UNCW Assistant Professor Darin Penneys Shares in a $1.3M National Science Foundation Grant

Monday, November 19, 2018

Darin Penneys, a UNCW assistant professor of biology and marine biology, is part of an international, multi-institutional team of botanists who will collect and identify plants and lichens that are unique to the Philippines but at risk of extinction due to rapid deforestation and climate changes.
The project will involve a series of expeditions to the island of Mindanao and is funded by a $1.3 million National Science Foundation grant to UNCW, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and Southern Illinois University. The Central Mindanao University is the key in-country collaborating institution.
The Philippines is a “biodiversity hotspot,” with a high concentration of plant species found nowhere else in the world, said Penneys, a co-principal investigator whose share of the grant is $350,000. But the limited land area, a growing population and demand for agricultural products have led to widespread clear-cutting.
“The country is made up of more than 7,000 islands, but the overall area is about the size of Arizona,” he said. “Forests have been almost completely eradicated, with less than 7 percent remaining. Before more species go extinct there, we would like to collect and study as many as possible.”
A critical goal of the project is to provide information to governmental and non-governmental organizations in hopes of creating new protected areas and upgrading the conservation status of existing ones.
Researchers will work with professors and students from the Central Mindanao University and will use local guides to assist them with the work. During each expedition, the team will hike deep into forests, up mountains and volcanos and will remain at each site for up to a week, collecting everything from the smallest mosses to the largest trees. Specimens will be hauled back to bases of operation for processing and eventual shipping to research institutions.
“Darin’s research, along with that of his fellow scientists, will advance botany by yielding new information about plant diversity in the Philippines and identifying species that were previously unknown,” said Heather Koopman, chair of the Department of Biology and Marine Biology.
Collaborative research and a global focus are essential elements of UNCW’s Strategic Plan. The project is scheduled to last four years, with a possible two-year extension.
-- Tricia Vance