide initiative to tackle a suite of global challenges related to development, human health, and energy. It will provide two years of support for a postdoctoral research associate.

The proposal describes a new path of research to study the redistribution of water by savanna trees and the impact of various redistribution mechanisms on water dynamics under tree canopies. Most importantly, I will seek to explicitly link these mechanisms and dynamics to their effect on patterns of biodiversity in natural areas and crop productivity in agroforestry systems. The idea of linking ecosystem services to the hydrological consequences of ecosystem structure represents an emerging area of research (Smettem, 2008), and a new direction of study within my lab group. Previously, we have focused on research regarding water balance in drylands, with par- ticular interest in the role of vegetation in modifying landscape and hillslope water balance. While these studies have necessarily led my group to integrate aspects of ecological and hydrological sciences, we have not focused on the manner by which vegetation structure impacts ecosystem goods and services, nor the direct role that large trees play in redistributing resources in ways that affect biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

Although these two issues are essential to the sustainable management and development of drylands, little progress has been made, despite an understanding that vegetation structure itself is an important determinant of total ecosystem diversity in drylands. Most prior studies of hydrological controls on biodiversity have focused on large-scale biogeographical patterns related to climate. While these patterns are important, they neglect the internal “green feedbacks” that operate through vegetation structure which can enhance (or reduce) the overall bio- diversity of an ecosystem by affecting resource distribution in the landscape. In this research, my group will seek to understand the magnitude of green feedbacks, their mechanistic origin, and their impact on pattens of biodiversity and agricultural productivity in African drylands is a development grand challenge.