By Christina Pheley
NMSU’s Global Reach
Research efforts span the continents
Asked why researchers in a land-grant university’s agricultural college would engage in international research, Steve Loring, associate director of New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Experiment Station, didn’t hesitate: “Because problems do not respect international boundaries.”
NMSU faculty have other compelling reasons to work in the larger global community:
- Technological advances make the world increasingly interconnected economically, politically, culturally;
- In a global economy, international borders are “porous”; to compete, countries must cooperate, requiring citizens with intercultural experience;
- Success in the 21st century will go to countries with a well-established global presence and perspective.
Researchers working abroad connect the university to the wider global community. And their work contributes to NMSU’s land-grant mission of education, research and outreach. Researchers transfer the knowledge and experience they gain abroad to students and others at NMSU and to citizens across New Mexico through course work, publications, lectures and workshops, and through NMSU’s outreach programs.
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico:
Martha Desmond, professor in the Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology Department, along with other NMSU and U.S. Department of Agriculture colleagues, is studying declining numbers of burrowing owls in the North American Great Plains grasslands, which stretch from Canada across the U.S. and into Mexico. In 2009, the project, which began in 2005, was awarded $500,000 from the USDA to include other grassland birds and the effects that cattle grazing has on prairie dog systems, which are home to the burrowing owls.
The study is important for the management and sustainability of the entire North American Great Plains grasslands. Involving students is an important project goal, Desmond said. “We wanted to give students hands-on research experience and bring students from NMSU and Mexico together,” she said. “Since we share common resources, the best way to manage them is to introduce U.S. students – our future resource managers – to their counterparts in Mexico.”
So far, 49 undergraduates from NMSU and 10 from the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua have participated. Four NMSU master’s degree students and one from UACH have also participated.
Christine Eber, professor of anthropology, has conducted research since 1984 in Mexico to understand how social change there has affected women. During her ethnographic work in Chiapas, Eber compiled the life story of a Chiapas woman, identified by the pseudonym “Antonia,” whom she has known for more than 20 years. Eber has written Antonia’s life story into a book, “Restless Spirits: The Journey of a Tzotzil-Maya Woman,” which is under review for publication at the University of Texas Press.
“With this book, we want to reach a broad, international audience and help them understand the conditions of life for indigenous people in Chiapas and rural Mexico,” Eber said. In addition to conducting research, Eber is co-founder of the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection, which connects women’s weaving cooperatives in Chiapas with fair-trade markets for their goods.
For 18 years, Andrew Wiget, folklorist, professor of English, and director of NMSU’s New Mexico Heritage Center, has led research and outreach programs in Siberia for the eastern Khanty people.
“My work in Siberia grew directly from my cultural conservation work with New Mexico’s Indian tribes,” Wiget said. “Our work with the Khanty is in cultural conservation: documenting sacred places, traditional land use, folklore traditions, the impact of petroleum development.”
Wiget’s cultural exchange program has also brought Siberian native legislators and local leaders to New Mexico to meet with tribal and state government officials and taken Native American students and faculty from NMSU to Siberia.
“New Mexico and its Indian tribes have a wealth of experience to share with indigenous peoples around the world. This has focused international interest on New Mexico,” he said.
Derek Bailey, associate professor of Range Science, and Jim Libbin, interim associate dean of NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, are studying rangeland restoration in Jordan as part of a larger, long-term effort with the International Arid Lands Consortium and Jordan’s Badia Research and Development Center.
“Our work in Jordan shows that forage kochia, a perennial shrub, and arid-adapted grasses can be broadcast-seeded by hand or from the air, with minimal soil preparation,” Bailey said. “This dramatically reduces the cost of restoring rangeland compared to transplanting nursery stock, which is too expensive over large areas and difficult in rugged, remote terrain.”
Researchers form long-term, reciprocal ties with the people in countries where they work. In July 2009, Sheikh Hussein Abunwier, a Bedouin tribe leader from a village in Jordan where Bailey and Libbin worked, came to NMSU to learn more about rangeland restoration and animal science.
Pacific & Indian oceans, Australia, India:
Biology professor Michele Nishiguchi studies the evolutionary biology of Vibrio fischeri, a benign bacteria that infects bobtail squid in a beneficial, symbiotic relationship. She wants to learn what factors prompt the bacteria to adapt and evolve.
“Understanding what makes the squid-Vibrio mutualism evolve can help answer much broader questions: how bacteria might adapt in response to global climate change, or what factors influence pandemics,” she said. Nishiguchi recently presented her work on V. fischeri at a cholera conference in Calcutta, India. Cholera is caused by another Vibrio species, V. cholerae.
“Cholera epidemics in India correspond to monsoon floods,” Nishiguchi said. “Researchers want to know where the cholera bacteria hide at other times and what causes it to explode again. I don’t study cholera-causing bacteria, but my research can help explain how changes in the environment or in the host itself prompt bacteria to evolve.”
Nishiguchi’s work gives students opportunities to work abroad collecting bobtail squid, on field trips to Puerto Penasco in Mexico, and during spring break through the “Belize Field School.”
Tibetan Plateau, Himalayas, Mexico:
James Ni has studied tectonics in the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas for decades. Since 1994, he has worked on the “International Deep Profiling of Tibet and the Himalayas” or INDEPTH project, a major, multi-disciplinary collaboration of research organizations around the world.
Since 2005, Ni has also conducted studies in western Mexico, where, with colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin, and universities in Mexico, he is studying the plate boundary processes associated with the young Rivera subduction zone and the Colima Volcano.
His research on the Rio Grande Rift, an active continental rift, will enhance understanding of the mechanism that is responsible for continental rifting and seismic activity in the western U.S.
“Studying these areas is important because both the Tibetan Plateau and the Rio Grande Rift are sites where the continent is being modified and both regions have the potential for large earthquakes and volcanic activity,” Ni said.
Australia and Mexico:
Geology professors Katherine Giles and Timothy Lawton’s research on salt formations in Australia’s Flinders Ranges and the La Popa Basin of Mexico is helping companies find oil more efficiently, with less environmental damage because they can minimize drilling where there is no oil.
“The oil companies are looking for oil next to or under salt formations or ‘diapirs’ in deep Gulf of Mexico waters,” Lawton said. “Our research using standard geologic techniques to understand and describe salt diapirs in surface geology is helping companies find oil in deep waters.” It’s unusual for surface studies to advance the deep-water work that oil companies do.
In July 2010, they will lead a field trip to the Flinders Ranges, with support from several oil companies through the Institute of Tectonic Studies at NMSU.
Naveen Puppala, associate professor with the Agricultural Science Center in Clovis, has been working in Uganda for three years with funding from USAID to develop drought- and disease-resistant Valencia peanuts.
“We’ve sent different varieties of Valencia peanuts to Uganda to see which ones perform best there. Because Uganda’s dry conditions are similar to New Mexico’s, this research will also benefit peanut growers here,” Puppala said.
“The price of peanuts is extremely sensitive to fluctuations in the world market. We are developing good-quality peanuts that will compete in that market. This will provide economic stability for growers in the U.S. and reduce imports of peanuts from Argentina and other countries,” he said.