The following are examples of in-demand projects that prospective students may choose to be involved in. Prospective students may also propose their own project when applying to the NRT.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the Forecasting of Environmental Degradation
The student will explore the potential to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into data networks used for social-ecological forecasting. Examples include integration into multi-scale climate modeling and remote sensing of vegetation, precipitation and soil moisture to improve the identification of areas vulnerable to (1) extreme precipitation and flooding or (2) water depletion and overappropriation.
Hysteresis in Agricultural Lands and Watersheds
Contaminants and nutrients, originating from both point and nonpoint sources, impair local systems, as well as downstream water bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico. The student will work with academic, public and private stakeholders to develop conceptual and statistical models to inform best management practices to support resilient agricultural systems.
Cross-Boundary Management of Water Resources
Students will use analytics and synthesis of FEWS data to address cross-boundary challenges. The project will include data integration—the development of standardization and multidimensional integration of FEWES data—and visualization of complex systems in INFEWS driven by science-based communication strategies to single- and multi-agency policy and decision makers.
Analytics and Synthesis for Policy for Best Management and Adaptive Practices
This project will use nutrient-water balances related to conservation and traditional agriculture practices; scaling nutrient and water use efficiencies from field to basin; and engineering and policies or “engineering policies” for fast and resilient agriculture facing water deficits and nutrient regulations.
Effects of Extreme Events
Students will examine the predictability of hydrological function of watersheds in response to extreme events. Work will involve coupling climate ecosystem and agroecosystem modeling based on multi-scale water and energy balances for extreme event forecast and predictions; sensing agroecosystem and ecosystems changes using proximal and remote sensing, as well as field observations to track responses to policy changes and social and climate disturbances; and integrating social and physical vulnerabilities of FEWES.
Hydrological Uncertainty During Environmental Extremes
Understanding how climate forcing drives field-to-watershed hydrologic functioning requires a series of tools that span multiple scales. The student will identify scaling and error constraints within existing tools and techniques that can improve preparedness and sustainability of water appropriations for agricultural use during environmental extremes.
Embracing Environmental Extremes in Resilience and Restoration
Over the past decade, a series of extreme fires have been applied annually within a 180,000-acre experimental landscape that is home to the endangered American burying beetle. This unique effort embraces key, but largely untested, principles in resilience theory aimed at restoring the productivity and diversity lost to a grassland-to-woodland regime shift.
Tradeoffs Between Stability and Resilience
This project will involve management of resilience versus socio-ecological stability. The student will characterize risks and economics of tradeoffs across the Platte River Basin and ecosystem and agroecosystem’s transitioning systems, examine governance of integrated FEWES, and characterize policy option portfolio positions and the tradeoffs policymakers are willing to make.
Impacts of Plant Diversity on Resilience, Adaptive Capacity, and Resistance
What are the impacts of plant diversity on ecological resilience, adaptive capacity during drought and climate changes, resistance to invasive species and so on? Are there positive attributes of high plant diversity that make it worth using more expensive seed mixtures during restoration projects or protecting plant diversity in pastures?
Impacts of Increasing Habitat Heterogeneity in Prairie Landscapes
What are the ecological impacts of increasing the range of habitat heterogeneity in prairie landscapes like the Nebraska Sandhills where ranchers try not to overgraze or undergraze in order to maintain high grass vigor and productivity? By using fire and intensive season-long grazing, we can create large patches of short, weak vegetation with abundant bare ground that then recovers over several years until it is tall and rank, providing habitat type extremes not seen much in the current landscape. In addition, the recovery period after intensive grazing often creates unique habitat structure, characterized by abundant forbs. We need to know how species (such as pollinators, lizards, small mammals and birds) respond to increased habitat heterogeneity, as well as how that heterogeneity affects ecological processes. Then, we need to distill the most important keys to creating valuable habitat traits that ranchers might be able to incorporate into their land management strategies (and what social and economic factors drive those decisions).