Above: The IGERT team, including Hector Tavarez (Economist), Zayra Ramos (Ecologist), Mo Essen (Social Scientist), Sara Galbraith (Entomologist), and Oscar Abelleira (Ecologist).
U-Idaho Students’ International Research Projects Win Fellowships Honoring Humanitarian Norman Borlaug
Below: Sara and Oscar taking a soil core.
MOSCOW, Idaho – Two University of Idaho students are among 23 students nationally chosen as recipients of the inaugural round of research grants awarded through a new program to honor humanitarian agriculturist Norman Borlaug.
The research grants will enable U-Idaho doctoral students Sara Galbraith and Oscar Abelleira to conduct research in Costa Rica through the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. The program funds 23 doctoral students attending the university.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Galbraith and Abelleira’s projects were chosen through a competition overseen by Purdue University’s Center for Global Food Security. Idaho was among 17 universities with student winners and among only four others with multiple Borlaug recipients.
The award honors the late Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for leading the “green revolution.” He worked internationally to give poor farmers access to disease-resistant wheat varieties and fight famine.
Galbraith will receive $40,000 to study land-use impacts on the diversity and abundance of bee populations. Abelleira received $15,000 for his research on water transpiration rates in second-growth native forests and teak plantations, and the effect on streamflows.
“We are extremely honored that two of our students were chosen for this prestigious award,” said Nilsa Bosque-Pérez, who directs the U-Idaho National Science Foundation funded IGERT program.
The Borlaug program supports American students who are conducting research in an international setting that is related to food security, Bosque-Pérez said. “The main objective of the program is to help develop the new generation of scientists who are going to help solve the problems of food security in the world.”
Students must be linked to international research institutions. Galbraith and Abelleira, along with their fellow IGERT students, are working with Costa Rica’s Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center or Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza
, which has long-standing ties with the University of Idaho.
“Our projects complement each other,” Galbraith said. “We’re both working in northwestern Costa Rica, and we’re especially focused on some of the conservation strategies that have been implemented in the region, especially payments for ecosystem services.”
Left: Sara setting pan traps for collecting bees in a teak plantation site. Center: Oscar taking a core sample from a teak tree.
Right: Hector, Oscar, Sara, and Dr. Sven Günter (CATIE) in one of Oscar and Sara's teak plantation research sites.
Bees, particularly native species that rely on forests for habitat, are critical pollinators for fruit and vegetable crops, she noted.
A prolonged drought some 30 years ago followed landowners’ extensive conversion of the region’s forests to grasslands to promote cattle production.
Costa Rica’s government used financial incentives to encourage landowners to restore native forests and plant teak plantations in a bid to protect the region’s watersheds.
Abelleira’s project compares the watershed effects of the second-growth forests and the teak plantations, which comprise about 9 percent of the forest cover.
Both types of landcover are candidates to enroll in payments for ecosystem services. Those reach beyond watershed protection to support scenic values and carbon sequestration.
“Both landcover types can receive the payment, but there are questions about whether teak plantations are as good as secondary forests in conserving water in this region that is prone to drought,” Abelleira, who works with College of Natural Resources Professor Alex Fremier, said.
Some data suggests teak plantations have higher transporation rates, siphoning more water from the soil and out the leaves, he said. There is also the issue that a lot of the secondary forests are dominated by legumes, which may use more water in dry seasons than other trees.