The Morton Arboretum Receives $270,000 National Science Foundation Grant

a mature white oak tree
November 15, 2018

The Morton Arboretum Receives $270,000 National Science Foundation Grant

The Morton Arboretum, in collaboration with partners at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Mount Royal University, Michigan State University, and the College of Charleston, has received a National Science Foundation grant to better understand how United States forests respond to a changing climate.

Forests and forest ecosystems cover one-third of the United States and are a significant economic and cultural resource, so managing forests for the future depends on knowledge of changes in the forests over time. The three-year grant of just over $270,000 will enable The Morton Arboretum and its partners to determine which US tree species are most threatened and why, build effective collections of the most threatened trees, and understand whether the nation’s oaks will survive or be replaced over time by other species. Geographic regions that are resilient to environmental stressor that may contain unique genetic material can also be identified and preserved.

Through the grant, researchers will compare historical data on forest composition to determine which species have moved northwards the fastest as the climate has changed, how these species found refuge from a changing climate, and if forests change in their overall composition—that is, if the species that occur together shift together with a change in climate.

To accomplish this, Arboretum researchers and their partners will use a truly interdisciplinary approach, merging genetics, ecology and evolution, and environmental and climate science, to draw more accurate conclusions than past research afforded. New, state-of-the-art statistical tools and computational methods will be available in an open-source, online code that will encourage participation, and community workshops will also be held.

In addition, the grant will enable the partner organizations (the Missouri Botanical Garden, Mount Royal University, Michigan State University, and the College of Charleston) to advance science education at multiple levels, including teaching ecological concepts to schoolchildren in under-resourced neighborhoods of St. Louis, developing a course-based undergraduate research experience at two colleges, producing outreach materials that will reach two million visitors annually between the Missouri Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum and providing training and mentoring to the next generation of early-career plant scientists.

This work is supported by NSF Award #1750759 through the Advances in Bio Informatics program.