Murray State University’s department of biological sciences, through the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology, recently received a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s initiative, S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The grant is titled “Upper Delta Region Biodiversity Scholarship Program.”

Rooted in experiential learning for students, a majority of the grant will be used to support graduate and undergraduate students with stipends/scholarships and travel to research sites, professional meetings and a multi-day summer institute in biodiversity science and natural history collections management. Students will work in teams on biodiversity-related research projects in the upper delta region, which includes the greater Mississippi Valley from central Arkansas through southern Illinois, including western Kentucky.

Murray State’s department of biological sciences includes a herbarium with approximately 34,000 specimens, the oldest of which were collected in the late 19th century. The herbarium represents more than 200 plant families from 48 states and several foreign countries. The collection information serves as a valuable resource to researchers as well as the public.

The grant was awarded to Dr. Dayle Saar, professor of biology. Biology faculty Drs. Michael Flinn and Tim Spier will also serve as mentors on the grant.

“It is becoming more and more important to understand how the diversity of plants and animals evolves as a result of habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. This project will provide opportunities for students in STEM sciences to utilize computer techniques to data mine the wealth of historic natural history information contained in university biocollections,” said Saar. “Coupled with their field work to collect current data and/or molecular analyses in the lab, students will be gaining valuable experience while generating a deeper understanding of natural history trends.  This information will be vital to science if we are going to effectively manage and preserve native populations for future generations.”

Earlier this year, Murray State received a $3.8 million grant, also from the National Science Foundation, to study toxic algae blooms.

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