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Research Awards and Grants (November 2022)

Each month College of Natural Resources faculty receive awards and grants from various federal, state, and nongovernmental agencies in support of their research. This report recognizes the faculty who received funding in November 2022.

Play Potential and Retention Value of Park and Playspace Attributes

  • PI: Hipp, James A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: University of Southern Denmark
  • Awarded Amount: $89,763.00  

Abstract: Play is essential to developing physical and cognitive health for children. Children’s free play appears to be motivated by play environments, such as playgrounds and outdoor recreational settings. Understanding behaviors in playspaces (e.g., where; how using specific spaces and equipment; duration; and variations across groups) will improve design, layout, programming, and management to encourage diversity of play and hopefully a lifelong love and enjoyment of play and the outdoors across our diverse communities. It is currently challenging to analyze play patterns as children’s free play is spontaneous, creative, interactive, and changes over time and across spaces. Traditionally, play episodes were observed and annotated through behavior mapping based on activity types and start and end times of entering a designated play area (Luchs & Fikus, 2013; Sumiya & Nonaka, 2021). This approach is labor-intensive, records activities in play areas designated by researchers, and is often limited to one observation at a time. Wearable and quantitative approaches have been adopted to investigate children’s play patterns using accelerometers and global positioning system (GPS) technology. Our team has started to spatially-aggregate activity points overlaid with distinct playground playspaces (e.g., swing bay; slide) to demonstrate how children’s activity differs across these areas. We have also conducted a hotspot analysis to identify play areas where children tend to be more physically active (i.e., clustering of high intensity activity) compared to less physically active (i.e., clustering of low intensity, or no activity), however this method excludes duration from the clustering analysis. These initial data efforts have revealed a set of exploratory questions and aims, such as duration of play per space, individual, family, and group differences (e.g., sibling pair; gender differences), and how patterns change across time of day, week, season, and across age groups. With recent updates to density-based clustering methods, which identifies groups of points that cluster together in space and time, we have the opportunity to systematically identify play episodes through an unsupervised machine learning approach. This approach could provide valuable information for practitioners by identifying and mapping natural play patterns, better characterizing playspace and amenity use, and correlating play episodes and potential with specific structures, natural elements, social aspects, and layouts of playspaces.

CESU: Enhancing Fire Management and Engagement through Fire Ecology Science

  • PI: Vukomanovic, Jelena 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US National Park Service
  • Awarded Amount: $76,000.00 

Abstract: The National Fire Management Office provides a Fire Ecology Report template that highlights required and optional information to include in the Report. Local park management officers are encouraged to reference the report when planning the timing (season) and return interval (years between treatments) of fire treatments. University partners are welcome to use the data in the Report in their own research and collaborations can help build a larger body of knowledge. While the reports do contain executive summaries, they are often lengthy and written in technical terms; the format and the terminology used in the Reports often does not resonate with Park Management or the general public. This project has three main goals, which are all centered around increasing the utility and impact of annual Fire Ecology Reports. Goal 1: As a first step, Fire Management Office staff require a better understanding of current perceptions around Fire Ecology Reports and how they inform fire management practice. There is unharnessed potential for the information contained within these Reports to reach a wider audience, if it is leveraged to create more dynamic, effective, and engaging deliverables that both inform and educate. Goal 2: Next, we will identify the elements of successful communication strategies, with a focus on the tools and platforms (e.g. maps, infographics, interactive web platforms) that most effectively inform Park Managers of required changes to the timing of fire treatments and and/or burning interval. Goal 3: Finally, we will identify the communication strategies and platforms that resonate with a) the general public, and b) university researchers to communicate fire management and fire ecology in Interior Region 2. The intention is to increase public awareness and engagement and foster new collaborations and research opportunities. 

Perceptions of Division I College Student-Athletes on Mental Health Strategies and Support Being Offered by their Universities

  • PI: Bocarro, Jason N.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Collegiate Athletic Association
  • Amount Awarded: $5,584.00 

Abstract: The NCAA, along with the ACC, has recognized the growing issue of mental health among student-athletes. This has been exacerbated by the recent Covid pandemic, social and racial issues and increased demands on student athletes’ time. Furthermore, although there is a strong relationship between overuse of technology and mental health challenges, data has shown that athletes’ social media use has increased dramatically. While some of the social media use has been prompted by the commercial opportunities provided by the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation that was passed, there are some recent studies highlighting the overall negative effect of social media platforms on athlete mental health and well-being. Despite the increase in mental health issues, there is a concern that institutional resources devoted to supporting the clinical and psychological needs of student-athletes are lacking. This issue has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected university athletic department’s finances while simultaneously increasing the stress on student-athletes. Although a growing body of research has explored factors behind student-athlete mental health during this pandemic, little research has explored the scope and best practices of mental health services that may be effective in supporting student-athletes. This study will seek to conduct focus groups with 20-25 student athletes across the ACC Schools to provide both context of current issues facing student-athletes and explore their insights of current initiatives and resources designed to provide the best mental health support during a challenging period.   

AI-Enabled Hyperspectral Imaging Augmented with Multi-Sensory Information for Rapid/Real-time Analysis of Non-Recyclable Heterogeneous MSW for Conversion to Energy

  • PI: Pal, Lokendra 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Energy (DOE) – Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • Awarded Amount: $1,001,531.00 

Abstract: This project will focus on rapid/real-time analysis of domestic heterogeneous municipal biomass waste utilizing AI-Enabled Hyperspectral Imaging for developing conversion ready feedstock into cost effective and sustainable biofuel for selling price under $2.50 per gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE) by 2030. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is considered as an abundant potential source for biomass. This biomass, if used as a feedstock for fuel conversion operation will promote the sustainable fuel production and lower the prices. The heterogeneity of the MSW based on locations and time period can affect the biofuels or bioproducts. Therefore, the characterization of the MSW feedstock at macro and microlevel in terms of chemical and physical composition, at different speeds of conveyor system, at different times and collection sites will be studied.

Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI) CORE Research Project

  • PI: Gonzalez, Ronalds Wilfredo
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Consortium Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI)
  • Awarded Amount: $719,873.00 

Abstract: The purpose of the Consortium on Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI) is to develop fundamental and applied research on the use of alternative and sustainable fibers for the manufacturing of market pulp, hygiene products and nonwovens. The idea for SAFI has grown out of societal needs for alternative yet sustainable materials. SAFI will study the potential of alternative fibers based on technical (performance), sustainable and economic principles.

SAFI Consortium Administrative Account

  • PI: Gonzalez, Ronalds Wilfredo
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Consortium Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI)
  • Amount Awarded: $10,000.00 

Abstract: The purpose of the Consortium on Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI) is to develop fundamental and applied research on the use of alternative and sustainable fibers for the manufacturing of market pulp, hygiene products and nonwovens. The idea for SAFI has grown out of societal needs for alternative yet sustainable materials. SAFI will study the potential of alternative fibers based on technical (performance), sustainable and economic principles.

Quantifying the Temporary Climate Mitigation Benefit of Biogenic Carbon in Cotton Apparel and Home Textiles Globally

  • PI: Venditti, Richard A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Cotton Research and Development Corporation 
  • Awarded Amount: $50,000.00 

Abstract: To quantify the global consumer ownership of cotton apparel and home textile stocks and to evaluate the temporary climate mitigation benefits associated with this biogenic carbon in apparel, home textiles, and standing carbon stocks in the form of cotton bales using a dynamic life cycle assessment (LCA) model. Additionally, any benefits of carbon storage will be related back to a traditional LCA approach and implemented to demonstrate unaccounted benefits in a cotton apparel life cycle assessment.  

Sowtime: Climate Adaptive Agriculture in the Eastern Gangetic Plains

  • PI: Gray, Joshua Michael
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)
  • Awarded Amount: $725,457.00 

Abstract: Agricultural transformations have increased food production five-fold in South Asia, but that progress has not been realized in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains (EGP), a region spanning India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Meeting future food demand while coping with climate change will require substantial adaptation by EGP farmers.  But we know little about the nature or outcomes of agricultural adaptations by EGP farmers, and even less about future possibilities. Our proposed research will answer the question: What is the adaptive potential of smallholder agriculture in the EGP? Our central hypotheses are: 1) Smallholder farmers have already adapted to a changing climate by planting earlier, adopting faster maturing varieties, and switching crop types. 2) These adaptive practices have mitigated the effect of climate change on crop yields. And, 3) additional transformations will further increase crop yields and resilience but socioeconomic barriers prevent widespread adoption. We will test these hypotheses by combining innovative remote sensing analyses, statistical and biophysical crop yield modeling, in-region field data collection, and causal analyses of fused household survey and remote sensing datasets. We will quantify contemporary cropping patterns and practices, and the extent and spatiotemporal variation of adaptive strategy adoption with remotely sensed assets and available ground and administrative data from regional partners. The effect of future climate change under various scenarios of agricultural adaptation will be quantified using climate projections and yield models. These analyses are integrated with a household survey and choice experiments that will reveal farmer’s attitudes towards climate change, adaptive agricultural practices, and the barriers to further transformation.  Our effort will produce annual cadence, finely resolved maps of crop types, including the characterization of multi cropping rotations, the timing and duration of critical crop growth stages, and changes in these variables over the period 2001-present. No existing products map these variables at the scale of individual smallholder fields, and for the time period and temporal cadence necessary to evaluate the adaptive potential of the EGP. We will create these products using a newly developed approach to data fusion capable of assimilating a wide variety of heterogeneous satellite imagery, including newly available high resolution commercial assets. We will use phenology algorithms to extract the timing of growth stages, and emerging approaches to classification that use a Bayesian framework to assimilate existing heterogeneous crop type maps and ancillary data. Statistical and biophysical crop yield models will be fit, driven by historical weather and downscaled climate  projections, and used to quantify the climate mitigating effects of adaptive practices. Our household surveys and analysis of map products will guide the design of realistic future scenarios of agricultural adaptation. By characterizing and quantifying the adaptive potential of smallholder agriculture in the EGP, our study will support decision makers, regional food and water security, efforts to alleviate rural poverty, and the adoption of feasible climate adaptive strategies. Our project will further develop and apply innovative remote sensing methodologies such as data fusion and classification approaches, and will thus be useful to the broader remote sensing science community. Additionally, because the goals of our project are well-aligned with those of several large initiatives like SARIN, CIMMYT, and GEOGLAM, we expect our results to find a broad audience with the means and impetus to ensure they support on-the-ground change, and ultimately, a more sustainable and resilient food future for the EGP. 

Can Strategic Riparian Buffers Improve Coastal Resilience to Changing Conditions in the Cape Fear River Watershed?

  • PI: Martin, Katherine Lee
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Sea Grant Program
  • Awarded Amount: $92,784.00 

Abstract: Riparian buffers have been used to protect water quality from human land uses for decades, and their impacts at local and stream reach segments are well established. What is not well understood is the scale and placement of riparian buffers required to improve water quality across regional scale watersheds, thus protecting coastal ecosystem health from upstream development and agricultural land uses, particularly in the context of changing land use and climate. The outcome goals of the Healthy Coastal Ecosystems focal area of North Carolina Sea Grant Strategic Plan emphasize the critical need for holistic, watershed approaches that include upstream-downstream connectivity and the impacts of changing climate and land use on watershed health. Our project goal is to apply a human-natural systems watershed approach to address critical gaps in scientific understanding that forward the outcomes of the Healthy Coastal Ecosystems Focal area 1. Identify the role that upstream land use change plays on downstream (coastal) water quality in the context of changing climate 2. Examine the role that riparian buffer protection policy might play in mitigating the impacts of climate and land use change on downstream, coastal water quality. We will test a central hypothesis that strategic buffers, those placed on local watersheds with the greatest extents of either developed or row crop agriculture, will provide significant improvements to whole watershed health (stream flow flashiness, sediment and nutrients) as measured across sub-watersheds and at the coastal watershed outlet. We will compare the watershed health benefits of strategic buffers only in the Piedmont, urbanizing region of the Cape Fear River basin to the placement of buffers throughout the entire basin. We will analyze the effectiveness of strategic buffers to business as usual (no mandated buffers) as well as complete buffers (all streams). To ensure results of our project reach stakeholders, we will form a Stakeholder Advisory Board that will provide regular assessments of project success.

Urban and Community Forestry Economic Impact Analysis

  • PI: Parajuli, Rajan 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF)
  • Awarded Amount: $139,480.00 

Abstract: Economic contribution analysis communicates the greater monetary benefits of the urban and community forestry sector in terms of contribution to gross domestic product, jobs, and labor income to policy makers and legislators. This project will involve conducting an economic contribution analysis of the urban and community forest industries in the Southern region (a 13-state region), and in 13 participating states. The specific objectives of the project are to: (1) facilitate discussion and consensus on scope of urban and community forest industries, methodology for analysis, and report template, (2) develop and distribute relevant survey questions in cooperation with the project team, (3) document the methodology and rationale for the selected approach in a written report, (4) analyze IMPLAN and other relevant datasets for the Region, and at the state level, (5) produce reports summarizing the findings for the Region, plus each individual participating state, totaling 14 reports, and (6) present the methodology, a mid-project progress report, and a final presentation of results. To accomplish the objectives, the College of Natural Resources North Carolina State University is teamed up with Ohio State University, Virginia Tech University, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, and Mississippi State University. Our multi-disciplinary team of urban forestry professionals, natural resource social scientists, and forest economists with extensive involvement in IMPLAN modeling and economic contribution analysis is capable of accomplishing this project in a timely and efficient manner. 

Towards Near Real-time Monitoring of Forest Disturbance and Myanmar Using Multi-source Imagery (Ian McGregor)

  • PI: Gray, Joshua Michael
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)
  • Awarded Amount: $135,000.00 

Abstract: As one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, deforestation is a major issue in Myanmar and has been increasing since the democratization of the country in the 1990s. Though regulations against deforestation are in place, enforcement is often unreliable due to the latency and coarseness of available forest loss data. However, recent advances in remote sensing have made the ability of near real-time (NRT) monitoring possible at smaller scales. Although NRT monitoring methods have become much better in recent years, for the most part they remain methods that create daily deforestation (or change) alerts. To our knowledge, the best methods are consistently accurate to deforested areas of 6 ha in size. This is helpful for identifying larger instances of clear-cutting, for example, but small-scale methods are necessary for smaller forested areas that primarily endure selective logging. I therefore propose to utilize these developments, combined with advanced Bayesian statistical methods and cloud-based high-power computing (e.g. Google Earth Engine), to create a continuously ground-validated, reduced-latency deforestation monitoring system for local forest managers. Given how quickly deforestation can occur at small scales before being noticed with current methods, and the rapidity with which satellite data is available, this research represents a logical step forward by building off existing work such as change detection analyses and Bayesian statistics. Also to our knowledge, this will be the first study to combine satellite data with Bayesian statistical analysis for the purpose of moving toward NRT monitoring. Successful implementation will majorly improve conservation efforts in Myanmar and subsequently forests around the world.

South Asian Smallholder Forests and other Tree-based Systems: Synthesizing LCLUC Data and Approaches to Foster a Natural Climate Solution that Improves Livelihoods

  • PI: Gray, Joshua Michael
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Michigan State University
  • Awarded Amount: $105,887.00 

Abstract: This proposed SARI synthesis project for South Asia is focused on understanding LCLUC patterns and processes related to agricultural landscapes of smallholder tree-based systems (also known as trees outside of forests, TOF) and their potential as natural climate solutions. The synthesis shall provide an observation-based evaluation of the degree to which these landscapes are increasing cover and biomass, and contribute to a greatly improved understanding of the drivers of tree cover change in agricultural landscape. The outcome of the synthesis shall be a quantitative assessment of the importance of these landscapes as sinks for carbon (mitigation), both now and in the future, along with a drivers-based understanding of appropriate measures for interventions with high social and economic benefits (adaptation). We shall also evaluate their importance compared to forest landscapes both inside and outside of the national recorded forest area (RFA). Working primarily in India but expanding our analyses to the broader region, this project brings together the PIs of every current LCLUC project in South Asia, together with a cadre of the best regional scientists and organizations, as the core of a SARI South Asia LCLUC Synthesis Consortium (SARI-SAS). This Consortium will also engage past PIs from the NASA LCLUC Program working in the region. The SARI-SAS Consortium involves six US universities: Michigan State University, Columbia University, University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Florida and North Carolina State University. 

Genome Editing for Superior Christmas Trees

  • PI: Wang, Jack 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
  • Awarded Amount: $145,728.00 

Abstract: This project will be a collaboration between the Forest Biotechnology Group and the Christmas Tree Genetics Program in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. Our goal is to develop novel CRISPR-based genome editing technology that would accelerate the genetic improvement of Fraser fir. The proposed technology would enable the rapid production of new variants of Christmas trees edited for traits of ecological and economic values such as disease tolerance and post-harvest quality. Fraser fir is one of North Carolina’s most important specialty crops. Developing novel genomic tools and genome editing technology for Fraser fir will have a transformative impact on the North Carolina Christmas tree industry. This project builds on our recently established somatic embryogenic system and cell transfection method for Fraser fir (funded by SCBGP in 2018), which lay the foundation for optimizing efficient and robust CRISPR-Cas9 delivery and regeneration of enhanced Fraser fir from genome-edited somatic embryos. We propose three major objectives in this proposal: (1) Optimize the delivery of CRISPR-SpCas9 in Fraser fir somatic embryogenic protoplasts: we will test several experimental parameters to maximize transfection efficiency; (2) Regenerate and maturate CRISPR-SpCas9 edited protoplasts into Fraser fir plantlets: we will optimize an integrated protocol for regeneration and maturation of CRISPR-edited protoplasts originated from Fraser fir SE; (3) Validation of target gene editing in regenerated Fraser fir plantlets: we will genotype CRISPR-driven editing events in the regenerated fir plantlets. Subsequent to the funding period, the transgene-free CRISPR-based SE system will be used to edit superior clonal seedlings for Christmas tree field trials in the North Carolina Mountains.

The Christmas Tree Genome Project to Rapidly Advance Genetic Improvement

  • PI: Whitehill, Justin 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Christmas Tree Promotion Board
  • Awarded Amount: $50,000.00 

Abstract: I am proposing to request funds to support a post-doc and sequencing costs associated with genome sequencing of Fraser fir.

Testing The Waters For Genetic Biocontrol Technologies: Engaging Resource Managers And Key Stakeholders To Understand Decision Landscapes, Information Needs, And Diverse Perspectives

  • PI: Delborne, Jason Aaron
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Awarded Amount: $499,863.00 

Abstract: The project takes the first step in exploring the complex, socio-political environment that will determine the eventual success or failure of genetic biocontrol technologies to contribute to responsible aquatic invasive species management in the Great Lakes Region. Activities will engage key stakeholders not just to inform them, but to invite them to participate in governing this emerging area of research and development. An Advisory Board will guide our selection of stakeholders and the specific formats of our engagement. Key outputs of this project will include recommendations for expanding engagement to broader publics and communities, identifying education and outreach needs, and facilitating stronger connections between scientists and diverse communities.

Efficacy of Bluefume (HCN) Fumigation in Eradicating Elongate Hemlock Scale on Christmas Trees

  • PI: Jetton, Robert M
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Christmas Tree Promotion Board
  • Awarded Amount: $3,109.00 

Abstract: In collaboration with scientists at North Carolina State University and USDA ARS, scientists at Washington State University will utilize detached branches to determine the potential effectiveness of postharvest fumigation treatments with Bluefume (HCN) in killing elongated hemlock scale (EHS) life stages on infested Fraser fir and determine the effects of HCN fumigation on the postharvest quality of non-infested commonly-grown Christmas tree species,such as balsam fir, Canaan fir, Fraser fir, grand fir, noble fir, Nordmann fir, Turkish fir, Trojan fir, and Douglas-fir). Branches will be fumigated at the USDA ARS Post Harvest facility in CA. Treatments will consist of 5 rates of HCN plus a non-fumigated control. Each treatment will be replicated 3 times with 3 branches per replication. Following fumigation, the viability of EHS life stages on infested branches will be assessed. Uninfested branches from the commonly grown species will be transported and displayed in a temperature-controlled room to determine if the fumigation treatments have any adverse effects on postharvest quality and needle retention.

Eastern NC Sentinel Landscape Capacity Support

  • PI: Bardon, Robert E.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Endowment for Forestry & Communities, Inc.
  • Awarded Amount: $126,250.00 

Abstract: NC State University is requesting $126,250  for a new contract with the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The US Endowment has requested a new contract with all of the nation’s Sentinel Landscape Coordinators. The funds will allow the facilitation and coordination of key partnership initiatives designed to further the development and capacity of the North Carolina Sentinel Landscape Partnership (NCSLP), connecting across the North Carolina sentinel landscape area and based on a revised Strategic Plan 2022-2027. A work plan for Sept 16, 2022 to September 14, 2023 will include 8-10 specific activities.