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Wake Forest botanist awarded NSF grant to study Barrier Islands

January 28, 2008

William K. Smith, professor and Charles H. Babcock Chair of Botany at Wake Forest University, and two colleagues have been awarded a $477,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create the Coastal Barrier Island Network (CBIN).

Smith is working on the project with Rusty Feagin, assistant professor with the Spatial Sciences Laboratory at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, and Nancy Jackson, professor of chemistry and environmental science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The five-year grant will be used to develop an interactive network of scientists to address the effective management of barrier island ecosystems.  Biologists, economists, engineers and scientists from a variety of other fields will be involved.   Through the formation of the CBIN, scientists and municipal planners will interact within workshops, summer courses for students, a newsletter and a Web site (

One emphasis within the group is the future use of native vegetation for stabilizing barrier island beaches in the face of increases in storm frequency and intensity, as well as sea level rise, associated with global climate change.

"Coastal barrier islands are found along virtually all continental shorelines world-wide, including the heavily populated eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast of the United States,” Smith said.  “Despite the large number of engineering, natural and social science researchers that study barrier islands, no multidisciplinary organization currently exists for evaluating the future sustainability of these important ecosystems.  Climate change may have potentially devastating impacts on coastal environments and the associated socioeconomics and cultural infrastructures of these heavily populated ecosystems.”

Funding begins March 1.  The proposal for the CBIN developed out of a workshop Smith led in 2006 that met in Gulfport, Miss., following the Katrina hurricane.  The workshop was also funded by the National Science Foundation.

Smith studies the adaptations of plants to harsh or unusual environments and has authored dozens of articles on plants living in harsh environments, including deserts, high-elevation forests and barrier islands.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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