Seed Grants Program

Climate and Climate Change

YIBS started a new Seed Grants Program in 2022 with a focus on biodiversity and ecosystem sciences. In 2023, the focus was shifted to climate and climate change, which are major themes of YIBS’ mission to support research in the environmental sciences and Yale’s University Science Strategy Committee (USSC) priority on Climate Solutions. This program was created to spark basic research that addresses themes relating to the dynamics of the climate system and its interactions with the biosphere in the past, present, and future.

2023 Projects 

Co-consequences of heat stress for urban mammals

Principal Investigators: Nyeema HarrisKnobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land ConservationYale School of the EnvironmentDirector, Applied Wildlife Ecology (AWE) Lab 

Kai ChenAssistant Professor of Epidemiology (Environmental Health), Department of Environmental Health SciencesYale School of Public HealthDeputy Faculty Director, Director of ResearchYale Center on Climate Change and Health

Project Description: Climate induces changes in biodiversity that can amplify public health concerns especially in urban environments. An overlooked outcome of exposure to high ambient temperature is varied animal behaviour that affect human-wildlife interactions, exacerbating human-wildlife conflict. Here we use detection data compiled from camera trap surveys across 23 North American cities to investigate how heat stress metrics alter space use and activity patterns in conflict-prone mammals (e.g., deer, raccoons, and coyotes). Specifically, we obtain daily temperature data at camera locations to determine area- weighted average temperature and use general circulation models to project into 2100. With these data, we then investigate relationships to animal activity, species richness, and space use as well as apply proximity and hotspot tools to determine a zone of influence in the context of human population density. Ultimately, results from this project will identify the most vulnerable neighborhoods across North American cities to aid in designing interventions, building awareness, and promoting coexistence to ensure healthy human and wildlife populations as all urban dwellers cope with changing climates.


Paleofire-climate variation in Africa: data-model comparisons since the Last Glacial Maximum for improved estimation of wildfire in the Earth system

Principal Investigators: Jennifer MarlonResearch Scientist and Lecturer, Yale School of the Environment and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Carla StaverAssociate Director, Yale Institute for Biospheric StudiesAssociate Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Project Description: Fire activity is a major Earth system process, with strong feedbacks to both biosphere and atmosphere, but global climate models continue to fall short in accurately predicting future carbon cycle and climate changes from fires. Paleofire data from lake and marine sediment cores extend satellite and historical records of past fires enabling the evaluation and improvement of Earth system models under diverse environmental conditions. This project will produce new paleoecological records of highly fire-prone grassy ecosystems in Africa. Funding will also support collaboration with a Kenyan scholar to compile and synthesize existing paleoecological records into a global database from which we will construct global estimates of biomass burning since the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 years ago. The improved estimates of African and global fire activity will be compared with model outputs to improve estimates of pre-industrial fire emissions. Accurate fire emissions estimates are essential for understanding modern-day aerosol forcing and carbon storage in ecosystems, which can in turn support better policy and decision making about a wide range of climate change mitigation and adaptation options.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sciences 

Ecosystems, biodiversity, and global change are major themes of both YIBS’ mission to support research in the environmental sciences and Yale’s University Science Strategy Committee (USSC) priority on Environmental and Evolutionary Sciences. This program was created to spark research that addresses themes relating to the maintenance, origins, and conservation of biodiversity, specifically at their interface with ecosystem dynamics.

2022 Projects 

Biodiversity of Marine Invertebrates in Indonesia 

Principal Investigator: Casey DunnProfessor of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCurator-in-charge of Invertebrate Zoology and InformaticsYale Peabody Museum

Project Description: The Indonesian Archipelago is vast, with more than 17,000 islands spanning an area about the size of the continental USA. Indonesia is at the heart of the Coral Triangle, a diversity hotspot for many groups of marine organisms. This abundance and diversity of marine animals is fundamental to the Indonesian economy, culture, and well-being, and fascinating in its own right. Different explanations for this extreme diversity have been proposed. The primary challenge to teasing apart these explanations is that the biodiversity of marine invertebrates in Indonesia remains poorly described, and understood, relative to many other regions.

The Yale team will work with Indonesian scientist Dr. Hagi Yulia Sugeha and her students at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) to build local capacity for biodiversity research and initiate biological inventories and population studies of multiple marine species, including jellyfish. This project includes fieldwork in Indonesia, but that is paired with multiple visits by Indonesian scientists to Yale for training, museum work, and lab work.

Coexistence of Tropical Understory Plant Communities 

Principal Investigator: Simon QueenboroughMusser Director, Yale Tropical Resources InstituteSenior Lecturer & Research Scientist, Yale School of the Environment

Project Description: The coexistence of hundreds of sympatric species within tropical forests remains an unsolved problem. Most studies have focused on trees. However, fitness (the net integrated result of growth, survival, and reproduction across its entire life cycle) is hard to estimate for such long-lived organisms.  

In contrast, most herbaceous plants complete their life cycle in much less time. Thus, estimating the direct effects of factors driving population growth rates and fitness (rather than proxies such as growth or mortality) is much more tractable.

This project will monitor the distribution and population dynamics of a suite of herbaceous understory plant species over two years throughout a large environmentally variable 25-ha forest plot. We will link variation in local abiotic (topographic habitat, soil nutrients, water, and light availability) and biotic (local conspecific and heterospecific herb density, and local tree neighborhood) factors with functional trait data (seed size, specific leaf area and size) to (i) determine variation in population growth rates and (ii) to address the relative importance of spatiotemporal variation in these factors for mechanisms of coexistence and patterns of diversity.

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