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Research Awards and Grants (March 2023)

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 March 2023.

Beginner-Intermediate Data Management and GIS Training for OAQPS Staff North Carolina State University

  • PI: Belica, Laura Anne Thel
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Awarded Amount: $18,000.00 
  • Abstract:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives of the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) have expressed a need for staff training on data analysis and presentation skills, including but not limited to work in spreadsheets, basic statistical analyses, mapping, and how to discuss analysis results. This training will be developed at a level for staff members without substantial experience in data management or analysis. Students who complete the training should emerge with an understanding of fundamental steps in data analysis and the readiness to initiate, complete, visualize, and effectively communicate high quality data analyses within EPA.

Earth Observation Data to Support Environmental Justice: Linking Non-Permitted Poultry Operations in Eastern North Carolina to Water Quality Impacts and Environmental Vulnerability Indices

  • PI: Ercumen, Ayse  
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Center for Human Health and the Environment
  • Awarded Amount: $72,352.00 
  • Abstract:  Industrial agriculture disproportionately affects minority, low-income, and Tribal communities, propagating environmental injustice. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) apply massive amounts of untreated waste annually to nearby farmlands. Environmental health impacts of CAFOs are documented; however, studies almost exclusively rely on known CAFO locations from public records, which are incomplete. This is because only CAFOs discharging into US waters need a permit; poultry CAFOs generate dry waste and operate without permits. North Carolina (NC) communities have observed a dramatic but poorly documented expansion of poultry CAFOs since the 2007 swine CAFO moratorium but the locations of these facilities are essentially unknown and their environmental impacts therefore undocumented. Researchers have attempted to manually scan satellite/aerial data for CAFOs or automate detection, but no complete dataset exists. We will use heuristics from the literature on poultry CAFO barn types (number, size, orientation) on a recently developed poultry CAFO layer derived using deep learning of Earth Observations to detect poultry CAFOs in eastern NC (where CAFOs are heavily clustered). We will use these locations to assess impacts on surface water contamination using public water quality data and examine how CAFO density correlates with census-block level race/income and EPA’s environmental justice indices on other stressors/contaminants. This study will generate the first full record of non-permitted poultry CAFOs in eastern NC for accurate assessment of their environmental impacts and how these impacts intersect with sociodemographic/environmental vulnerabilities. These data will support R01-scale NIH applications to scale up our approach and assess impacts on broader environmental health outcomes.

Autoluminescent Christmas Trees A Proof of Concept

  • PI: Whitehill, Justin 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NC Biotechnology Center
  • Amount Awarded: $20,000.00 
  • Abstract: Our proposal aims to develop bioluminescent Fraser fir Christmas trees using our existing somatic embryogenic elite Fraser fir lines. We plan to transform these existing Fraser fir lines with 4 genes recently identified and patented from a mushroom. 

Advancing Capacity for a Resilient NC Sentinel Landscape:  The Connection Between Military Readiness, Working Lands, and Nature Based Solutions

  • PI: Cooper, Caren Beth
  • Direct Sponsor Name: The Nature Conservancy
  • Awarded Amount: $124,554.00 
  • Abstract: The Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University fully supports the 2022 REPI Challenge proposal from the NC Sentinel Landscape Partnership, Advancing Capacity for a Resilient NC Sentinel Landscape:  The Connection Between Military Readiness, Working Lands, and Nature Based Solutions.  The Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources, which includes my Public Science Lab, housed in the College of Natural Resources, provides access to a Natural Resources Library, geographic information systems labs, remote sensing labs, statistical consulting, as well as traditional computing facilities and cutting-edge software.    The Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University endorses this proposal and commits to supporting the NC Sentinel Landscape Partnership to protect North Carolina’s natural resources while providing for military readiness and nature-based solutions to climate change in the Eastern North Carolina Sentinel Landscape.    

NC NFWF Holly Shelter and Hofmann Forest Design

  • PI: Ardon Sayao, Marcelo 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: The Nature Conservancy
  • Awarded Amount: $20,000.00 
  • Abstract:   The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working via a multi-entity partnership to conduct a detailed hydrologic site assessment and development of a preliminary, engineered, hydrologic restoration design inclusive of the over 15,000 acres of pocosin wetlands within Hofmann Forest. 

Transgene-Free CRISPR-Based Genome Editing in Caneberry

  • PI: Wang, Jack 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Pairwise 
  • Amount Awarded: $800,735.00 
  • Abstract: This project aims to develop an advanced transgene-free CRISPR-based genome editing system in caneberry to enhance agricultural traits of interest. Caneberry (blackberry and raspberry) production are important fruit industries in North Carolina. Blackberry production is estimated to have an annual farm gate value of $14,000,000. Despite the importance of caneberry, its production has remained largely limited to undomesticated variants bred using conventional practices. There are tremendous opportunities for genetic improvement of caneberry to improve productivity, resilience, and nutritional values. However, genomic tools and technologies needed for the development of novel and improved cultivars with economically important traits lag behind most other agricultural crops. The lack of genomic tools has been a practical limitation for the genetic improvement of caneberry. Breakthrough innovations to improve caneberry will create powerful new solutions to enhance the health and prosperity of our fruit industries. 

Asian Longhorned Beetle Research Support

  • PI: Oten, Kelly Lynn Felderhoff
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Clemson University
  • Awarded Amount: $2,200.00 
  • Abstract: The Asian longhorned beetle is an invasive tree-killing insect found in South Carolina in 2020. USDA-APHIS is actively trying to eradicate this infestation, but many bottomland hardwood areas are difficult to reach with large equipment to perform traditional management methods. Previous work at NCSU indicates felling trees and letting them lay is an effective alternate method. This research will assess its efficacy when implementing this practice as part of the eradication program. 

Population Genomics of Race Non-specific Disease Resistance in the Endemic Pinus-Cronartium Pathosystem

  • PI: Isik, Fikret 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)
  • Awarded Amount: $782,568.00 
  • Abstract: We seek to understand the genetic basis of non-race-specific resistance to fusiform rust disease caused by Cronartium quercuum f. sp. fusiforme (Cqf) in Pinus taeda, an economically critical pine species. In previous research, our group mapped two major resistance QTL with high genetic resolution in the genome of a P. taeda resistance donor. In a parallel bulked-segregant RNAseq experiment, we identified candidate resistance genes with SNP highly associated with resistance to Cqf. These genes were part of the nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat. Here, we will leverage our newly gained knowledge of the genetics of host resistance to generate a pine population segregating for the same two resistance QTL. To understand the genetics of avirulence in the pathogen, the pine population will then be challenged with a diverse basidiospore mixture of Cqf in an artificial inoculation experiment. Following symptom development, fungal strains capable of growing on each of four host resistance genotypes will be sampled directly from diseased tissue and sequenced. Following SNP discovery, the fungal genome will be scanned for the presence of selective sweeps that would indicate proximity to genes selected for virulence against one or the other QTL, such as effectors.

Quantifying Intra-Regional Leakage from Rotation Extensions in the U.S. South, SOFAC Enhancement Project

  • PI: Baker, Justin Scott
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Council for Air & Stream Improvement, Inc.
  • Awarded Amount: $59,914.00 
  • Abstract: We will use the SubRegional Timber Supply model to quantify emissions leakage associated with deferred harvests for forest carbon offset supply within the Southeastern U.S. This work has relevance to U.S. climate policy and the growing forest carbon offset market. 

Developing a Chemical Platform Based on Cottonseed Oil to Develop Functional Finishes for Cotton Apparel

  • PI: Venditti, Richard A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Cotton, Inc. (No pre-award costs/accounts allowed)
  • Awarded Amount: $166,889.00 
  • Abstract: The overarching goal of this project is to develop a chemical platform based on cottonseed oil to produce functional finishes for cotton apparel. We will evaluate cottonseed oil as the basis for the development of bio-based finishes as an alternative to petroleum-derived fabric finishes such as softeners, cross-linkers, and water repellents. The developed chemistry will be designed to maximize a strong affinity to a cotton substrate and not to hinder the fabric properties such as colorfastness, softness, or strength. This will provide a novel use for cottonseed oil and thus increase its value to the cotton producer and the cotton industry.  Cottonseed oil (CSO) is projected to be an excellent starting material to produce softening and durable press (wrinkle resistance) finishes for cotton fibers. This is because refined cotton oil is almost completely composed of triglycerides of polyunsaturated fats (e.g., linoleic acid), which are an ideal platform for derivatization. This proposal proposes routes for converting CSO to reactive species that can be used in functional finishes along with an analytical platform to evaluate the performance of the finishes. 

EMN-22-S-E-XX: Molecular Parameters of Biodegradation

  • PI: Venditti, Richard A.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Eastman Chemical Company
  • Awarded Amount: $107,709.00 
  • Abstract: The objective of this proposed research is to appreciate the biodegradation process in nature with regards to natural materials (chemically unprocessed by man), bio-based man-made industrial materials, and synthetic materials by understanding the role of molecular composition and molecular structure and their interactions with naturally available microorganisms. The project will initiate with a literature review and based on the results will progress into a designed laboratory scale biodegradation experiment on a wide variety of natural, bio-based, man-made and synthetic materials.  

Field Evaluation of Condensed Tannins as a White-Tailed Deer Repellent for Soybeans and Cotton

  • PI: DePerno, Christopher S
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NC Soybean Producers Association, Inc.
  • Awarded Amount: $30,000.00 
  • Abstract: Evaluate condensed tannins as a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) repellent.  This will be a field-based project.  White-tailed deer use will be established in multiple soybean and cotton fields throughout North Carolina.  Once baseline data are established, the treatment (condensed tannins) will be applied to sections of the field.  White-tailed deer use of the field will be evaluated post treatment.

Membership in Consortium on Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI), Full Member

  • PI: Gonzalez, Ronalds Wilfredo
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Eastman Chemical Company
  • Awarded Amount: $126,000.00 
  • 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.

Membership in Consortium on Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI), Full Member

  • PI: Gonzalez, Ronalds Wilfredo
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Mercer International Inc.
  • Awarded Amount: $126,000.00 
  • 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. 

Developing a Model for Supporting Coastal Resilience through Youth-Led Coproduction

  • PI: Stevenson, Kathryn 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Sea Grant Program
  • Awarded Amount: $119,995.00 
  • Abstract: In this two-year grant, we propose to synthesize a decade of Sea Grant funded environmental literacy research into a scalable curricular framework that fosters coastal resiliency through youth-led conversations.  In year one, we will form a curriculum advisory board (CAB) of teachers, students, and community partners. The CAB will work to construct a curricular framework that draws on best practices for youth-led environmental learning and builds community-level environmental literacy around coastal resiliency. The CAB will then recruit a cadre of classroom teachers to help pilot the framework, allowing for both formative and summative evaluation of the framework.  We will then hold a culminating workshop to synthesize lessons learned and prepare the framework to export to other communities through larger regional and/or national grant efforts.  

Justwater: Policy Leadership and Environmental Justice During Disaster Recovery

  • PI: Cutts, Bethany Brooke
  • Direct Sponsor Name: NCSU Sea Grant Program
  • Awarded Amount: $119,998.00 
  • Abstract: ‘Real world issue: post-disaster, rural areas face a predictable pattern of resource flush, drawdown, and abandonment. In small towns and diverse communities, positive social, economic, and environmental impacts from these investments are often short-lived. A consequence is that scientifically informed strategies designed to defend and harden economically valued coastal areas may have the unintended consequences of coercing buyouts, forcing relocation, and limiting environmental protections for vulnerable upstream communities, potentially to the detriment of the coastal fisheries and tourism opportunities being defended in the first place.  In contrast to emergency-focused disaster work, watershed-based environmental planning is intended to be slower, strategic, and more adept at identifying and addressing chronic threats to and opportunities for environmental improvement and protection. Therefore, it stands to reason that integration between watershed governance and disaster recovery might provide a unique opportunity to create a network able to identify and focus energy on advocacy for change that connects people and sustains attention on the harms of maladaptive policies. Plan for proposed work: This study aims to identify opportunities to transform watershed governance to overcome chronic environmental justice challenges and their capacity to erode resilience following disasters. In addition to providing needed theoretical and methodological advances in social network analytics, this study could lead to better understanding of the links policy and advocacy link between watershed governance and disaster resilience.  The central research question is: Which properties of watershed governance enable (or constrain) environmental justice in disaster-prone coastal communities and to what extent do they resist predatory influences as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds? If, as we hypothesize, the three objectives are interrelated, then a JustWater framework will reveal connections between disaster and watershed governance policy arenas. To establish that coastal water injustice is, in fact, a problem of governance, we will investigate the well-documented watershed governance initiatives and environmental justice struggles in the Lumbee River Basin. We will pursue the following objectives: (1) Quantify impacts of disaster on formal and informal watershed governance systems using social network analytics. (2) Integrate analysis of political power and inequality with perceptions of governance outcomes by combining network analytics with interviews. (3) Analyze factors that change the values and beliefs embedded in policy proposals and governance procedures.  Rationale for public support: This work will produce policy-relevant knowledge that will benefit the disaster and environmental management in the Lumbee River basin and create a transferrable protocol for evaluating potential synergies between disaster and watershed management coalitions. Results and protocols from data scraping initiatives, questionnaires, focus groups, and workshops will evaluate the process and outcomes of collaboration through a justice-centered lens.  Outcomes and realistic impacts: The research results will be the just water governance aims of the Carolina coastlines. Secondary beneficiaries include the NC Disaster Management team, NC Inclusive Disaster Network, and Robeson County Cooperative for Sustainable Development and local municipalities participating in a community-university research/action partnership established in 2016. The partnership has a robust record of training students (UNC-Pembroke, NCSU) and community members in data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Advancing the National Bioeconomy through Regional Sun Grant Centers

  • PI: Gonzalez, Ronalds Wilfredo
  • Direct Sponsor Name: University of Tennessee
  • Awarded Amount: $68,446.00 
  • Abstract: The hygiene tissue industry (bath tissue and kitchen towel) is an annual 39 million tons – USD 100 billion – global market with a forecast to grow ~ 3% per year for the next decade [38], [39]. Most hygiene tissue paper grades require the use of both long and short virgin fibers, which provide strength and softness respectively [8]. As an effect of global megatrends, the demand for non-woody biomass for tissue manufacturing will continue to increase [40], and agricultural biomass, which is perceived to be a sustainable option, can be an important source of short fibers for the tissue industry [41]. Therefore, the need to research and create knowledge on the handling and conversion of biomass sorghum and switchgrass to produce sustainable and high-end fiber furnish for the hygiene tissue industry. The proposed feedstock can be established to supply fiber at industrial scale.   

Resistance is Futile

  • PI: Lucia, Lucian 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: Eastman Chemical Company
  • Awarded Amount: $358,048.00 
  • Abstract: We will perform an investigative review of the abrasion phenomenon in Tritan polymers as part of providing a potential solution. Based on the mechanistic information obtained, we will circumvent surface (abrasion) damage by adopting an innovative surface chemistry approach: we will incorporate friction-dissipating macromolecular dendron assemblies (we will refer to them as tribophores either on the surface or within the bulk of the polyester backbone.

Expanding Prescribed Fire Delivery to Restore Southeast Forests (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA)

  • PI: Bardon, Robert E.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
  • Awarded Amount: $180,000.00 
  • Abstract: The Southeast Prescribed Fire Initiative will occur in priority areas across all 13 Southern states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Priority habitats will include longleaf pine, shortleaf pine and other fire adapted ecosystems in the Southern region, and priority locations include, but are not limited to, Longleaf Implementation Team (LIT) priority areas and Sentinel Landscapes. The project purpose is to implement the Comprehensive Strategy for Prescribed Fire (which is a comprehensive, regional strategy for increasing prescribed burning in the Southeast), thus ultimately helping to increase the use of prescribed fire across the Southeast. The Strategy represents a consensus among representatives of federal and state agencies (including the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state forestry and wildlife agencies), non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector; therefore, these groups will be the primary partners for this project. Major activities will include continued coordination of the SERPPAS Prescribed Fire Working Group, and implementation of several action items within the Prescribed Fire Strategy such as eLearn & Burn field days for private landowners, and support and promotion of Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) and Fire Festivals. Outcomes include increased use of and support for prescribed fire.

Multi-scale Assessment of the Drivers of Neuse River Waterdog (Necturus lewisi) Distribution and Recruitment

  • PI: Pacifici, Jamian 
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Amount Awarded: $180,681.00 
  • Abstract: The Neuse River Waterdog (Necturus lewisi) is an endemic salamander found only in the Neuse and Tar River basins in Eastern North Carolina. Recent survey efforts suggest the species may be declining range-wide with more exaggerated losses in the Neuse River basin. Although previous studies have provided valuable information about the potential influence of both environmental and anthropogenic stressors, they have done so in a limited window of time resulting in a snapshot of conditions indexed at 3 specific time points (early 1980s, early 2010s, and 2018-2020) over the last 40 years. These findings have spurred important hypotheses about the relative impact of changes in land use and land cover but does not allow for an explicit quantification of how those changes in the environment are driving changes in the distribution and productivity of waterdogs. These preliminary results highlight two important gaps in our knowledge. 1) The need to understand important drivers of change at two relevant spatial scales (micro- and meso-scale), and 2) the need to conduct longer term studies to ensure sufficient data to fully evaluate these effects and how they influence changes in population dynamics of waterdogs. Given these needs we propose to build on our prior research by extending sampling for multiple years necessary to meet the following primary objectives: 1) determine the distribution of N. lewisi and how it is changing over space and time as a result of both micro and meso-scale stressors, 2) evaluate micro-and meso-scale drivers of recruitment using multiple sampling techniques, and 3) evaluate future scenarios of LULC and the related persistence of N. lewisi in order to develop a framework for identifying and prioritizing management strategies for species recovery. The study design and associated methods of sampling will also allow us to explore the following secondary objectives: 1) evaluate how much sampling effort is necessary to detect waterdogs at sites across the landscape (i.e. power analysis based on occupancy and detection rates estimated from this study) and 2) assess individual variation in relation to localized site characteristics using additional information collected on individuals (e.g., body condition, morphological measurements, photo ids, tissue samples).

Collaborative Research: Building Capacity to Improve STEM Education through Citizen Science by Scaling Up University-Community Partnerships

  • PI: Cooper, Caren Beth
  • Direct Sponsor Name: National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Amount Awarded: $37,337.00 
  • Abstract: This IUSE:EHR-ICT proposal seeks to build the capacity for establishing citizen science communities that engage students in meaningful learning experiences in and around the Nation’s largest Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Citizen Science refers to efforts to involve volunteers from across different sectors of society, stakeholder groups, and communities in the scientific process.  North Carolina State University (NCSU) has been a leader in efforts to bring Citizen Science into university classrooms through Active Learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) pedagogies. As collaborators on this proposed project their experience and expertise will be leveraged in capacity building efforts at North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T SU) focused in four key areas: training, relationship & awareness building, information technology infrastructure, and needs assessment for scaling-up the project. Initial capacity building efforts within NC A&T SU will be centered in the Sociology and Psychology Programs within the College of Health and Human Sciences (CHSS) and extend outward through partnerships with other programs in the CHHS, other Colleges and Divisions and student organizations within the University, and the broader East Greensboro, NC community.  Among other things, funds from the grant will support the training of members of the NC A&T SU research team in the use of citizen science IT platforms and active learning pedagogies.  These faculty members will in turn become ambassadors who will host workshops and events that build the capacity of additional faculty collaborators to integrate citizen science-based active learning approaches into their courses.  Evaluation of the capacity building efforts will be assessed via rates of participation in capacity building events, implementation of these approaches into university classrooms, and formative evaluations using focus group and surveys.   

Pathways to Sustainable Materials Science and Engineering: Supporting Rural Women from College to Career

  • PI: Peralta, Perry N.
  • Direct Sponsor Name: US Dept. of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)
  • Amount Awarded: $94,878.00 
  • Abstract: Materials are linked to human society progress that our historical eras are named after the dominant material of the time. This demand for raw materials has grown explosively and we are now beyond the planet’s carrying capacity. It is crucial to revise society’s techno-economic approach to development, which strongly correlates with environmental degradation, and embrace the concept of sustainability, which balances the competing demands of the environmental, social, and economic sectors. NCSU’s Department of Forest Biomaterials has successfully instituted a STEM-based Sustainable Materials and Technology undergraduate program. Program faculty proposes to extend this success to K-14 students to prepare future workforce in the holistic discipline of sustainability.  The grant will focus on minority women attending community colleges since historically they have been under-represented in the forest biomaterials field. The goal is to expand their opportunities for professional careers and educational equity in sustainable materials science and engineering. This will be accomplished by providing a multitiered support system at every phase of the student postsecondary academic career — specifically through community support, academic mentorship, experiential learning, community research projects, professional development, and university scholarship/admission guidance. The project will enhance participants’ scientific and professional competencies, leadership and communication skills, professionalism, critical and problem-solving skills, and team-building ability.  The project is based on accountability; project-component outcomes will be assessed using proven methodologies. The project goal and objectives are aligned with NIFA Strategic Sub-Goal 1.7 and address WAMS Education Need Areas of Student Experiential Learning, and Student Recruitment, Retention, and Educational Equity.