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Scientists Partner to Protect Environment

A $1.3 Million NSF award will send an SDSU-led research team to China.
Researchers will study the effect  payments for ecosystem services have on the conservation efforts of the golden monkey reserve. Photo courtesy of Xiaoping Lei.
Researchers will study the effect payments for ecosystem services have on the conservation efforts of the golden monkey reserve. Photo courtesy of Xiaoping Lei.

Updated 10:01 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013

Two San Diego State University students, Sarah Wandersee, a doctoral candidate in geography and Steven Allison, a master’s student in geography, reflect on their 2012 research trip to the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve in China, as part of a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

For their stories see: Students Collect Data and Culture

San Diego State University researchers will lead a study of one of China’s national treasures and endangered species: The Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, often called the golden monkey.

As part of a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, student researchers from SDSU’s departments of geography, biology and educational technology will travel this month to the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve, home to the monkey known for its golden fur, to examine the effect of payments for ecosystem services.

"In China, the endangered golden monkey is a symbol for conservation and the environment."

SDSU researchers and colleagues from the University of North Carolina will study the practice of offering incentives to landholders in exchange for managing and maintaining their land and the effect it has on the conservation efforts of the golden monkey reserve.

Payments for ecosystem services have been in practice for several decades, but little is known about what environmental and socio-demographic changes they may have initiated and whether such changes will be sustainable in the future.

A passion for protecting

Li An, SDSU geography professor and the project’s principal investigator, is a Chinese native and has long been intrigued with his country's endangered species.

This will be one of his many ventures into the Fanjingshan reserve to study these mysterious creatures, their habitat and the local indigenous people.

“In China, the endangered golden monkey is a symbol for conservation and the environment,” An said. “If we learn more about the effectiveness of ecosystem payments, we can better understand what it takes to sustain environments, local people’s livelihoods and endangered species such as these.”

The project will use several components, including satellite imagery and cameras, to monitor the monkeys’ movements and interactions. Interviews and surveys of local Chinese people will help the researchers understand the community’s interactions with the monkeys.

Professors and students from SDSU and UNC will work alongside students from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Guizhou University in China to collect data at the reserve.

The program will also build on An’s previous research at the Wolong Nature Reserve for giant pandas, which linked the effects of human socioeconomic and lifestyle dynamics to changes in the pandas' habitat, and developed a model of action to protect their environment.

An hopes to discover parallels in his research that will help plan, design and implement improved payment for ecosystems programs worldwide.

The big picture

A research component, led by Minjuan Wang, professor of educational technology at SDSU, will engage three schools from San Diego and China to create effective education programs for K-12 students, their teachers and junior scholars based on active learning activities related to ecosystems.

Wang will conduct workshops for teachers and help them develop new science and geography curriculum. Selected participants from Helix High and Clover Flat schools in San Diego and Jiangkou Elementary school in China will participate in the workshops.

In addition, scientists will produce and post a completed video and other research online for free use by teachers and students around the world.

Other SDSU team members of the project include:

•    Stuart Aitken, department chair and professor of geography
•    Douglas Stow, doctoral program advisor and professor of geography
•    Rebecca Lewison, professor of biology

Grant details

Sustainability of Payments for Ecosystem Services in Coupled Natural and Human Systems was funded for four years starting Aug. 15.

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