Research at the George Perkins Marsh Institute solves real-world problems and engages with partners from individual households to organizations and agencies working at national or global scales. Much of our work is interdisciplinary in nature, and conducted in large teams with collaborations among Clark researchers as well as with researchers at other institutions around the world. The scale of projects ranges from local neighborhoods to regional watersheds to whole countries and the entire globe. External support for research activities comes from federal, state, local and international grants, private donations, foundations, and other sources. Search the list below for current and past projects.
|Informing Conservation Program Targeting for Cost-Effective Integrated Pollinator-Pest Management
|Dana Marie Bauer
|US Department of Agriculture
|Pollinator-dependent crops–mostly fruits, vegetables, and nuts–tend to be high-valued, high-nutrition food and shortages in the availability of pollination services could be devastating from both nutritional and economic perspectives. Recent declines in both managed and wild pollinators have been attributed in part to habitat loss and pesticide exposure. Growers of pollinator-dependent crops are thus confronted with potential on-farm tradeoffs between effective pest control and successful pollination and their decision making is further complicated because pollinators and pesticides often cross property boundaries. However, growers differ in their knowledge of both the pollination services provided by insects as well as impacts of pesticide exposure on such services. They also differ in their willingness to adjust management practices to address these impacts, and these differences likely depend on the particular cropscape (i.e., the land-use patterns and specific crops grown) within which the grower operates. This research project will first develop an integrated pollinator- pesticide cropscape typology that places each county in the continental U.S. along a pollinator risk-reward gradient. The research will then conduct grower surveys in select cropscapes to answer the following questions: (i) How aware are growers of the different pathways through which pollinators are exposed to pesticides? (ii) Will provisioning of information regarding the damages of pesticides and the benefits of pollinator habitat offer enough private incentive for growers to change their management practices or are additional policies or programs, such as payments for habitat conservation or pesticide abatement, warranted? (iii) How do differences among growers and cropscapes vary across the U.S. and how can we use this information to guide cost-effective spatial targeting of federal, state, and local pollinator conservation programs?
|Conserving Small Natural Features with Large Ecosystem Functions in Urbanizing Landscapes
|Dana Marie Bauer
|Aram Calhoun, Kathleen Bell, Macolm Hunter, Cythia Loftin, Erick Nelson (Bowdoin College), Michael Kinnison (University of Maine)
|National Science Foundation
|Many landscapes have small natural features whose importance for biodiversity or ecosystem services belies their small size. Management challenges for these areas include: uncertainties over their location and contributions to ecosystem services; tensions between private property rights and public rights to environmental protection; and the spatial mismatch between the broad, regional accrual of beneficial services and the concentrated, local costs of protection. Conservation strategies are undermined by limited scientific knowledge, especially of mechanisms that link ecological and social processes. In the forested landscapes of the Northeast, small, seasonally inundated wetlands (vernal pools) emerge as an excellent model system to study the dynamics of small natural feature management. This project brings together a team of ecologists and economists from multiple sub-disciplines and institutions to: (1) explore the biophysical and socioeconomic components of one type of small natural feature, vernal pools, as a coupled-systems model for management of these features; (2) improve strategies for conserving vernal pools and other small natural features with large significance; and (3) share results with local and state-level stakeholders and policy makers.
|Navigating the Trade-off between Pest Management and Pollinator Conservation
|Dana Marie Bauer
|US Department of Agriculture
|Originally introduced in the mid-1990s, neonicotinoid insecticides (‘neonics’) experienced an exponential rise in use on farmland over the past two decades and are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Unfortunately, the attributes that make neonics versatile and powerful pest management tools also make non-targeted insects vulnerable to their effects. Specifically, neonics have been implicated as a factor in sudden die-offs of managed honeybee hives and long term declines in native bee populations. Thus, farmers growing pollinator-dependent crops, which represents a large fraction of all fruits and vegetables, are confronted with a potential trade-off between two competing aspects of crop production: effective pest suppression and successful pollination. The overarching goal of this $3.6 million, 5-year project is to develop holistic pest-pollinator joint management regimes that are effective, profitable, and sustainable. Specifically, this project will: identify insecticide management strategies that simultaneously optimize pest suppression while minimizing non-target exposure to pollinators; determine the consequences of neonic exposure for honey and wild bee health; and assess the ecological and socioeconomic trade-offs among pollinators, pests, crop yield, and farm profitability resulting from alternative pest management regimes. This interdisciplinary research partnership involves collaborators from the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University, Purdue University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and the University of New Hampshire. Marsh Institute assistant director Dana Bauer is leading the economic analysis of grower preferences, profitability, and decision-making.
|Preparation of Land Sector Policy Papers
|Global Land Alliance/Millennium Challenge Corporation
|The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) works with developing countries to promote sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty. The objectives of MCC’s land investments include improved land tenure security and access to land for investment purposes to boost economic activity and growth, as well as to support improved use and productivity of land. In an effort to support decisions on land policy and legal reform actions in Sri Lanka, this project will produce a policy paper investigating the benefits of co-ownership of permits/grants and joint titling between spouses of land and inheritance reform in order to increase land productivity, reduce poverty, and promote gender equity. The research will address the following questions: (1) How will greater gender equity in land rights and inheritance of land benefit the economy and social stability in rural areas? (2) Does the evidence of effects on the economy support a Government of Sri Lanka initiative for changes in policy, law, and implementation?
|Belmont Forum Collaborative Research: Migration, Transformation and Sustainability
|Edward Carr, Anita Fabos
|National Science Foundation, Belmont Forum
|There is currently unprecedented concern over involuntary migration globally affecting insecurity and human rights. However, both domestic and international migration has enormous transformative potential for individuals and societies. Existing theories of transformation fail to recognize both positive and negative impacts of the movement of people. This gap limits explanations and intervention strategies for sustainability. The objective of this research is to expand knowledge of transformations to sustainability by incorporating specific migration dynamics including: the impact of aggregate flows of people on sustainability; the individual life course dimensions of sustainability; and the governance of migration and sustainability. This project will develop a comprehensive migration-sustainability model and identify insights on sustainability strategies at local, national, and international scales. As part of a large interdisciplinary social-science led consortium from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, this research will build global capacity of social science to explain and engage with migration dimensions of transformations to sustainability.
|Toward a Learning Agenda: Generating Knowledge and Evidence for Climate Information Services (CIS) Design and Implementation
|Robert Goble, Sheila Onzere, Edward Carr
|USAID, Mercy Corps
|Climate information services (CIS) involve the production and use of climate knowledge in climate-smart decisions, planning, and policy-making. Easily accessible, timely, and relevant scientific information can help society cope with current climate variability and limit the economic and social damage caused by climate-related disturbances. The goal of this project is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of future investments in CIS delivery, and ultimately increase the number of users of CIS who will benefit through livelihood practices. Through literature reviews, analyses of existing CIS systems, and a pilot evaluation program using the Humanitarian Response and Development Lab (HURDL) Livelihoods as Intimate Government (LIG) approach, this project will (1) increase understanding of, and access to, knowledge on the effectiveness of current CIS programming, (2) expand the current understanding of how CIS systems function in the context of broader social, cultural, and institutional systems within which they operate, (3) increase evidence on the degree of effectiveness of CIS on livelihoods, and (4) escalate dissemination and uptake of new knowledge.
|Linking Gender Based Violence, Gendered Forest Governance, and Forest Outcomes
|Sheila Onzere, Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Edward Carr, Cynthia Caron
|World Resources Institute
|This project will explore the connection between different levels of women’s participation in forest governance and forest outcomes. Gender-based violence emerges as a means by which households and communities discipline women and therefore shape their participation in forest governance, producing different levels of participation. A small number (2-3) case study communities in will be selected based on differences in the level of women’s participation in forest governance. Using remotely sensed forest cover data and Humanitarian Response Development Lab (HURDL) Livelihoods as Intimate Government (LIG) ethnographic approaches, an understanding of the connection, if any, between these differing degrees of women’s participation and differences in forest outcomes will be developed. Results from this work will support calls for future work on changing/improving women’s participation in forest governance.
|Developing and Scaling Up the Mapping Africa Active Learning Platform
|This need for both growth and reform of agriculture is particularly urgent in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where populations are expected to double and economies quintuple by 2050, leading to a tripling of food demand. Existing agricultural maps for SSA fail to quantify even the most basic agricultural characteristics (where and how much cropland there is), and must become much more accurate at much finer resolutions if we are to adequately solve agriculture’s challenges.
This project refines and tests a methodology for a scalable, fast, and cost-effective land cover mapping platform based on active learning, a next generation computer vision/machine learning algorithm that directs human mappers (based in SSA) to collect training data over the most difficult to classify locations, iterating until maximal accuracy is achieved. Active learning produces maps that are more accurate across a broader range of agricultural types than conventional classification methods. The maps will not only distinguish agricultural from non-agricultural areas with unprecedented accuracy, but will go beyond pixel-based classifications to map individual fields. The platform will be tested in Ghana.
|Impacts of Agricultural Decision Making and Adaptive Management on Food Security
|National Science Foundation
|Despite significant attention from governments, donor agencies, and NGOs, food security remains an unresolved challenge in the context of global human welfare. Both technical and conceptual limits have prevented the collection and analysis of rich empirical datasets with high temporal frequency over large spatial extents necessary to investigate how changes to seasonal precipitation patterns are affecting food security. Working with collaborators at UC Santa Barbara and Indiana University, researchers will integrate physical models of hydrological and agricultural dynamics with real-time environmental data obtained from previously-developed novel cellular-based environmental sensing pods and real-time reports of farmer decision making submitted via cell phones. The research addresses three critical research questions: (1) How do intra-seasonal dynamics of both the environment and social systems shape farmer adaptive capacity? (2) To what extent does intra-seasonal decision making enable farmers to adapt to climate uncertainty? (3) How can intra-seasonal data improve the ability to model, predict, and improve adaptation to climate variability in ways that enhance food security?
|Integrating Crowdsourcing, in situ Sensing, and Spaceborne Observation to Understand the Sustainability of Smallholder Agriculture in African Wet Savannas
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration
|Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely heavily on small-scale farming. This dependence could deepen as SSA’s wetter savannas will be increasingly farmed to meet growing food demand, while economic growth strategies promote the expansion of smallholder farming. This large-scale, smallholder-based agricultural development in a region with a highly variable climate raises two important sustainability questions: (1) Do strategies for increasing smallholders’ productivity increase or decrease their resilience to climatic variability? (2) Will productivity gains minimize the amount of new land needed for agriculture? This project will use a novel approach that integrates crowd-sourcing, in situ environmental sensing, and Earth Observing satellites to achieve three main objectives: (1) identify patterns of cropland change in smallholder farms; (2) identify landscape-scale trends in smallholder productivity; and (3) understand the relationships between changes in crop productivity, land cover, and climatic variability. The project focuses on maize farming in Zambia, a bellwether for regional agricultural development that has seen recent maize yield increases and farmland expansion.
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