Research Awards and Grants (September 2019)

Title:  Insect Bite-proof Textiles for Military Uniforms

PI: McCord, Marian

Direct Sponsor: Armed Forces Pest Management Board

Amount Awarded to CNR: $119,574

Abstract: Current garments for military personnel’s protection from vector-borne diseases rely on insecticide-treated textiles. While effective, these materials have the drawback of losing function upon laundry and weather, poor wearing comfort, insect resistance and other environmental consequences. More importantly, military personnel are concerned that long-time exposure to chemical treatments has adverse effects on their health. The proposed work will use the most recent advance in textile technology to build a novel bite-proof textile system that can provide effective protection against vector-borne diseases, maximize wearing comfort, minimize the adverse effect to human health and mitigate the occurrence of vector resistance to insecticides. The mechanism of such materials could be solely as a physical barrier or its hybridization with chemical treatment. Due to the unique textile structure to be studied in this work, the chemical treatment is prevented from direct skin touch to significantly reduce the risk of exposure. The ultimate goal is to use these novel physical and hybrid bite-proof textiles for both military uniforms and recreational clothes for soldiers not on service at the deployed site. Garment prototypes will be assembled for field test. Such textiles are expected to have great potential for commercial applications as well.


Title: SNAP-Ed Steps to Health FY20

PI: Maslow, Lindsey

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Health and Human Services

Amount Awarded: $2,817,302

Abstract: The purpose of this grant is to deliver nutrition and physical activity education to limited resource audience at the individual level and provide multi-level strategies/interventions to promote policy, systems, and environmental change across North Carolina, with 74 counties receiving high levels of intervention.


Title: Aligning Health and Built Environment Assessment Frameworks in Community Development

PI: Rider, Traci

Direct Sponsor: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Amount Awarded: $350,000

Abstract: The Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program is a 3-year partnership between two researchers and one community engagement entity with an intent to work toward new perspectives on building a culture of health. This project addresses a new school/ YMCA facility, exploring both the operations of the facility as well as its potential for being a catalyst for health within the specific vulnerable community.


Title:  Predicting Wildland Fire Behavior and Water Supply in Fire-affected Landscapes

PI: Martin, Katherine

Direct Sponsor: US Forest Service

Amount Awarded: $195,000

Abstract: Wildland fires produce a range of impacts that can either be beneficial (e.g. controlled burns that favor forest quality), or destructive (damage, loss of life). In both cases, better predictions of fire suppression efficiency are critically needed in view of increased cost of wildland fire suppression, concerns for firefighter safety, and the potential of wildland fire as a land management tool. Simultaneously, there is a lack of knowledge on how fire-affected landscapes influence water supplies used for drinking, agricultural and industry. These topics represent a major research challenge in wildfire science and hydrology, respectively, and are essential in safeguarding environmental sustainability. This work involves two complementary research themes: first, to improve the conceptual understanding of the effects of prescribed burning and forest restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems on hydrologic pathways and the fate of excess water, and gain quantitative knowledge of the impacts of prescribed burning and longleaf pine ecosystem restoration on water supply in the southeastern United States. Second, to (a) gain empirical knowledge of historical wildland fire perimeters, fire suppression operations, topographic features, rivers, weather data, fuel types and properties, and land cover; (b) develop machine learning models to predict where firelines are likely to be successful and where they are likely to be constructed. These models are scalable, meaning they can also accept incomplete data. Based on the discrepancy between these two, derive insights on implicit biases, assumptions and situational factors; and, (3) to provide practical guidelines to support fire planning and fire management and operations.


Title:  A Comprehensive Strategy for Stable, High Productivity Cultivation of Microalgae with Controllable Biomass Composition

PI: Kern, Jordan

Direct Sponsor: UNC – Chapel Hill

Amount Awarded: $16,580

Abstract: Primary objective is to co-advise a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill in the development of Life Cycle Analysis and Techno-economic Analysis models of algal biofuel facilities, particularly considering uncertainty in environmental and market-based processes. The system design and plant operations of modeled facilities will be simulated using an existing Matlab model that represents alternative system configurations, project finance, plant operations (cultivation, harvesting and downstream conversion), discounted cashflow analysis and life cycle measures of environmental and financial sustainability. Key project goals include investigation of the impacts of high pH and high alkalinity growth on system energy requirements, culture stability, and overall economic competitiveness.


Title: Target-tree Release to Improve the Sustainability of Eastern Hemlock in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

PI: Jetton, Robert

Direct Sponsor: US Forest Service

Amount Awarded: $44,500

Abstract: This project will develop and validate a silvicultural tool that improves the health and sustainability of eastern hemlock, an ecologically keystone species in the southern Appalachians threatened by the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). Individual or small clusters of "target" trees (i.e., suppressed or intermediate eastern hemlocks with moderate to good crown health) will be released by removing or girdling other stems competing for sunlight directly above and adjacent to the target trees. Increased sunlight is expected to improve hemlock crown health via improved carbon balance, enhanced foliage production, and reduced HWA settlement rates relative to unreleased trees. Treatments will be replicated at a number southern Appalachian sites and will evaluate release by girdling vs. felling and variations on the size of the resulting canopy gap. Operationally, the tool is expected to prolong hemlock health and survival and increase the efficacy of existing HWA management tools (e.g. biological and chemical control) when integrated with them.

Title:  Forecasting Plant Pest Spread Using Tangible Landscape Technology

PI: Meentemeyer, Ross

Direct Sponsor: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – USDA

Amount Awarded: $125,396

Abstract: Invasive pests are a serious threat to the nation’s forest and agricultural systems. Planning and optimizing management of these pests at large-scales often requires input from a variety of stakeholders, many of which often disagree with the suggestions of experts due to different evidentiary bases and experiences. Forecasts to support planning and response rely on model predictions of future spread and risk. Tangible landscape brings this modeling process to life and makes it easier to understand for all stakeholders. Up until today there has been no framework to both communicate and test different scenarios and assumptions held by different farmers, land managers, regulators, researchers and other stakeholders. Tangible Landscape is a novel modeling platform that allows users to guide complex geospatial models via physical interaction. Users can designate treatment zones on a physical representation of a landscape, which are then incorporated into the pest and pathogen spread model. Results are projected back onto the landscape, allowing users to quickly and intuitively visualize how proposed management scenarios are likely to affect spread across the landscape. Tangible landscape brings this modeling process “to life” by making evident the processes, assumptions and the relationship between forecast system outputs and three-dimensional reproductions of actual agricultural or pest management settings. Tangible landscapes make it easier to understand complex dynamics between production and management scenarios for all stakeholders. Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) is an agency within APHIS that “safeguards agriculture and natural resources from risks associated with the entry, establishment, or spread of plant pests and noxious weeds to ensure an abundant, high-quality, and varied food supply”. Each year PPQ manages a large number of invasive species and faces challenges to determine the most viable, high-impact decisions given limited resources and complex epidemiological settings. The Tangible Landscape technology assists making such decisions by allowing stakeholders, decision makers, and land managers to interact physically with simulation models to facilitate visualization and understanding of the situation. It allows both subject matter experts and non-technical users to analyze multiple control scenarios in an instantaneous manner and enables users and policy makers to explore alternative decisions based on the available resources and user-driven variable assumptions regarding management assumptions. The goal of this project is to integrate pest and disease frameworks with existing current Tangible Landscape interface and to then validate management scenarios using multiple case studies that have real-world applications and actual production settings. Developing a tool that is useful for farmers and for regulatory agencies like PPQ would require validating models and technologies used in the Tangible Landscape. We plan to accomplish this using well-known exotic pests and diseases that are part of current programs and real-world challenges.


Title: Characterization of Residual Xylan in Dissolving Pulps

PI: Park, Sunkyu

Direct Sponsor: Eastman Chemical Company

Amount Awarded: $118,858

Abstract: The differences in compositional and molecular weight of insoluble gel particles during the acetylation of cellulose have a negative impact on the downstream manufacturing process and final product quality. It is generally agreed that the residual hemicelluloses present in dissolving pulp play a role in the formation of these insoluble gel particles. However, a detailed understanding of the effects of hemicellulose composition, branching, and molecular weight on the presence of insoluble gel particles has not been clearly elucidated. To address this issue, it is important to understand the relationship between the composition of insoluble gel particles and their solubility in a common solvent such as acetone.


Title: Carbon Cycling, Environmental; Rural Economic Impacts from Collecting and Processing Specific Woody Feedstocks into Biofuels

PI: Kelley, Stephen

Direct Sponsor: Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM)

Amount Awarded: $20,000

Abstract: The overall goal of this work is to provide DOE with high-quality information that allows for a detailed, comprehensive analysis of the benefits and liabilities of using woody feedstocks for the production of biofuels on a regionally specific basis. Specifically, this work will provide 1. data that allows for comprehensive LCA evaluation of the implications of using forest and manufacturing residues from current, regionally specific commercial systems for the production of biofuels. These systems include softwoods in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and Southeast (SE) US, and Northeastern (NE) US. 2. data on the potential for using regionally-specific dedicated SRWC for production biofuels, e.g., Poplar in the PNW, Eucalyptus in the SE and Willow in the NE. 3. an LCA of the impacts of using woody biomass as a feedstock for different biochemical and thermochemical biofuels production processes 4. an analysis of the impacts of natural variations in wood composition and pretreatments production scenarios on the LCA of wood based biofuels 5. an analysis of the GHG implications of using woody feedstocks for the production of both biofuels and the current commercial suite of short-lived and durable wood products. Taken as a whole this research will provide a definitive assessment of the technical, and environmental, impacts of broad use of woody biomass for the production of transportation fuels. This assessment is necessary if forest biomass is to be widely used for biofuels that require, in advance, an understanding of the consequences of such a course of action. In addition, Life Cycle Inventory data and Assessments (LCI/LCA) on greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary to understand qualification of biofuels made from forest based biomass under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. The impacts of different policies and other alternatives management strategies will be characterized as sensitivity scenarios to better inform the adoption of appropriate policies, marketing, and investment strategies to reach energy independence goals with reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while effectively managing cellulosic resources.

Title: Improving Establishment Practices of Pure and Mixed Hardwood Plantations by Refining Soil Suitability Indices for Black Walnut and Evaluating Soil Microbial Communities

PI: Gardner, Terrence

Direct Sponsor: US Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Forest Service

Amount Awarded: $80,000

Abstract: Black walnut forestry within the Central Hardwoods Region (CHR) has progressed primarily based on studies of trial and error among plantations. Although black walnut wood has been used for everything from gunstocks in the Revolutionary War to the finely crafted furniture of today, gaps exist in our knowledge base regarding the most efficient methods of growing this prized wood. Increased temperatures, insect pests, and numerous issues regarding planting site suitability have hindered our ability to consistently produce the most desirable nuts, lumber, and veneer. While considerable information regarding walnut growth remains anecdotal, researchers at the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC) have collected data regarding growth and performance of walnut families placed into both plantations and seed orchards. Remiss in those data were comprehensive soil studies to evaluate whether nutrient accumulations or other soil characteristics assisted with the observed superior growth of certain trees included in the study. As soils are composed of mixtures of clay, organic matter, sand, and silt, combinations of these materials can lead to a pH-balanced nutrient-rich environment across or in pockets of a site. Superior trees planted in shallow, nutrient-poor soils likely demonstrate poor growth and may be removed from a breeding program unwittingly. We propose to: (1) Test the framework of the Wallace; Young (NRCS) black walnut suitability index at three black walnut planting sites, (2) Intensively sample soils at three black walnut and three Northern red oak sites, and (3) Investigate and analyze soil data in conjunction with planted black walnut family data to look for trends and (4) Evaluate the presence and variety of soil microbial communities at the various sites. Information gained from this proposal can increase planting success, help inform thinning decisions, and will likely lead to greater economic values gained from timber stands and seed orchards.


Title: Camcore Tree Genetic Diversity

PI: Jetton, Robert

Direct Sponsor: US Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Forest Service

Amount Awarded: $64,000

Abstract: This agreement supports a cooperative project between North Carolina State University and the USDA Forest Service Southern Region for the genetic resource conservation of threatened and endangered tree species in the Southern Region, on the Southern Appalachian forests. Genetic diversity studies are critical in understanding adaptation of imperiled tree species to climate change and forest health impacts. This agreement will allow NCSU, Camcore to identify and add new imperiled tree species to the list for new seed collections. Genetic diversity studies will be done on the species and seeds will be used in restoration efforts on the Southern National Forests.


Title: Health Matters: Improving Physical Activity Among African-American and Low-Income Residents of Edgecombe County

PI: Hardison-Moody, Anne

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

Amount Awarded: $70,000

Abstract: To increase physical activity among African Americans and low-income residents in Edgecombe County, NC State Extension will 1) increase the number and promotion of shared use policies and practices in key community organizations, 2) connect and promote vital county and town physical activity resources through wayfinding and signage, 3) support municipalities in improving connectivity between places people live, learn, work, play and pray through walking and recreation space audits, 4) support and promote walking and biking to and during school, and 5) partner with Recreation Resource Services (RRS), the nation’s oldest technical assistance and applied research program for parks and recreation agencies in North Carolina, to create and implement a county and municipal park and recreation master plan.


Title: User Support and Science Delivery for the Southeast Conservation Blueprint and the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy

PI: Peterson, Nils

Direct Sponsor: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Amount Awarded: $249,673

Abstract: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is committed to landscape-scale conservation to accomplish its mission. The Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) is a state-led collaborative initiative focused on sustaining thriving fish and wildlife populations in the Southeastern US and Caribbean. The SECAS vision of a connected network of lands and waters that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people is in direct alignment with the vision and mission of the FWS. Since its inception in 2011, the SECAS initiative has achieved notable accomplishments including the Southeast Conservation Blueprint (Blueprint), a living spatial plan that efficiently and effectively guides conservation implementation across 15 states in the Southeast U.S and two territories in the Caribbean. In advancing its conservation vision, the FWS seeks to continue participation in the state-led SECAS initiative. Through improving the applicability and expanding the use of the Southeast Blueprint, FWS will advance and facilitate on-the-ground conservation action that will reduce the need to list species, integrate State Wildlife Action Plan priorities, support Gulf coast restoration, and reduce regulatory burdens. To support these actions, the FWS Southeast Science Applications program seeks to expand its capacity and provide funding through a cooperative agreement with the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU) at North Carolina State University. Through this project, the CESU will provide a dedicated staff person to achieve the following: 1. Provide user support for application of, and improvement to, the Southeast Conservation Blueprint; 2. Ensure key external partners’ needs are reflected in the Southeast Conservation Blueprint and incorporated into the Blueprint revision cycle; 3. Work with the FWS Southeast Science Applications program to develop and deliver tools supporting at-risk species conservation by partners; 4. Serve as a liaison among FWS Science Applications, the USGS Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA), and SECAS to identify science information gaps, promote research efficiencies and leverage available resources; 5. Identify research projects that advance the needs of state fish and wildlife agencies and end users of the Southeast Blueprint; and 6. Provide project management for the Southeast Science Applications program ensuring it meets milestones and objectives that advance the collective conservation visions of FWS and SECAS.


Title: Early Stage Development of a Rapid Genotyping Pipeline for Balsam Wooly Adelgid Tolerance in Fraser Fir

PI: Jetton, Robert

Direct Sponsor: NC Christmas Tree Association

Amount Awarded: $3,000

Abstract: Fraser fir (Abies fraseri [Pursch] Poir.) Christmas trees are one of North Carolina’s most important specialty crops. The North Carolina Christmas tree industry produces annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sales of Fraser fir trees and greenery alone. Genetic improvement efforts for the species led by the North Carolina State University Christmas Tree Genetics Program have been underway since the mid-1990s, using traditional breeding methods to increase growth, quality, pest resistance, and post-harvest needle retention. Recently, breeding efforts have expanded to include modern biotechnology approaches for improving propagation techniques, shortening the breeding cycle, and increasing opportunities for genetic modification. Among insects affecting Fraser fir production in North Carolina the exotic-invasive Balsam Woolly Adelgid (BWA, Adelges piceae [Ratzeburg]) is the most important. This pest, native to Europe, was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s and was responsible for the death of approximately 70% of mature Fraser firs throughout native stands in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The adelgid also infests Christmas tree plantations where it affects tree growth, form, and survival, costing North Carolina growers $1.53 million annually to protect their plantations with chemical insecticides. Increasing the level of adelgid resistance in Fraser fir breeding lines offers the best opportunity to produce planting stock that is more resilient against this pest and reduce overall pesticide use in North Carolina Christmas tree plantations. In 2014, 312 grafts from 30 elite Frasier fir clones in the North Carolina Premium Fraser Fir Seed Coop Orchard in Ashe County were established on potted rootstocks. At the same time, 81 grafts from seven potentially adelgid-resistant Fraser fir clones, originating from surviving trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and maintained in a clone bank at the NCDA&CS Upper Mountain Research Station, were also established. In 2016, 348 of the potted clones were arranged in a replicated study design at the NCDA&CS Mountain Research Station and artificially infested with the balsam woolly adelgid. The other 48 clones were designated as uninfested controls. Phenotypic assessments made in 2018 indicated significant variation among the clones with respect to their physical responses to adelgid infestation. A number of the clones had significant levels of twig gouting and loss of apical dominance, characteristics associated with adelgid susceptibility. A few of the clones showed no physical response to infestation suggesting they may be partially resistant or tolerant to the adelgid. A companion study funded by the NCDA Specialty Crops Block Grant Program is assessing the volatile chemistry of these clones in relation to their responses to adelgid infestation, with the goal of identifying chemical markers indicative of increased adelgid resistance that could be utilized in breeding. This proposal seeks funding for a preliminary study to test the use of RNA-Seq next-generation gene sequencing to identify differential gene expression between putatively adelgid resistant and susceptible Fraser fir clones. If successful, this technology will be applicable to the use of modern genomic approaches for incorporating adelgid resistance into Fraser fir breeding lines.


Title:  An Assessment of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Criteria and Indicators: Enhancing Information for Criterion 7; Legal, Institutional, and Economic Indicators

PI: Cubbage, Fred

Direct Sponsor: US Forest Service

Amount Awarded: $22,000

Abstract: This research will continue to perform U.S. assessments of the Montreal Process for Sustainable Forest Management Criteria and Indicators (SFM C&I) for Criterion 7, the development of the legal, institutional, and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management. The research will establish a baseline characterization of community forests in the United States. This will begin with documenting and tallying a representative cross section of community forests in the U.S., including but not limited to all those funded through the USFS Community Forest program, by ownership, funding, management, key stakeholders, and other key characteristics. We will analyze the commonalities and differences in community forest definitions by federal, state, and local governments, civil society organizations, and private sector actors. Last, we will analyze tallied/documented community forests in terms of permitted types of land use, access, and benefits in line with property rights theorists (e.g., Schlager and Ostrom 1992; Ostrom and Hess 2007) to better understand the range in ownership and bundles of rights associated with community forests in the U.S.


Title: Plant Pest Pathway Characterization with Pandemic Approach

PI: Takeuchi, Yu

Direct Sponsor: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – USDA

Amount Awarded: $230,817

Abstract: Non-native pests cause economic and ecological damage to managed and natural U.S. forests and agricultural landscapes. Many insects and diseases are currently under regulatory control in an effort to prevent and manage outbreaks. It is difficult to control and minimize the damage once a non-native pest is established. In order to prevent new pest introductions to the United States, new approaches to evaluate pathways are needed. The conventional pathway analyses consist with determining how a particular pest can be introduced to the United States from the pest occurring countries. We only focus on the pathways from the countries that the pest is currently occurring. Recent globalization has changed the patterns of trades, air traveler trends, and technology improvement. US trade has expanded nearly 200-fold since 1950. Number of air travelers are increasing approximately 30 million each year since 1994. Inbound travelers into the United States has being increased at 2.7 million annual rate since 2003. Therefore, plant pests occurring only in Asia may not be introduced to Asian countries any more. The emergence of a trade-centered economy in China has impacted the global trading landscape. Not surprisingly, complex new trade dynamics have also driven the worldwide spread of invasive Asian species.


Title:  Analysis and Visualization of Climate Information to Support US Fish and Wildlife Service Species Status Assessments

PI: Dello, Kathie

Direct Sponsor: US Geological Survey (USGS)

Amount Awarded: $184,420

Abstract: Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must evaluate the status of at-risk plants and animals in the US. A Species Status Assessment (SSA) is a scientific assessment prepared for each at-risk species to help inform a range of management decisions under the ESA. SSA’s are currently needed for more than 350 species, including 250 in the Southeast alone. These species are affected by several factors including urbanization, loss of habitat, changes in streamflow and water quality, climate variability, and climate change. In partnership with scientists from the USFWS and US Geological Survey, this project will develop and test data products that will assist USFWS biologists to incorporate climate information into SSA’s, including how the climate factors and thresholds that most affect species vary year-to-year, how they are expected to change in the future, and the uncertainties associated with those changes. This project will develop and test the efficacy of using a web-based collection of maps and data layers for interpreting climate vulnerability of wildlife and their habitats. Each map product will focus on the most relevant climate and ecology metrics that predict species viability for a location, and include explanatory and interpretive materials. Regular input from USFWS scientists will ensure the information is accessible, useful, and usable. The efficacy will be tested by implementing eye-tracking evaluations, surveys, and feedback sessions and iteratively applying these findings to the design and development of the tool. This web-based framework will help USFWS scientists in the Southeast US obtain, understand, and apply the climate information they need, thus enhancing the accuracy, quality, and scientific rigor of SSA’s. This project will produce a web-based collection of regional maps of past and current climate conditions relevant to species’ biology and principal habitat, and a range of possible future outcomes from climate models. Technical documents and scientific manuscripts will be produced that communicate the results of user testing and information learned on how to design maps and environmental data visualization to better support SSA’s.


Title: Geographic Information System Research and Development for the Northeast Region of the National Park Service

PI: Meentemeyer, Ross

Lead PI Department: Forestry and Environmental

Direct Sponsor: US National Park Service

Amount Awarded: $106,920

Abstract: The scope of work under this agreement will consist of three major functions: 1) GIS research, development and technical support for parks and programs of the Northeast Region of the NPS, 2) assistance with strategic and tactical planning for GIS implementation and 3) operational testing and deployment help with Enterprise GIS initiatives and designs. The Center for Geospatial Analytics at North Carolina State University has worked with the Northeast Region of the NPS for over 20 years in the development of GIS for park management. This activity has led to major advances in the planning and application of GIS technology in the NPS and has placed the Northeast Region among the leaders within the NPS in this regard.