Climate change is dramatically and profoundly altering our planet, and for decades, Smithsonian researchers have been conducting studies and collecting data to understand these changes. The Smithsonian hosts one of the largest natural history collections in the world, and through its 21 museums and science and cultural research centers, the Institution conducts multidisciplinary research on climate change with partners and collaborators in over 140 countries.
Through the Smithsonian Climate Change Fellowship, the Smithsonian seeks to support five fellows as they conduct independent research in the spirit of the Smithsonian’s wide-ranging research effort and in support of the Smithsonian’s goals to understand and inform solutions to climate change. These fellows will be able to leverage the Smithsonian’s resources, including its researchers, collections, exhibits, and data sets, to advance scientific understanding of climate change and the impacts it is having on nature and human well-being.
Fellows will be hosted by a Smithsonian Museum or research center. Fellows must identify an advisor from one of the identified units and we encourage applicants to identify a second advisor from another Smithsonian Museum or research center to foster cross-institutional collaboration. All proposals are welcome, but the following focus areas have been suggested by Smithsonian scholars who are poised to serve as advisors.
Deadline: August 31, 2023.
Notification Date: Fall 2023
Term: 24 months (in residence)
Stipend: Recipients will receive a stipend of $62,000 per year for Postdoctoral Fellows. Stipends are prorated for periods of less than 24 months. A maximum research allowance up to $10,000 is available for the fellowship period.
Potential research themes include, but are not limited to:
- A world without mangroves? Effects of climate change on mangrove range contractions in the Anthropocene (SERC)
- A seascape approach to blue carbon data synthesis for climate change mitigation (SERC, STRI)
- Biodiversity breaching boundaries in a warming ocean (MarineGEO)
- Biominerals in a changing ocean (NMNH)
- Building Resilient Tropical Working Landscapes (STRI, SERC, NZCBI)
- Climate change consequences, adaptations, and responses for maintaining grassland ecosystem function and biodiversity (NZCBI)
- Early detection and response to climate change related emergence of infectious disease (NZCBI)
- Enhancing resilience of tropical marine symbiosis (STRI, SERC, NZCBI)
- Leveraging museum collections and digitized data to explore climate-influenced plant movements in the Americas (NMNH)
- Liberating Data from the Smithsonian’s Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program to Support the Sustainable Management of Marine Ecosystems (SLA/BHL, NMNH, NZCBI)
- Mining long-term datasets to elucidate climate effects on tropical forest species interactions and ecosystem function (ForestGEO, STRI)
- Scaling climate impacts on forest growth: linking long-term monitoring and remote-sensing data (SERC, ForestGEO)
- The View from Space (SAO)
- Unifying Approaches to Oyster and Coral Reef Research to Accelerate Climate Resilience and Conservation (SERC, MarineGEO)
A world without mangroves? Effects of climate change on mangrove range contractions in the Anthropocene (SERC)
Mangrove ecosystems are one of nature’s most unlikely success stories. Approximately 70 species of salt-tolerant coastal plants, many of them unrelated, occupy ~75% of the world’s tropical coastlines where they provide protection against storm surges, habitat for thousands of other species, and store 10x more carbon per area than terrestrial forests. A surge of recent research has focused on poleward mangrove migration at the range edges due to fewer mangrove-killing freeze events. However, these slight gains at the margins mask the rapid range contractions occurring in the range core, where whole mangrove islands are being lost due to sea level rise, and entire coastlines have been decimated by drought. Although such losses are potentially the norm going forward and could undermine gains made by the slowing of mangrove deforestation, to date we lack a global projection of mangrove gains and losses due to climate-induced contractions in the core of their range. Here, we propose to recruit a Fellow to synthesize our extensive mangrove data resources and global data sets to leverage our global professional network of colleagues to be used to guide management and conservation resources to help preserve resilient mangrove ecosystems. This could include modeling mangrove range contractions under current and future climate change, and/or develop tools for detecting early-warning signals of stress and degradation of mangrove forests that may precede die-offs. .
Promoting the conservation and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems -- salt marshes, peatland swamps, mangroves, and seagrasses -- is a critical component of climate mitigation strategies. The postdoctoral researcher will advance our understanding of blue carbon-relevant carbon cycling and the role of these ecosystems as natural climate solutions, through their unparalleled ability to capture and sequester carbon when preserved or restored. In addition, Blue Carbon ecosystems provide critical cultural, economic, and biodiversity benefits to coastal communities globally. Engaging blue carbon ecosystems in nature-based solutions to climate change requires that we understand how carbon cycles through and between them. A strong scientific understanding provides the foundation for unraveling the climate benefits, both mitigation and adaptation, in addition to unlocking financing for conservation and restoration.
Biodiversity breaching boundaries in a warming ocean (MarineGEO)
The composition and distributions of marine biological communities are changing faster than at any time in the past two million years as a result of warming climate and associated oceanographic changes, coastal development, invasion of non-native species, and other human-mediated stressors. Understanding how, where, and why marine biodiversity is changing is important to sustaining healthy ecosystems and the people who depend on them. The Smithsonian’s MarineGEO program seeks a motivated fellow to synthesize large-scale data generated by MarineGEO and partners to explore how changing climate and other stressors are shaping distributions of coastal marine life and the impacts on ecosystem processes.
Biominerals in a changing ocean (NMNH)
Biominerals are the hard parts that make up the skeletons and shells of sea creatures, such as corals and mollusks, that form and inhabit healthy ocean ecosystems. Rapidly changing ocean chemistry and sea surface temperatures, driven by an anthropogenic rise in carbon dioxide, are adversely impacting these organisms—down to the bone. By taking a mineralogical perspective, we can better understand how skeletons and shells form, how they are affected by stress, how they have evolved over time, and ultimately, what steps engineers and policy makers may take to save them.
Designing resilient landscapes that will support humans and biodiversity in the face of unprecedented global change is one of the great challenges of this century. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI), and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) seek to leverage flagship programs based in the tropical Americas — including Smart Reforestation®/Agua Salud and Bird Friendly® Coffee — to enhance the resilience of tropical working landscapes. Tropical working landscapes play a critical role in delivering ecosystem services, conserving biodiversity, and supporting livelihoods on our changing planet. Research themes could include optimization of biodiversity or ecosystem services under different scenarios of change; prioritization of reforestation within landscapes or watersheds; tradeoffs between social, economic, and ecological outputs of landscapes; and/or maintaining climate connectivity with biological corridors.
Climate change consequences, adaptations, and responses for maintaining grassland ecosystem function and biodiversity (NZCBI)
Cascading climate change effects on grasslands and corresponding management actions will have large consequences for global carbon storage and climate feedbacks. These changes will have far-reaching implications for economic and cultural needs of human societies provided by grasslands, and for endemic and often imperiled grassland biodiversity. Studying the interplay of these exigencies and identifying solutions that balance these needs is critical for practical grassland conservation.
Early detection and response to climate change related emergence of infectious disease (NZCBI)
Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases spillover from animals to people, posing a major threat to global health and the world’s economy, and thereby making animal surveillance a crucial component of pandemic preparedness. Many of these pathogens circulate in wildlife populations whose home ranges are expected to shift in response to climate change, increasing the risk of novel viral transmission and spillover to humans and their animals. Surveillance systems that link wildlife and livestock to veterinary services in remote, rural areas of the tropics where species shifts are likely to be most pronounced, are required to monitor and respond spillover of novel diseases at their source and collect valuable long-term datasets that can be used to relate animal health to climatic change.
Enhancing resilience of marine organisms requires a comprehensive understanding of the complex interplay between microbial symbionts and host organisms, which play a critical role in shaping the function and stability of marine ecosystems. The postdoctoral researcher will advance our understanding of resilient symbiotic interactions in the tropics by leveraging existing data of STRI-led programs. Potential research themes include investigating the adaptation and acclimation strategies of microbial symbionts and their hosts in response to environmental stressors, exploring the role of microbial symbionts in mediating host responses to environmental stressors, and developing novel approaches for enhancing resilience through restoration of microbial symbionts-host interactions. Such research has immense implications for conservation efforts aimed at protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems facing environmental stressors like climate change.
Leveraging museum collections and digitized data to explore climate-influenced plant movements in the Americas (NMNH)
Studying how biodiversity has responded to past instances of climate change provides a critical framework for predicting how species and ecosystems will respond to ongoing climatic changes and habitat destruction during the Anthropocene. Our ability to study plant evolutionary responses to climate change is aided greatly by digitized biodiversity data, but to date, few major herbaria have been fully digitized. The US National Herbarium (NMNH), as one of the first fully digitized major herbaria, is therefore in a unique position to tackle major research questions about how plants respond to global change. For this project, the fellow will leverage this exceptional resource to study plant evolution and biogeography in the Americas, with a focus on how climate change over the past 14 million years has shaped plant movements, speciation, and extinction, and how these processes have contributed to the assembly of modern temperate forest communities.
Liberating Data from the Smithsonian’s Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program to Support the Sustainable Management of Marine Ecosystems (SLA/BHL, NMNH, NZCBI)
The Pacific Ocean is home to extensive marine ecosystems now facing threats from increasing water temperatures, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching events. Access to historical and current species observation data is vital for effective protection of these vulnerable ecosystems. The Smithsonian's archival field notes collections hold invaluable baseline information on species distribution and abundance in the Pacific Ocean before the impacts of sea-level rise and ocean acidification. A substantial body of knowledge from the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP) has been digitized, however much of the data remains unusable in unstructured formats, hindering modern scientific research. Neglecting these long-term biodiversity records undermines conservation policy effectiveness and risks misunderstanding species' niches. Understanding how, where, and when migratory species have moved in the past and comparing those records to present day GPS tracking data is essential for the development of effective and efficient conservation and management policy.
Mining long-term datasets to elucidate climate effects on tropical forest species interactions and ecosystem function (ForestGEO, STRI)
The future of the global carbon cycle and planetary biodiversity depends critically on how tropical forests respond to climate change, which remains poorly understood because tropical forests are complex systems composed of many interacting species. Barro Colorado Island, Panama, is the best studied tropical forest in the world, with a 100-year history of research, a well-known biota, and high quality, long-term datasets on climate, ecosystem function, plant demography, and animal abundances. These datasets offer an extraordinary opportunity for fellows to investigate patterns and mechanisms of direct and indirect effects of temporal climate variation on tropical forest species and their interactions, and the consequences for tropical forest biodiversity and ecosystem function under climate change.
Scaling climate impacts on forest growth: linking long-term monitoring and remote-sensing data (SERC, ForestGEO)
Forests help to mitigate climate change by taking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and sequestering it in long-lived woody tissues, and future trajectories of forest productivity will influence both Earth’s climate system and the future state of forests. Remote sensing of forest canopies is an essential tool for scaling forest growth responses to local processes that drive forest growth to the regional, sub-continental, and global scales at which models assess and predict forest productivity and climate change feedbacks. There exists a growing wealth of remotely sensed data on forest structure and function across scales. Co-located with many of these are databases of individual tree growth that also span spatial and temporal scales. However, there have been few efforts to link these. The Smithsonian has three forest plots where both remote sensing and tree growth data exist across extensive spatial and temporal scales, offering a unique opportunity to advance understanding of forest productivity through remote sensing and offering new ways of understanding the processes that drive forest response to climate change. These datasets are also positioned for publication and curation for public use, vegetation model development, and broader incorporation in future remote sensing missions.
The View from Space (SAO)
The atmospheric measurements group at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) leads the TEMPO satellite mission and heads the retrieval algorithm and calibration effort of the MethaneSAT satellite mission. Both missions will provide revolutionary measurements of several atmospheric gases and aerosols which are important for understanding climate change and its interactions with atmospheric composition, surface emissions and ecosystems, and underlying physical, chemical and biological processes. This fellowship will be based in the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, MA, where the fellow will work with SAO scientists on using satellite data to explore scientific questions at the nexus of air quality and climate.
Unifying Approaches to Oyster and Coral Reef Research to Accelerate Climate Resilience and Conservation (SERC, MarineGEO)
Biogenic reefs, built by oysters and corals, are the ocean’s most biodiverse habitats and support a wealth of threatened ecosystem services and human livelihoods. Oyster and coral reefs provide similar functions and services in temperate vs tropical ecosystems, but are rarely considered together. Comparative study of these systems has exciting potential to accelerate our understanding of reef resilience in the current era of rapid ocean warming and multiple stressors. We seek a postdoctoral fellow who will leverage ongoing research by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the MarineGEO program to take innovative approaches to understand climate change adaptation capacity of coastal marine communities. We are especially interested in research that explores how understanding responses of diverse types of reefs to stressors can inform effective reef conservation and restoration via ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions.