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SESYNC
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)—funded through a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Maryland—is dedicated to solving society’s most challenging and complex environmental problems. As one of only a few U.S. transdisciplinary research centers, SESYNC brings together different disciplines and stakeholders to increase knowledge on the complex interactions between human and ecological systems. Learn more about SESYNC.

Protecting Predators, Protecting People

April 17, 2014

by NEIL CARTER
Postdoctoral Fellow

Above photo: Neil presenting his work in Leipzig, Germany

Large carnivores, such as wolves, bears, and tigers, play many vital roles in our lives. For example, they help maintain resilient ecosystems by regulating hoofed mammal populations (including elk, moose, and zebra) that, if left unchecked, can grow quickly, devastate important plant and tree species, and damage crop fields. Many cultures also have long traditions of hunting large carnivores for fur or as trophies, with myths and stories about the power and grace of these animals reinforcing human–carnivore relationships. Among some cultures in South Asia, large carnivores can serve as vessels for the souls of one’s ancestors. When I was in Nepal for my PhD research, I would see people leave small gifts at animal altars, often symbolizing tigers, to help ensure safe passage through the forests.


Above photo: In Nepal, Neil used camera trapping images such as this one to understand tigers' behavior. Click here to learn more.

On the other hand, predators can threaten human property, livelihoods, and safety. For example, bears occasionally damage orchards, wolves sometimes eat sheep, and tigers can kill people (albeit rarely). But even non-fatal tiger attacks have lasting detrimental effects: In Nepal, I met a man who had survived a tiger attack in the forest, but afterwards began to drink heavily after losing his job as a forest guard and racked up massive hospital bills. We have learned from history that carnivore populations can be quickly and dramatically reduced if local people no longer tolerate their impacts. Most large carnivores now inhabit small fragments of the ranges they once used to roam, largely because of concerted efforts over time by people to remove those animals from human-settled areas.

An important question that emerges then is: can people sustainably coexist with large carnivores, despite a long history of competition for limited resources, such as food and space? What does coexistence even mean precisely? Does it mean letting carnivores only inhabit protected areas set aside from human settlement or development, and thus less likely to negatively impact people? Does it mean finding ways to have carnivores share space with people, despite the likelihood of carnivore-related impacts? Or perhaps a mixture of both approaches depending on context? These questions are difficult to answer, because the relationships between people, carnivores, and the environment are complex and ever-changing.

Fortunately, there are some tools that are useful in exploring these questions.

Agent-based models (ABM) comprise rules for the ways agents (e.g., individual carnivores, individual people) interact with each other and their environment. In this way, ABMs simulate important individual behaviors, like searching for and acquiring food, territories, or mates, that give rise to broad-scale patterns, such as changes in population size. These models can be used to evaluate the potential outcomes of different scenarios on both people and carnivores, and therefore help to inform decision makers in the face of uncertainty. They can help answer, for instance, how certain policies—like handing over management responsibilities of a forest tract to local communities—will change human access to forest products and prey numbers for carnivores while also influencing human hunting of carnivores and carnivore attacks on people. For these reasons, I’m developing an ABM to simulate the interactions between subsistence farmers and the globally-endangered tiger in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, a global biodiversity hotspot. Conservation challenges in Chitwan epitomize those in many places around the world, where reconciling the needs of growing resource-dependent human populations with the desire to protect carnivores is of utmost importance.

Developing a good ABM is no easy task. It requires some programming skills and, more importantly, a clear understanding of how key behaviors and interactions should be best programmed in the model. I recently traveled to the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, Germany, to seek the aid of Dr. Volker Grimm, an ecological modeling guru. SESYNC recently partnered with UFZ to develop a new Theme titled “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,” so the timing of my visit was serendipitous. For two weeks in February, Volker spent many hours with me in thinking about the ways to structure the model so that it captures fundamental relationships between tigers and people, such as human impacts on prey and tigers encountering people. The model will therefore provide insights on how to foster human–carnivore coexistence not only in Chitwan, but also in many other places around the world facing similar conservation challenges. I was also fortunate enough to interact with and present my research progress to other scholars at the Centre for Ecological Modelling at UFZ. These scholars are doing top-notch work, and eagerly provided me with valuable input to improve the ABM. For this and many other reasons, my time at UFZ was tremendously rewarding.


Above photo: Neil and Volker Grimm in Leipzig, Germany

My travels and experiences didn’t end at Leipzig, though. I next headed to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) in Trondheim, Norway. There I met with Dr. John Linnell, an expert on the science and practice of carnivore conservation in human-dominated regions around the world. I was keen to pick his brain about what coexistence means from a practical “on-the-ground” point of view. For example, how do managers protect a viable population of a large carnivore that spans a vast region, where some people wish to eliminate the animals at all costs while others with to protect them at all costs? Hint: having decision-making processes that ensure bottom–up representation and participation of various stakeholders is very important. My experiences in both Leipzig and Trondheim helped me build the model and think on how to make it relevant to fostering coexistence across many contexts. At the end of my time in Trondheim, John and I had begun developing a clear, consistent, and comprehensive conceptualization of coexistence. (John also made me moose stew—which was a first for me!)

Though much work remains, my knowledge exchange in Europe has gotten me closer to answering those difficult questions about coexistence. One point made clear is that coexistence is as much about human–human interactions as it is human–carnivore interactions. Moreover, understanding the role of human psychology, ethics, and institutions in carnivore conservation is vital to fostering coexistence. Finally, coexistence requires mutual adaptations by both carnivores and humans and by humans and humans. The next stage for me is to explicitly incorporate these insights on human–carnivore coexistence into a model that advances socio-environment synthesis science and is useful to conservation practitioners and decision makers.


Above photo: Neil and John Linnell in Trondheim, Norway

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Influenza Transmission and the Built Environment

April 8, 2014

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

It’s late January, and you’ve just arrived at the office. That chatty, suspiciously cheery coworker of yours has you cornered by the coffee machine. It’s first thing in the morning, so your escape reflexes are muted. How was your weekend?, he wants to know. His was great. He was at the hockey game. His team won. But it was cold, he forget to wear gloves, and now he’s not feeling so well.

And then … it happens. He sneezes.

Welcome to flu season.

Many experts think that influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu,” is spread by large-particle droplets made when infected persons talk, cough, or sneeze. These droplets don’t remain suspended in the air, so in order for the virus to spread, close contact between source (e.g., your gabby coworker) and recipient (e.g., you) is required. Droplet transmission begets the recommendations of “cover your mouth” and “wash your hands.” But is that really enough to curb the spread of influenza?

Depending on who you ask, it’s a good start—but not nearly enough. Some researchers disagree that droplet transmission is the only, or even primary, means of passing the flu from one person to another. These experts stress the significance of airborne transmission: small droplets or dust particles containing the flu virus that remain suspended in the air, and can therefore be dispersed widely by air currents.

Yet without consensus on the respective roles of droplet and airborne transmission, it’s difficult to design comprehensive and consistent protocols for flu prevention. That’s a concern, says Dr. Donald Milton, Professor of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, for obvious reasons. He notes that despite evidence supporting airborne transmission’s role in spreading the flu, planning for airborne precautions has been ineffective—because we don’t actually agree that it needs to be done in the first place.

“Right now,” Dr. Milton says, “in the case of an influenza pandemic, day cares, public schools, and universities plan to shut down and send everybody home. That’s a huge disruption with significant economic impacts and questionable effectiveness. And where do kids go when you shut down the schools? They hang out in malls. Does that really buy you any protection?”

A primary goal of airborne precautions, he says, is to make schools, malls, and all other buildings safe places to be during a pandemic, to the benefit of both public health and the local economy. How? The right ventilation system can actually reduce rates of airborne illnesses, including the flu. It’s this goal that served as an impetus for a recent workshop hosted at SESYNC focused on how we design, build, operate, and maintain built facilities from a pandemic perspective.

Led by Dr. Milton and co-principal investigator Dr. Jelena Srebric, Professor of the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, the workshop brought together a diverse community of experts thinking about and working on questions related to flu transmission. Participants included a biostatistician investigating non-pharmaceutical interventions for reducing influenza transmission. The director of a university health center. A medical anthropologist studying the relationships between the everyday lived experiences of individuals and communities and the biopolitics of global health institutions. The director of a federal research grant program. A top administrator from university residential facilities. The director of a federal program focused on occupational health and infection control challenges. A computer scientist researching algorithms in networking phenomena. An engineer focused on multi-scale modeling of built infrastructure and assessing how these systems affect energy consumption.

Along with 30 other workshop attendees, these experts comprised a mosaic of perspectives uniquely positioned to investigate the question of influenza transmission and the built environment. A key effort of the workshop included synthesizing existing studies that point toward the big role of small droplet transmission (and by virtue, of ventilation systems) in the spread of influenza. Despite these studies, we don’t have a body of work that convinces everyone. Part of the group’s challenge, therefore, was to determine what it would take to reframe our perceptions of transmission.

Spoiler: it’s not going to be easy, particularly given the breadth of communities to be reached. Researchers, funding agencies, decision makers, and engineers are all integral to prioritizing pandemic preparedness in facilities planning.

“Even though building ventilation systems are known to increase or reduce an individual’s risk of influenza exposure,” says Dr. Srebric, “that factor is largely ignored in practice. It’s like a non-existent problem, or at least we [engineers] think the problem doesn’t belong to us, because we’re not obligated by standards or codes to consider it as relevant.”

Fueled by the conversations and insights of the workshop, the group is developing a white paper that describes the current climate, as well as research necessary to move the needle toward healthy and sustainable buildings. The paper will be an interdisciplinary effort that integrates fundamental research needed to identify the principle mode of transmission, as well as applied research needed to design these buildings.

“Thanks to the truly wonderful combination of people and expertise we have working on this project,” Dr. Milton says, “we can get at this problem better than anybody else.”

Learn more about the workshop here.

This workshop was funded under a call for proposals targeting University of Maryland (UMD) faculty. The call was co-supported by the university’s Office of the Provost, the Division of Research, and the deans of multiple colleges (CMNS, AGNR, BSOS, ARHU, ENGR, and JOUR).

Video: Learning Exchanges for Conservation

March 20, 2014

Overfishing is jeopardizing both ocean ecosystems and the food security of the billion-plus people that depend on seafood as their primary source of protein. Over the past several decades, we have come to understand that the oceans’ bounties are in fact highly sensitive and terminable. People from every corner of the globe have responded by making positive changes from ocean to table.

One of the most effective tools for improving the sustainability of fishing practices has been to foster communication between fishers and fisheries stakeholders. Fisher learning exchanges are peer-to-peer gatherings among fishermen from different villages, countries, and regions and others involved in the fishing industry. Participants freely exchange information, experiences, and lessons learned about fishing in order to expand awareness, knowledge, skills, and networks for the betterment of fisheries resource management and the communities involved.

But how do we know which elements of these exchanges actually lead to changes in conservation behaviors? Drs. Kiki Jenkins and Hoyt Peckham organized a workshop supported by SESYNC that was the first phase in a larger effort on assessing fisher learning exchanges.

Learn more: www.sesync.org/goin-fishing-for-a-solutions-driven-community

The Role of Dams in Creating a Water-Secure World

February 25, 2014

by KELLY HONDULA
Research Assistant

“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”

- Sandra Postel, director and founder of the Global Water Policy Project

Water of sufficient quantity and quality is necessary to sustain both human populations as well as aquatic ecosystems. Over the years, we have witnessed legal battles over access to water at the border of Florida and Georgia; discussions about piping water over the American Rockies; and iconic clashes between the incompatible goals of building large water infrastructure projects for agriculture, electricity, and other human needs while trying to maintain the natural flow of rivers crucial to aquatic species. Most recently, a major drought in California has highlighted the conflicts between farmers, environmentalists, households, and industry over water use allocations.

Large water infrastructure projects dramatically alter the natural flow regimes of rivers, and consequently result in major disruptions to river ecosystems and the organisms that rely upon them. Dams, for example, can block fish passages, change the quantity and timing of water flow, promote erosion downstream, and fundamentally change upstream landscapes by flooding them with reservoirs.

Yet we build dams, because they can be a source of hydropower, flood protection, and reliable short-term water supply. As these benefits can accelerate poverty alleviation and development around the world, international organizations such as the World Bank and USAID are now footing the bill for large water infrastructure projects. However, dams built on the basis of ensuring sufficient quantities of water for humans can be ultimately undermined by the negative water quality and ecosystem consequences of long-term changes to the natural flow of rivers. In response, people are increasingly interested in incorporating ecological principles into their work so both natural capital and ecosystems can be preserved while providing sources of energy and water security where they are most needed.

A group of engineers, ecologists, and economists in a SESYNC Pursuit are working towards developing strategies that could integrate these dual purposes, with the goal of providing decision makers, engineers, and economists with the tools to both maximize future reliability of water infrastructure and minimize costs to the environment.

There are at least three levels of decision making processes the group is tackling. The first set revolves around the design decisions that go into dam construction and operation—i.e., how to build a dam. Ecological factors are sometimes thought of as a constraint on design; however, an explicit analysis of the tradeoffs between ecosystem needs and engineering possibilities should reveal the most cost-effective strategies for different scenarios.

The second set of questions addresses how to resolve discrepancies between the needed and available temporal and spatial data required to make informed decisions. Depending on the location and purpose, for example, could several small dams accomplish the same goal as one large dam while protecting sensitive environments or facilitating the migration of important fish species? By identifying key ecosystem services to protect and maintain, engineers and ecologists can more explicitly analyze tradeoffs between environmental concerns and the services a dam provides. Even if this involves a time investment to monitor the behavior of a commercially-important fish species, or water variability in a previously unknown stretch of river, the results of reduced uncertainty could be valuable in the long run.

On a broader level, the group hopes to provide an innovative framework for policy-level decision making about water infrastructure in the face of major uncertainty about future water supply and  demand estimates. With high uncertainty, there may be more reliable and less costly ways to meet the water needs identified by policy makers instead of building permanent structures on the landscape. Rather than make a large initial investment in dam construction, new green infrastructure or land preservation practices could expand the range of potential options for successive generations, instead of “locking us in” to the same old fights about water allocation.

Click here to learn more about the SESYNC Pursuit “Climate Change & Water Resources Adaptation: Decision Scaling & Integrated Eco-engineering Resilience.”

Above photo: Pitlochry Power Station dam and fish ladder
Credit: xlibber, Flickr/Creative Commons

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Gedenkschrift for William Freudenburg

February 21, 2014

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

Good mentors are more than just seasoned career professionals willing to share their knowledge. Good mentors invest a part of themselves in a student or mentee to inspire intellectual growth and performance, creativity, and character.

Dr. William (Bill) R. Freudenburg was a University of California - Santa Barbara professor, renowned environmental sociologist, and dissertation advisor to SESYNC Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Mary B. Collins. Under Freudenburg’s mentorship, Collins studied the sociopolitical factors and social problems that influence the creation of ecological harm and environmental injustice. Freudenburg passed away in 2010 while Collins was still in pursuit of her degree, but their time together directly framed Collins’ current research on the double disproportionality concept—i.e., how certain groups disproportionately create a majority of environmental harm that in turn disproportionately impacts other groups, often distinguishable by race or class.

“I went to Santa Barbara specifically to work with Bill,” says Collins. “I didn’t know him outside of his writing, but was pleasantly surprised to find that he was as cool as he was smart. His door was always open, even through the end of his illness—he was incredibly generous with his time, and completely devoted to his scholarship.”

At UC Santa Barbara, Freudenburg and Collins focused part of their research on how public–private partnerships are transformed by the advancement of technologies. A resultant article, “Temporal Myopia: A Case of Promising New Technologies, the Federal Government, and Inherent Conflicts of Interest,” was recently published in Volume 21 of Research in Social Problems and Public Policy: William R. Freudenburg, A Life in Social Research.

The volume is a Gedenkschrift, or memorial publication, that commemorates Freudenburg’s impacts to both the field of sociology and to the scholarship of those he worked with and influenced. Contributors include both colleagues and students; articles include personal reminiscences, research that reflects on and builds upon Freudenburg’s own work, and articles—like Collins’—that were co-developed with Freudenburg.

“Temporal Myopia” looks at the complications that may arise as the federal government and technologies co-evolve (from promoter to regulator and from emergent to established, respectively). Using the nuclear and nanotechnology industries as case studies, the article suggests that the federal government may create conflicts of interest by regulating the very technological industries it has financed. Freudenburg and Collins conclude by citing a need for additional research into how the federal government can balance its financial interests in a technology’s success with its responsibility to protect the public’s safety and investment, so as to “preserve both government credibility and public trust before it is too late.”

To Collins, the article’s significance is two-fold. “Certainly, the subject matter is important,” she says. “But for me, its genuine value is in paying tribute to Bill’s legacy.”

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Socio-Environmental Synthesis for Grad Students

February 10, 2014

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

Socio-environmental synthesis: if it were easy, everyone would do it.

It’s a new research approach rooted in the multifaceted and complex interactions between humans and the ecosystems in which they live. It requires interdisciplinary teams of scholars, policy makers, and practitioners, who in many cases have never before worked together, to sit down at the same table. It calls for inquiry-based innovations sprung from newly constructed relationships and consensuses on traditionally competing semantics, methodologies, and worldviews.

Socio-environmental synthesis, it turns out, is anything but easy.

But it’s also the future of meaningful and actionable scientific research. That’s why we recently hosted 20 graduate students representing the future leaders of socio-environmental synthesis at our Center for a workshop specifically designed to support their pursuit of novel, independent synthesis research. The workshop was the second stage in what has been our engagement of graduate students at SESYNC—preceded by the Graduate Scholars Program, in which invited graduate students identified two Themes (general research topics that may include a variety of related research questions) exclusively for emerging scholars. The Themes, “Cities in Sustainable Resource Management” and “Surprise in Human Adaptation to Environmental Change,” are perfect examples of dynamic, complex socio-environmental problems that require the collaboration of disparate fields—from urban planning to oceanography and data science to human psychology—to begin to solve.

The challenges of interdisciplinary team science are something even established scholars at the top of their fields can struggle with. Divergent disciplinary ideas or goals; incompatible personalities; and strains on productivity related to inefficient communication methods, personnel turnover, etc. are all common difficulties.

Graduate researchers are ripe for the type of training and networking offered by this recent workshop. At this point in their education, in many cases, they are comparatively well exposed to interdisciplinarity. That wasn’t always the case.

“Thirty years ago, if you weren’t in one of those disciplinary silos, then you weren’t anywhere,” says Dr. Rachel Berndtson, SESYNC Research Associate and co-organizer of the workshop. “Now, you see interdisciplinarity everywhere—but there’s a big difference between seeing it or thinking about it and actually doing it. One of the major goals of this workshop was for the participants to leave with a tangible set of skills for tackling the ‘doing’ of interdisciplinary and team science.”

The nuts and bolts of the workshop consisted of general introductions to SESYNC and our thematic project structure, socio-environmental systems, and actionable science by Dr. Margaret Palmer, SESYNC Executive Director, and Dr. Jon Kramer, SESYNC Directory of Interdisciplinary Science. Keynote speakers Dr. Jianguo Wu, Arizona State University; Dr. Suzanne Malec-McKenna, The Morton Arboretum; and Dr. Karl Zimmerer, Pennsylvania State University spoke on the two Themes identified by the Graduate Scholars Program. And a panel of SESYNC project PIs—which included Dr. Brian McGill, University of Maine; Dr. Helen Fox, World Wildlife Fund; and Dr. Linwood Pendleton, Duke University—provided feedback and answered questions on their own experiences as leaders of interdisciplinary team science at SESYNC.

“Their insights were really valuable, because they’ve been through this, and were able to say, ‘Here are some of the things to look out for when putting together a project plan and working with a diverse research team,’” Berndtson says.

At the heart of the workshop was an emphasis on social dynamics. Those traditionally competing semantics, methodologies, and worldviews amongst interdisciplinary team members are where most of the challenges of managing such teams thrive—so establishing trust before the work even begins is crucial. The same held true for our workshop: the participants exemplified the diversity of gender, geographic location, and scientific background typical of the team projects we fund at SESYNC.

“I was really blown away by the degree to which everyone meshed,” Berndtson says. “I mean, these students were sitting directly next to their competitors. The caliber of scholarship was so high—some of the best graduate student resumes I’ve ever seen—but the spirit of collaboration and camaraderie was also high.

“The grad students independently organized a group following the second full day of the workshop, and, amongst other conversations, began discussing Pursuit proposals. During the third day, there were two or three separate break-out groups of students discussing what kind of data they had access to, how they might jointly frame their research, identifying people they know here or there that could do this or that as a potential member of another participant’s project. It was really cool to see those social catalysts for cooperation.”

SESYNC will formally announce its RFP for the graduate Themes in spring 2014. Graduate students in the social, natural, and computational sciences will be invited to apply—the opportunity will be open to students who attended the workshop, as well as students who did not attend.

While the workshop organizers hope to see proposals from all attendees, they know the graduate students can apply what they learned to work and research outside of SESYNC, as well.

“We viewed it as, we’re training the next generation of scholars to be capable of doing socio-environmental synthesis research. We would love for them all to be doing that at SESYNC, because what better forum?” says Berndtson. “But the need for socio-environmental research and interdisciplinary team science extends beyond SESYNC. These are skills they’ll carry throughout the rest of their careers.”

Take an inside view of the workshop. Click here to view Storified tweets from the workshop.


Above photo: Social and natural scientist "speed dating." Workshop participants get to know one another and build networking potential for future collaborations.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

Modeling Locally, Thinking Globally

January 29, 2014

by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Communications Coordinator

Above figure: Locations of eastern Asian sites: two in China (western Shandong Province, China (a) and Northern Hunan Province, China (b)), two in Luoang Namtha, Laos (c).

Not all land uses are created equal. Among and between different kinds of land uses, their environmental impacts range from negligible to devastating. Which drivers—environmental, social, economic, etc.—influence the land use choices of a farmer, pastoralist, or housing developer may have once been treated as a question of local relevance, but a team of researchers is now studying them as forces of global significance.

Led by Dr. Nicholas Magliocca, computational research associate at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), the team has developed a computational model that is laying the foundation for understanding what motivates people’s land use decisions, on both local and global scales, based on their livelihood strategies. A scientific paper based on the research, which Magliocca wrote as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was published January 29 in the journal PLOS ONE. Magliocca’s co-authors included Dr. Daniel G. Brown of the University of Michigan and Dr. Erle C. Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Land use is often tied to a person’s means of making a living. With forces such as climate change, population growth, and economic globalization at play, livelihood strategies are changing—and those changes transform how people use land. Understanding how such forces influence the choices different land users in different regions make is the first step to supporting land uses that are environmentally and economically sustainable for generations to come.

This type of analysis isn’t easy. “The traditional mode of scientific experimentation is not feasible with real land use systems,” Magliocca says. “We’re talking about people's land and livelihoods here.”

Agent-based models—used as “virtual laboratories,” as Magliocca calls them—offer a powerful and practical means of simulating the actions and interactions of agents (in this case, individual or groups of land users) in order to assess their interactions with the larger system of which they are a part.

Land use change has been studied mostly by researchers creating highly detailed, specialized models that apply to a single location and are highly context-dependent. However, we can learn a lot about what influences land use choices through comparative research across different sites.

“That’s nearly impossible if you’re trying to compare models that were created for a single specific location,” says Magliocca. “Our modeling framework is different because it uses the same model structure, language, logic, and variables across different sites so that those sites can be compared in ways that provide us with meaningful insights. It will help us understand local decisions and activities in larger global contexts.”

“This model is a significant advance in modeling practice. Sometimes it performs well—it reproduces what you actually see on the ground—and in other cases, it misses. But when it misses, the model is informative about what’s going wrong and why it misses, which is hugely informative for the subsequent models we’re laying the foundation for.”

The team hopes to continue their work with a larger research project using volunteered, crowd-sourced local data. These data would help improve the accuracy of the models at any given site while still maintaining a global context by parameterizing the model—i.e., providing a reference for how the local data relate to global data sets already being used.

“We’d be asking local inhabitants for information such as crop prices, land prices, these sorts of things,” says Magliocca. “And we hope to create a system that then delivers the data back to them. We’ll see if that gets funded—it’d be pretty cool if it does.”

The National Science Foundation supported the research under the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI), and GLOBE Project awards. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center—funded through a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Maryland—is an Annapolis, Maryland-based research center dedicated to solving complex problems at the intersection of human and natural systems.

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