George Fox lands NASA grant on climate research

George Fox biology professor lands NASA grant for climate research
By George Fox University,

The $180,000 grant will help fund Don Powers’ role on project, which will study hummingbirds and their relationship to the environment

NEWBERG, Ore. – A $180,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is helping fund George Fox University biology professor Don Powers’ role on a research project designed to shed light on climate change.

Powers is part of a four-member team conducting a four-year study, “Combining Remote-Sensing and Biological Data to Predict the Consequences of Climate Change on Hummingbird Diversity.” The project, which received $1.4 million in total from NASA, entails the study of hummingbird populations for the purpose of determining how these populations respond to climate change in specified locales of North and South America.

According to the proposal, hummingbirds, a diverse monophyletic family of birds, provide an ideal system for evaluating the effects of environmental changes on biological diversity because hummingbirds are highly sensitive to climate and weather and are pioneer indicators of climate change.

With an additional contribution from George Fox, Powers will receive $250,000 for his role as the project’s physiologist. He will be responsible for measuring (and advising the measurement of) physiological parameters associated with hummingbird energetics. Essentially, he will monitor energy expenditure in the birds – and determine if changes in foraging habits and migratory patterns impact their daily energetic costs. The research includes use of a thermal imaging camera to analyze their nighttime metabolic rate.

His research will involve trips to the southwest United States, Mexico and South America for data collection. The grant also allows him to employ the help of undergraduate biology major students on the trips.

Powers, who has taught at the Newberg, Ore., institution for 23 years, said the research grant is the largest ever given to the school’s biology department.

“This speaks not only to the quality of our education but to George Fox’s commitment to academic scholarship,” said Powers, who has more than 30 years experience studying hummingbird physiology. “Research like this is part of the development of the science program here at GFU. As a scientist, it’s my job to be out in the field and doing the science that I teach. Many science textbooks are five years out of date when they get published. That makes this kind of research and our work in the field critical if we are to teach cutting-edge science in our classrooms.”

Serving as lead on the project is Catherine Graham, an associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stonybrook University in New York. Team members also include Susan Wethington, executive director of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, an international organization based in Arizona that monitors the birds’ population and migration trends, and Scott Goetz of the Woods Hole Research Center, an organization that studies, models, maps and monitors the Earth’s land surface to define solutions for sustainable well being.

The scientists propose to combine time-series data for hummingbirds with climate and remote sensing data to evaluate what changes have occurred in hummingbird populations, according to their proposal. They will investigate how climatic variation affects hummingbird resources, distribution, and physiological response to develop predictive models that can forecast how hummingbird populations will respond to anticipated changes in their physical environment.

“This has ramifications that go far beyond hummingbirds and their habitats,” Powers said. “It will help provide us with a better understanding of how our climate is changing and how species are coping and reacting to those changes. This is one piece of a bigger jigsaw puzzle, if you will. The data we collect from this ‘piece’ will help us better define major scientific principles in regards to our global climate.”

George Fox University is ranked by Forbes as the top Christian college in the Pacific Northwest and among the top three Christian colleges in the country. George Fox is the only Christian university in the Pacific Northwest classified by U.S. News & World Report as a first tier national university. More than 3,400 students attend classes on the university’s campus in Newberg, Ore., and at teaching centers in Portland, Salem, and Redmond, Ore., and Boise, Idaho. George Fox offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 40 majors, degree-completion programs for working adults, five seminary degrees, and 11 master’s and doctoral degrees.

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