Student and Alumni Achievements August 1 – September 18

Olivia Bures was a Student Honors Award Winner for her outstanding achievement at the ASABE Preprofessional competitions. The ASABE annual international meeting was held July 7-10 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Mara Zelt placed in the ASABE Oral/Poster Competition in the Natural Resources and Environmental Systems (NRES) technical community at the ASABE annual international meeting, held July 7-10 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was awarded a certificate and $250 for the presentation of her work entitled, “Antimicrobial resistance in beef feedlot manure as impacted by forage concentration and essential oil in finishing cattle diets.”

Deciphering resilience in ecosystems
[Original Article published by the NRT Program]

With the majority of India’s people depending on agriculture for a living and more than half of the agricultural land depending on rainfall, doctoral student Manas Khan sees the vulnerability of his home country to extreme events like drought. He has come to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to conduct research that may help address such concerns in India—and elsewhere.

He and Francisco Munoz-Arriola, a hydrology and hydroinformatics professor in the Biological Systems Engineering Department, are looking at agricultural ecosystems in the Platte River Basin as well as India for their research.

“We’re in a changing environment, and the system we’re in is very complex,” Khan says. “To decipher that is really challenging, but it’s really interesting as well.”

Khan and Munoz-Arriola are working to identify changes and track trends in temperature and precipitation extremes in India. They are using long-term datasets to look at the interdependencies of temperature and precipitation and look at their geospatial patterns. Finally, they are trying to determine how ecosystems, especially agricultural ones, respond to extreme events like drought, thus deciphering their resilience.

“We have been working with 25-by-25 kilometer grids in India, but we’re also working across political and geographical scales more relevant when talking about planning policies and all,” Khan says.

“Our goal is to look at how, across scales, the patterns of these extreme events are changing and what may be causing the changes,” Khan says. “This will improve our understanding of these events in a changing climate and will lead to better prediction of them.”

From his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and his master’s degree in water resources from the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati, Khan developed a concept of engineering resilience, but he says he learned the concept of ecological resilience through the National Research Traineeship at Nebraska.

Khan with computer
He explains engineering resilience assumes that an ecosystem may fluctuate after experiencing an extreme event but that it will remain within a single regime, similar to a ball in a cup. Ecological resilience recognizes that a system is in multiple regimes and when an extreme event happens, the system may shift into a new regime with a different set of processes and structures. The ball may shift from one cup to another.

“So, we’re trying to find the hydroclimatic regime shifts across scales and to figure out in each of the regimes how the agroecosystems are responding to it, as evidenced by evapotranspiration, water use efficiency,” Khan says. “Tracking the characteristics of a regime may enable you to predict an impending shift, and being able to predict this would be valuable for setting policies, designing infrastructure or managing water resources.”

He says he hopes his research contributes to society in this way and he is grateful to the NRT for influencing his education and work.

“The most exciting thing about being a part of the NRT is getting in touch with so many diverse people,” he says. “Initially, I didn’t have much of an idea about resilience, but the NRT program provided me with the opportunity to meet with people who have evolved the concept of resilience over time, like Dr. Craig Allen, Dr. Lance Gunderson and Dr. David Angeler. When I got to meet them, the way they explained resilience actually changed my understanding about resilience and helped me a lot in understanding different concepts in resilience.”

He also notes the importance of collaboration in the NRT and says prospective students should be prepared to collaborate.

“I’m not saying that you will have or get whatever you need from each of the NRT members but maybe there will be some faculty who could be very interested in what you are suggesting or what you are thinking about,” he says. “He or she can provide you with valuable resources in terms of the techniques or they can guide you with the pathways which you can follow to attain your goals. In my case, I wanted to bring the resilience concept into my own work and I’m pretty much confident that I will get whatever I need from these professors.”

— Ronica Stromberg, National Research Traineeship Program Coordinator