A weave of Utah State University (USU) international relationships has led to worldwide forest ecology research, the establishment of a consortium, and hopefully a better understanding of one of the world’s oldest and largest single organisms.
USU adjunct associate professor of wildland resources, Paul Rogers, visited the Czech Republic on a Fulbright Specialist grant in 2017 to conduct research in aspen and forest ecology. While there, Rogers, who is also the director of the Western Aspen Alliance (WAA), was able to connect with USU alumnus and Senior Researcher Antonin Kusbach. This USU connection and his Fulbright research led to an introduction to Jan Šebesta, a researcher in forest botany from Mendel University’s faculty of forestry, Brno, Czech Republic. Šebesta and Rogers became colleagues and friends during Rogers’ Fulbright visit, opening the door for further joint aspen research in the United States.
Rogers initiated the Aspen Conservation Consortium, a global aspen science organization and prepared for Šebesta to travel over 5,000 miles from the Czech Republic to join him in his continued research into why one of the world’s oldest and largest living single organisms, a grove of quaking aspens called the Pando Clone, is shrinking. In August of 2018, Rogers, Šebesta, Kusbach, and Jan Novak (Charles University, Prague) met together to conduct further research on Pando, found adjacent to Fish Lake in central Utah. The researchers’ findings and the Pando have been featured in multiple news outlets including New York Times, Science Magazine, Forbes and a Czech news outlet Novinky to name a few.
The Aspen Conservation Consortium provides opportunities to share research techniques in forest ecology and continued discoveries in the field at a global scale. Pedoanthracology, digging soil pits to locate and date ancient charcoal, is a method of understanding long-term forest development, such as fire history and plant dominance over time. This method was introduced to Rogers by these Czech colleagues and has little precedence in the western United States. Šebesta in turn learned about fire and aspen ecology, opportunities not commonly available in the Czech Republic.
“I have learned more than I have given, professionally and academically,” said Rogers of his experience with the Fulbright grant and working with Šebesta.
The Mendel University and the Czech Republic government have funded Sebesta’s research and visit to Utah. Šebesta participated in English lessons while visiting, improving his English proficiency, increasing his chances for his work to be published. Scientific journals and publications worldwide are published primarily in English.
USU and Mendel entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in September, opening the door for continued joint research and possible student exchanges.
“The agreement breaks down the barriers of research abroad,” said Šebesta . “We will be able to more easily secure funding and plan more visits.”
Through this new agreement, the university now has the possibility of student exchanges, both in sending USU students and receiving Mendel students. USU’s Office of Global Engagement facilitates international agreements, visiting scholar visas, study abroad programs, and promotes and offers Fulbright grant application support. All of these tools are used as threads in an international weave of relationships that help to solve both local and global issues and make Utah State University and our research relevant and known in the world.