Ashley McGuigan, Leo Lewis and Matthew Bond received awards of $138,000 as Graduate Research Fellowships. These awards cover both a stipend amount and tuition. Read below what these students have to say about their research.

Ashley McGuigan
Ashley McGuigan"Agroforests are multi-functional land-use systems in which trees and shrubs are cultivated with understory crops and/or livestock. Among the most biodiverse ecosystems in the Pacific, agroforests are highly relied upon for livelihoods, and especially for staple and nutritious food. However, agroforests and the communities who rely on them are increasingly threatened by pervasive global change, including heightened cyclone activity and linked land-use and dietary shifts. In 2016, Fiji suffered the most severe cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere (category-5) and currently suffers the highest nutrition-related non-communicable disease mortality rate in the Pacific (77%).

Research in Fiji is critical for understanding the nature of agroforests and their potential to promote well-being and increase resilience to these global changes, which are expected to increase worldwide. Using interviews, biodiversity surveys, and dietary recalls, my research assesses the ecological and social factors that influence agroforest recovery and composition post-cyclone, as well as the impacts of linked land-use and dietary shifts on consumption patterns and food choice in Fiji.

Being awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is not only a tremendous honor and allows me to devote more attention to the academic goals of my research, but it also affords me more time to focus on delivering the results of this research to local villages and government ministries in Fiji. I am very thankful for this opportunity and look forward to using it to help serve the goals of the communities I work with."

Leo Lewis
Leo Lewis"My research interests are in Ethnoecology, and human dimensions of natural resource management. Ethnoecology is an interdisciplinary field, which utilizes theories from evolution, ecology, and other disciplines in the natural sciences, and couples them with anthropological theory. By using both rigorous scientific methodology and an anthropological lens, I hope to inform conservation initiatives in order to create place based and culturally relevant conservation efforts. In particular I am interested in the different ways in which people manage their landscape, and the impacts that climate change will have on them. Similar to the ways in which evolution leads to new species which are specially adapted to their unique environments, the same process also result in specialized knowledge amongst different human populations. In a field such as ecology and conservation, where there is more unknown then known, it makes very little sense to “reinvent the wheel” when there is an abundance of highly specialized knowledge within various communities throughout the world. My goals as a researcher are to support those communities as stewards of the land, while raising awareness of the value, and need to protect the world’s natural resources. One important way of raising awareness is education, this is why I volunteer my time in an elementary school teaching botany. My goal with education is not necessarily to produce a new generation of botanists (although that would be good too), but to instill an appreciation for our natural environment. In doing this I believe that whatever position in life these students end up in they will be more likely to think twice before making decisions which negatively impact the environment. Being a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award is a huge honor, and ensures that I can devote more of my time as a graduate student to education, research, and community outreach."

Matthew BondMatthew Bond"Your health depends on plants— one out of four medicine pills is made from plants. Around the world, four out of five people make their own medicines from plants. In total, plant medicines were worth $83 billion in 2009! Medicinal plants also clean water and soil, control climate change, and protect wildlife. To use and protect these benefits, we need to know more about how people, the environment, and medicinal plants affect each other. I am studying why people choose certain plants for medicine rather than others. For this project, I’m working in four rural villages in Solomon Islands, which are close to Australia and New Guinea.  
The goal of my research is to test how people’s lives affect what they know about medicinal plants. This will allow me to calculate what kinds of people know the most about different diseases (for example, infections). This research is important for three reasons. First, it explores how the way we think affects the ecosystems and people around us. Second, it reveals how people make, share, and lose knowledge. Third, it shows how to find new medicines for specific diseases, such as heart disease."