Forest Health Research and Education Center Shares $3 Million NSF Grant

U.S. Forest Service part of effort to improve cyberinfrastructure for tree resources

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Asheville, NC. Photo by Fran Trudeau, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
View from the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Asheville, NC. Photo by Fran Trudeau, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Forest Health Research and Education Center (Forest Health Center), a collaborative project among the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), the University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Division of Forestry, will share a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation with researchers from Washington State University (serving as lead), the University of Tennessee, and the University of Connecticut.

The funded project will establish a network and cyberinfrastructure for sharing comprehensive tree health and genetic data among scientists and the public. The grant will help researchers continue work on a user-friendly web-based interface using Tripal, a flexible program that scientists, tree breeders, and the public can use to more easily access information about trees, tree genetics, sequences of tree genomes, and other information that’s archived in specialized tree breeding and research databases.

The grant also supports promoting education and outreach programs towards conservation efforts and involving the public in monitoring forest health. The Forest Health Center will play a primary role in this aspect, presenting workshops for woodland owners, private industry, and state agencies.

“It’s more and more important to involve the public in monitoring our forests for insects, diseases, and invasive species,” says Dana Nelson, SRS research geneticist and Forest Health Center co-director. “This not only helps us to identify and track problems but provides people with new reasons and ways to learn about the forests around them.”

This fits well with the mission of the Lexington, Kentucky-based Forest Health Center to advance the conservation of forested ecosystems by integrating genetics-based biological research with social science and education on the factors that affect tree health and forest restoration.

“Part of our education and outreach efforts at the Forest Health Center are focused on promoting the understanding of forest health threats in relation to the genetics of resistance and the use of new genetic tools for improving resistance,” says Nelson. “The grant will help us better convey our findings to those who can use them to help improve forest health using genetics-based tools and knowledge.”

For more information, email Dana Nelson at dananelson@fs.fed.us.

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