UH Hilo graduate student earns NSF fellowship

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Date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

A student in the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) Master’s Program has been awarded a 2013 fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) Program. Corie Yanger was among some 2,000 students chosen to receive a fellowship from more than 13,000 applicants nationwide.

The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The three-year award includes a $30,000 annual stipend, $12,000 cost-of- education allowance to the institution, international research and professional development opportunities and access to the XSEDE Supercomputer.

Yanger plans to use her award to conduct research on the impact of pathogenic fungi on native and invasive seeds. Her study will focus on identifying seed fungal pathogens in the ecosystem and the amount of damage they cause to better understand and manipulate the probability of seed survival.

“Once dispersed, seeds are susceptible to a range of predators that can cause extensive or even total seed loss, which would bring the process of plant regeneration to a halt,” Yanger wrote in her application. “Many studies have looked extensively at seed predation by introduced rodents, but few have examined the effects of other predator types like fungal pathogens, which can cause more seed loss than other predators.”

Yanger said Hawaiʻi provides a unique case study because native plants evolved without common animal predators such as rats, ants and slugs, which may have caused them to lose important chemical defenses. She is interested in learning if seed chemistry is related to fungal attack, and whether native seeds are being lost to introduced fungal pathogens. Her research will take place at nine lowland wet forest sites in East Hawaiʻi, representing a range of native canopy dominance from no native representation to a medium-high native presence.

Yanger plans to present her study and findings at local, national and international conferences in 2014-15 and to her hula halau to promote greater interest and support for forest preservation among cultural practitioners.

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