Professor Mary Heskel conducts research in Båtsfjord, Norway in July 2023.

Biology Professor Mary Heskel is among a group of experts from 14 institutions that received a $15 million award from the National Science Foundation. The Evolving Meta-Ecosystems (EvoME) Institute, which will be led by the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, is a new six-year project that will focus on improving scientific and public understanding of how Arctic organisms and ecosystems are responding — and will continue to respond — to a rapidly changing climate. 

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on earth by about four times, so we’re watching adaptation and change potentially happen in a very short period of time,” said Dr. Heskel, who is the only scientist on the team from a four-year liberal arts college. “These adaptations make the Arctic both a very cool and rather ominous place to think about rapid climate change.” 

As a plant physiological ecologist, Professor Heskel will work with other scientists to study how plants in northern Alaska are changing their growth and metabolism, as well as modifying the nutrient cycling and habitat for wildlife such as birds and fish. The grant also offers an opportunity for six Macalester students – one per year – to join the team for a summer-long immersive research experience in the Alaskan tundra. 

“There’s funding for undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, field technicians, and journalists,” said Heskel. “What makes this kind of grant, a Biology Integration Institute award, different is its expansiveness. We’re really looking to bring a lot of scientists together to develop observations and experiments that will lead to novel, integrative questions and train and support students and early career scientists.”

As part of this work, the EvoME Institute also aims to foster a new generation of cross-disciplinary biologists, with special attention to increasing the inclusion and retention of researchers from backgrounds currently underrepresented in the field.

More information, including collaborators and updates, can be found here.

May 17 2024

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