UNM scientists land major NSF grant to research climate change

Dr. Jenn Rudgers, a UNM Biology professor, examines soil crust samples at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge on June 25, 2018. Rudgers will lead a $6.4 million dollar National Science Foundation grant to study climate variability in dryland ecotones. Photo: Advance at UNM

A $6.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation is helping scientists from the University of New Mexico study the ecological impacts of climate change in a new way.

UNM Biology Professor Dr. Jennifer Rudgers is leading the project, which brings together 35 scientists from 16 universities and five disciplines (biology, ecohydrology, climate science, geography, and education) to address one of the most pressing challenges facing us today — the consequences of climate change on our arid lands. The scientists will do a majority of the research at the vast Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico.

“Predicting how drylands will change into the future involves understanding the impacts of two key aspects of climate change: warming temperature and increasingly variable rainfall. We don’t yet have a good handle on the possible impacts of variability in climate, because studying year-to-year variability requires a lot of long-term data, plus experiments that push systems toward the climate extremes we expect in the future,” Rudgers said about the new program. “The timescale to do this exceeds standard funding cycles, so long-term research support is critical to this scientific frontier,” she said.

Drylands cover more than 40 percent of terrestrial land surface and are rapidly expanding in geographic extent. The new UNM-based Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological Research program (SEV-LTER) collects ecological and environmental data on five major dryland biomes (pinon-juniper woodland, juniper savanna, Great Plains grassland, Chihuahuan Desert grassland, and Chihuahuan Desert shrubland). These ecosystems come together on the 230,000 acres of the Sevilleta site.

Several graduate students and undergraduate mentees from UNM will work on the project during the next six years. The new funding also supports a flagship schoolyard (K-12) program, the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP).
Learn more about the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research Program here and read about the NSF’s LTER Network here.