Natural Resource Conservation Endowment Fund

A grant to support graduate student research at WSU related to conservation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources and beyond.

ORAP administrates the annual Natural Resource Conservation Endowment Fund (NRCEF) grant competition, which supports graduate student research. Full details on supported research areas and the types of projects that this award supports can be found in the program Request for Proposals.

Proposals are due April 30, 2024. Incomplete or late proposals will not be considered; it is imperative that you review the submission requirements and other information in the Request for Proposals before beginning your submission.

If you have any questions concerning the guidelines, proposal, or review process, please contact us at

Past Projects

As examples of the types of projects that received from the Natural Resource Conservation Endowment Fund, browse the awardees by year below.

Jared Stieve | School of the Environment

Title: Using drone collected data to predict spawning microhabitat for Fall Chinook Salmon

Abstract: Salmon populations have declined throughout the Pacific Northwest. Understanding available habitat at large scales is important for planning restoration efforts. Current mapping approaches are either too expensive to be applied at large extents or too general to provide actionable data. I am proposing to use drones to collect physical habitat characteristics important for spawning Pacific Salmon across large extents with increased precision. Drones allow a large amount of data to be collected for a long stretch of river while still having resolution to resolve local habitat differences. The physical habitat characteristics that will be collected are water depth, velocity and substrate size. Using habitat suitability curves, I will be able to map suitable habitat within river reaches ~30 kilometers in length. The procedure I develop will allow the mapping of large expanses of spawning habitat relatively quickly and at a low-cost. To validate the physical characteristic model, I will measure and compare modeled and field collected data of the physical characteristics of spawning. I will use areas of spawning (redd locations) to further validate the procedure. In coordination with the Fall Chinook Consortium, I will develop the procedure in the lower section of the Clearwater River with Fall Chinook Salmon. The overall goal will be to create an initial validated model to quantify spawning habitat at scales relevant to specific populations of Pacific Salmon.

Tait Algayar | School of the Environment

Title: greb1l and rock1 gene regulation in Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Abstract: Chinook salmon are an ecologically defining species of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to serving as an integral food source for a myriad of wildlife, Chinook salmon are vitally important in sustaining fisheries and Indigenous communities. The life histories of salmon are unique in that they undergo great migrations from the ocean to freshwater rivers to spawn. Salmon populations are often classified by the seasonal timing of their migration to freshwater, creating various run time groups. The physiological underpinnings of divergent migratory behavior in salmon remains elusive. Recent studies have identified two genes that are highly correlated with run timing—greb1l and rock1. Despite the genes’ important role in run timing, the unknown functions of these genes of interest persists as a critical barrier to understanding migratory behavior of fish. We propose to survey greb1l and rock1 gene expression in Chinook salmon to provide insight on the underlying drivers of run time divergence. Understanding the role of these genes in run time is further compounded by the incomprehension of how regulation varies across tissue types and life stages. Through measuring gene expression levels in candidate tissues—the brain, ovaries, testes, heart, liver, and muscle—we can infer the function of the greb1l and rock1 genes from the tissue in which they display the highest expression in. Additionally, tracking the expression of these genes in juvenile and adult fish will allow us to observe temporal changes as fish undergo sexual maturation. Identifying the tissue and life stage of highest expression will give us insight into physiological processes that trigger run time. Gaining a broader understanding of run time divergence is crucial for developing conservation tools necessary for protecting economically, ecologically, and culturally important migratory fish species.

Lulu Peach | School of the Environment

Title: Defensive Duct Dynamics: balancing growth and resin defense in plantation-grown Pinus taeda

Abstract: Loblolly pine grows on over 19 million hectares in the southeastern U.S. The species provides ecological and financial benefits to that region but is threatened by bark beetle outbreaks. As warmer winters increase the bark beetle reproductive period, beetle infestations in loblolly pine stands become larger and more severe. The production and excretion of oleoresin from loblolly pine serves as a defense against biotic and abiotic threats such as bark beetles. Oleoresin production and flow can be increased through strategic silvicultural treatments such as thinning, application of herbicides, and manipulation of planting density. We will determine how climate and silvicultural treatments interact and influence resin production in plantation-grown loblolly pine from sites in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. By measuring annual tree rings from loblolly pine cores and identifying resin duct characteristics within each ring, we can develop multivariate models that predict the silvicultural, climate, and soils conditions that maximize both growth and resin-based defenses. The results of these models will be shared with plantation stakeholders across the Southeast so that future planting practices optimize loblolly pine resilience against beetle attack without compromising the output of wood products. If funded by NRCEF, I will expand our project to loblolly pine stakeholders in Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, strengthen our multivariate analysis with peer collaborators, and present the results of our work internationally.

Cullen Anderson | School of the Environment

Title: Previous and future climate and recreation effects on black bears: an ecological foundation for grizzly bear reintroductions in the North Cascades

Abstract: The near-complete extirpation of brown bears (Ursus arctos) from the contiguous USA left ecological space for competing American black bears (Ursus americanus), and subsequent niche expansion by black bears may pose a key obstacle to grizzly bear recovery. Here, we propose to investigate black bear distribution, abundance, and demography under changing climate conditions in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex (NCCO), a proposed grizzly bear reintroduction site. Since 1978, NCCO has collected incidental black bear sightings and recorded the location, date, time, and circumstance of each sighting, providing a baseline from which to assess possible black bear competition risk. However, raw visitor-based, observation data can be unreliable due to variable levels of bear availability and visibility, as well as visitor reporting. We will use game camera transects, bear and visitor trail-use cameras, and visitor questionnaires/surveys (with bear decoys) to generate count and multinomial datasets and calculate habitat-specific estimates of bias using a hierarchical modeling framework. We will use these to reconstruct unbiased, spatially explicit, annual estimates of black bear population size, distribution, and productivity (using cub/adult ratios) over the past 40 years. We will examine how annual climate variables influence these black bear parameters and apply climate projection models to the resulting relationships to predict future changes. Our results will reveal if black bears have expanded or will expand their realized niche into suitable grizzly bear habitat (e.g., high-elevation meadows) and illuminate regions of potential high black bear competition risk in NCCO. We have completed one field season of data collection, deploying 16 transects, 9 trail use stations (73 cameras total), and surveying >1,000 hikers

Gunner Davies | Department of Biology

Title: Do Inoculations with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Benefit Insect Pollinator Communities in a Tallgrass Prairie Restoration?

Abstract: This project tests whether inoculations with native soil microbes will benefit insect pollinator communities in a tallgrass prairie restoration. Inoculations with soil microbes have been shown to improve native prairie plant survival and growth in previous studies, which could provide increased habitat for native insect pollinators. In Spring and Summer 2019, I will take advantage of an existing tallgrass prairie restoration experiment at The Land Institute (Lawrence, KS) to collect data on pollinator abundance and diversity among different soil inoculation treatments which were applied in 2016 (native soil fungi, whole soil communities, uninoculated controls). Specifically, I will test the hypothesis that additions of native soil microbes will increase native plant diversity, as well as increase abundance and diversity of insect pollinators (e.g., native bees and monarch butterflies [Danaus plexippus]) in the restoration site. This research will provide novel information on the belowground factors that contribute to pollinator abundance and diversity in ecological restorations.

Cody Cockreham | School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Title: MXene/Graphene 2D Sandwich Structure: Thermodynamic Insights into Synthesis and Performance in Lithium and Sodium Ion Batteries for Application in Electric Vehicles

Abstract: There is an ever increasing interest in the performance and quality of portable battery technologies, such as those used in electric vehicles. Current electric vehicles lack long range capability. This problem could be addressed by improving the performance of the battery materials. MXene is common notation for a 2D family of graphene like metal carbide materials that have recently received growing interest for its application battery applications. Graphene has received popular attention for the same application since its discovery in 2004. MXene and graphene heterostructures are expected to be explored in application to energy storage. There is a critical need that the thermodynamics of the material be linked to its structural evolution and electrochemical performance to illuminate insights important for future design and the direction of this research. The research objective of this application is to develop a synthesis for a MXene/rGO bilayer heterostructure to meet current problems in plain MXene or graphene design and evaluate its structure, morphology, and performance as an anode material for both lithium ion and sodium ion battery configurations and find correlations to its thermodynamic properties. My central hypothesis is the structural evolution and electrochemical performance can be reflected by thermodynamic parameters such as the enthalpy of formation and surface energy. The contributions of this work are significant as it advances the means and methods to construct a 2D layered heterostructure battery material with high capacitance, high stability, good conductivity, and a lowered diffusion barrier between 2D layers for rapid ion transport to surface sites. By the nature of understanding the fundamental thermodynamic effects of structure and morphology on MXene’s heterostructures, in general, this research will broadly force consideration of how MXenes are nanostructurally engineered across applications including energy storage and environmental remediation.

Nelson Nicolette | School of Biological Sciences

Title: Evaluating the effects of Sierra Nevada meadow restoration using eDNA

Abstract: Sierra Nevada meadows are incredibly important natural resources. They provide essential ecosystem services and serve as critical habitats for many animals, including sensitive amphibians. Many of these meadows have been degraded over the last century, mainly due to intensive livestock grazing. These impacts have led to the endangerment of several meadow-dependent amphibians and loss of ecosystem services. Managers attempt to address these issues by implementing meadow restoration projects. While successful at meeting water-related (hydrologic) goals, some projects have unintentionally facilitated the colonization of harmful invasive species which can devastate sensitive amphibians. With my project, I aim to determine whether previously-implemented restoration projects have promoted the colonization of target amphibians or harmful invasive species. To accomplish this, I will collect environmental DNA (eDNA) samples at 20 restored and 20 paired unrestored meadows across the Sierra Nevada during the summer of 2018. I will also perform rapid assessments of meadow health and survey local hydrologists to determine whether these projects met hydrologic goals. I will compare species occupancy and meadow health metrics between restored and control sites, and results will be integrated into recommendations for future meadow restoration projects.

Tim Taylor | School of the Environment

Title: Using environmental viral DNA to monitor and help predict disease epidemics in wild amphibian populations

Abstract: Emerging infectious diseases have become a major concern of conservation biology in the last two decades due to numerous recent extinctions of amphibian populations directly linked to newly described pathogens. Ranaviruses infect cold blooded vertebrates and are now prevalent across the United States and Europe, where total casualties of tadpoles and juvenile amphibians reported at many sites exceed 90% and recruitment for the year is negligible. Currently, the method for monitoring ranavirus is to collect animal tissue samples and quantify DNA using qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction). There is a need to develop a non-invasive protocol to monitor endangered populations for disease, and ranavirus detection will require a different technique than what is used to detect chytrid fungus zoospores. This project aims to develop a simple protocol for collecting and quantifying environmental DNA (eDNA) from pond water. DNA concentrations in water will be correlated with tissue concentrations to evaluate methods and examine ecological significance of levels found in water. Amphibian populations will be monitored through the summer for die-offs and symptoms of disease to determine concentrations found in tissue and water associated with epidemics in this system. Understanding the conditions in which ranavirus is the major contributor to amphibian decline is paramount to conservation. This study will provide a simple tool for field biologists to monitor endangered animals and disease prevalence.

Andrew Child | School of the Environment

Title: From smelters to food webs: tracking availability and bioaccumulation of heavy metals in freshwater zooplankton in northeastern Washington lakes

Abstract: Direct discharge of heavy metal pollution from mining and smelting operations into adjacent aquatic ecosystems can cause long-term biological impacts. Several studies have addressed the biological effects of point source or direct discharge of mining slag into aquatic habitats, but little work has been done on the biological impacts of diffuse atmospheric metal pollution in freshwater environments. Since 1896 one of the largest zinc/lead smelters in the world, located in Trail, B.C., has been discharging heavy metal laden emissions into Washington State. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently working to evaluate the extent and severity of the impacts this pollution has had on Washington’s resources. No studies have addressed the geographic extent of the smelters emissions, especially where contamination levels are lower than the human toxicity threshold, or whether these contaminants are biologically available to aquatic organisms. Metals deposited by atmospheric deposition remain intact in undisturbed lake sediments. Lake sediment cores contain records of past environmental conditions and provide insight on possible time periods when fundamental chemical and biological relationships within aquatic ecosystems have been disturbed. This study will use sediment cores to track metal pollution from the Trail smelter using lead isotope ratios. Subsequently, we will investigate the lead isotope ratios of organisms, which inhabit the lakes to address whether metal contaminants are assimilated across the food webs. To address this study we will investigate lakes spanning from 20 to 135 km away from the smelter to investigate the geographic and biologic extent of more than 100 years of atmospheric pollution.

Colleen Kamoroff | School of the Environment

Title: An Issue of Life or Death: The Use of Environmental DNA Detection of Viable Species in Wilderness Restoration and Management

Abstract: This NRCE grant will fund the collection and analysis of water samples from Sequoia Kings National Park restoration sites. The restored fish-free sites from Sequoia Kings will be sampled along with fish-free sites from Yosemite to validate that the eDNA methods developed in the laboratory can distinguish between live and dead fish in a field setting. The developed eDNA techniques will then be used to determine when lakes undergoing restoration have become free of fish. Adding an entire national park to the eDNA study will more than double the number of lakes sampled. With help from the NRCE grant, the proposed eDNA project will be able to aid in the conservation of two endangered amphibians and develop a management tool that can be used in the conservation and restoration of aquatic habitats.

Aaron Ogden | Institute of Biological Chemistry

Title: Understanding the regulation of symbiotic nitrogen fixation: the critical first step toward conservation of healthy agricultural soils

Abstract: The largest contributor of biologically available nitrogen into the biosphere results from the partnership between soil bacteria and leguminous plants, termed symbiotic nitrogen fixation (SNF). Since the agricultural revolution, humanity has used SNF to replenish nitrogen deficient agricultural soil. Unfortunately, the human population has grown so large that it can no longer depend on SNF alone. Consequently, global agriculture has become dependent upon synthetic nitrogen fertilizers generated by the Haber-Bosch process. Because the Haber-Bosch process is not a sustainable environmental practice, substantial efforts world-wide are being made to understand the naturally occurring alternative, SNF. Understanding the regulation of SNF is considered a critical first step toward conservation of a globally critical natural resource—healthy agricultural soils. Experiments outlined herein will use two complementary approaches to understand and make progress towards increasing the nitrogen output of SNF. The first will use a molecular approach, called proteomics, to gain novel insights into the coordination of plant and bacterial metabolism during development of SNF. If selected, NRCEF will fund this portion of the project by affording me the unique opportunity to use state-of-the-art analytical machines through a collaboration with the lab of Dr. Gang in the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington State University. The second approach will employ genetic manipulations to metabolically engineer the system in an attempt to increase the output of nitrogen. Our group has already produced preliminary data that is directing manipulations toward this end. Each manipulation that is generated will be evaluated through established protocols to determine whether nitrogen fixation and output has increased. Finally, field trials will evaluate the efficacy of this approach by comparing nitrogen content of soils cultivated with manipulated SNF and wild-type SNF systems.