Professor Neil Carter Awarded NASA Grant to Study How Water-Limited Environments Affect Mammals
Dr. Neil Carter, an assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, has received a three-year, $698,502 grant from the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting program to research how changes in vegetation canopy and water stress in the western U.S. affect large mammal species.
The research, which will study mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and cougar, involves three key objectives, according to Carter, the principal investigator. First, scientists at terraPulse Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based technology startup that specializes in applying artificial intelligence to satellite imagery, will develop ecological datasets on vegetation canopy and water stress using data collected by NASA sensors aboard the International Space Station. Second, scientists in the Western U.S. will compile information on animal habitat use, foraging, movement, mortality, and survival across portions of the Great Basin, Coast Ranges, Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, Mojave Desert, and Colorado Plateau. Third, Carter and his colleagues will combine the NASA and animal data to predict how, and under what conditions, vegetation canopy and water stress influence animal fitness in complex, water-limited environments.
“This project will improve our understanding of how mammals respond to a changing environment. It will also inform multi-state and cross-jurisdictional efforts to protect and maintain wildlife migration corridors, which are detrimentally impacted by myriad human activities,” added Carter. “For example, we will use cardiac biologgers to record mule deer heart rates in order to quantify acute stress and metabolic efforts along migration paths.”
Carter said NASA has a long history of collecting satellite measurements of Earth to enhance the science and conservation of biodiversity. He looks forward to contributing to that mission, as well as coordinating with remote sensing analysts, ecologists, and wildlife managers.
“These collaborations are important for addressing complex environmental and natural resource problems,” noted Carter, whose co-investigators are Drs. Joseph Sexton and Panshi Wang from terraPulse, Dr. David Stoner from Utah State University, and Dr. Mark Ditmer from the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. “We will generate new knowledge that supports the efforts of wildlife management agencies to identify and manage critical habitat requirements for ecologically and economically important species in the western U.S., a region undergoing many changes. Working with NASA not only provides access to Earth observation data but also creates opportunities to engage with world-leading scientists and experts.”