UK Wins NSF Suburban Ecology Grant

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 19, 2011) — Biology professor David Westneat from the University of Kentucky's College of Arts & Sciences has won a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), guaranteeing 10 weeks of research to 10 undergraduate students at UK's Ecological Research Facility (ERF) or Griffith Woods beginning next summer.

UK biologists, along with researchers from the College of Agriculture and the College of Education will host an annual 10-week summer program for undergraduate research on suburban ecology and invasive species.

Beginning the summer of 2012, students will be recruited from across the United States, and matched to faculty mentors who are conducting research on a wide variety of invasive species over a range of urban and rural environments.

Students can expect to study everything from house sparrows, to Japanese honeysuckle, from the backyard to the farm. Students will be exposed to the full spectrum of a research project, including the underlying ecological theory, the formulation of hypotheses, the design of experiments, the analyses of data, and the write up for publication.

The NSF grant is for $300,000 from 2011-2014 and will fund 10 students over 10 weeks each summer from 2012-2014.

The program focuses on suburban ecology, which is defined as the interactions between organisms and an environment heavily modified by human activity, with special focus on invasive species. 

Eleven UK researchers in five departments have designed a diverse array of projects for student participants.

“The Department of Biology at the University of Kentucky is committed to providing a hands-on, 21st century research experience for our students," said biology Professor and Chair Vincent Cassone. "The NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) provides us another avenue to engage students in research topics that address current issues in biology. That is, encroachment of humans on wild habitat, changes in climate and the impact of invasive species on native organisms.”

ERF, maintained by UK's Department of Biological Sciences, is located on a large old-field tract in Lexington. Surrounded by agricultural land and horse farms, it offers a convenient resource for field studies within easy commuting distance of campus. Access is controlled, providing a secure site for long-term studies.        

Griffith Woods, a 750-acre research farm located in Harrison County, Ky., is the centerpiece of the Bluegrass Restoration Project (BRP), undertaken in 2002 to focus attention on ecological research in Central Kentucky. This UK property is jointly managed with The Nature Conservancy with the primary function being ecological restoration and research.

For more information or to apply, please visit UK's REU website.