Merriam-Powell Research Station (MPRS) supports multidisciplinary field research at multiple sites to investigate how climate change will affect the ecology and evolution of individual plant species, communities, and ecosystems in the future. Interest in coordinated research across multiple sites gained momentum in late 2011 after the National Science Foundation awarded a grant to Northern Arizona University (NAU) to develop the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA) for Integrating Genetics and Climate Change. The garden array will be a system of 10 experimental gardens across northern Arizona that encompasses habitat types ranging from desert to mixed conifer forests. Raising plants with the same genetic makeup, or genotype, in an array of sites along an elevational gradient of temperature and moisture will allow scientists to examine how different genotypes perform under different climatic conditions. In 2012, faculty and staff associated with MPRS, The Arboretum at Flagstaff, SEGA, and Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research will develop a strategic plan that includes operations, facilities, and data management to advance this vision.
MPRS is a joint initiative between NAU’s Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research and The Arboretum at Flagstaff. The research station, which began operations in 2007, is sited on a 5-acre parcel within The Arboretum’s larger 200-acre property. Designed as a base of operations for researchers and students working at nearby research sites, MPRS facilities include housing, meeting space, and basic lab facilities.
The research station takes its name and its inspiration from two researchers who conducted pioneering work in the region: C. Hart Merriam, who developed the life zone concept for describing areas with similar plants and animals on the basis of observations made on the San Francisco Peaks, and John Wesley Powell, who led the first expedition to successfully navigate and survey the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.
The legacy of these two pioneers was very important to a group of NAU scientists who sought to promote collaboration and support research beginning in the 1980s. In fact, NAU faculty initially sought the “Merriam-Powell” name for a greenhouse complex that was created to advance ecological research in 1987. When the greenhouse got a different name, faculty in the Forestry, Biology, and Environmental Sciences Departments undertook a grassroots effort throughout the 1990s to explore other areas of collaborative research. In 1997, this group proposed a Long-Term Ecological Research site to the National Science Foundation, which by that time had stopped establishing new long-term sites.
In 1999, after more than a decade of effort, the faculty’s persistence paid off when Henry Hooper, Director of Graduate Studies and Research at NAU, agreed to establish the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research to promote interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach. In 2002, the National Science Foundation awarded NAU a $250,000 grant, which the university matched, to establish the Merriam-Powell Research Station. NAU continues to pursue and obtain funding to improve MPRS and field research infrastructure.
“The fact that the Merriam-Powell Research Center is here today is a tribute to a dedicated group of faculty from diverse departments who worked hard to make it happen,” said Dr. Amy Whipple, Merriam-Powell Research Station Director.
MPRS is operated under a Memorandum of Understanding between NAU and The Arboretum and is overseen by a Governing Board composed of staff from both entities.