Research and Education

The Merriam-Powell Research Station (MPRS) is used to support research and education by scientists and students from Northern Arizona University (NAU) as well as many other research institutions across the United States. These institutions include Arizona State University; Carthage College; College of Southern Nevada; Diné College; Harvard University; Penn State; University of Arizona; University of California, Davis; University of Illinois; University of Maryland; University of North Carolina; and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The proximity of MPRS to unique natural resources and ecological conditions is one of the primary attractions of MPRS to the research community. Research efforts include the following:

Climate Change
Studying how climate change affects plant communities is a major research area for scientists using MPRS facilities. The University of Arizona’s Dr. David Breshears and his research group have used the research station while conducting a range of experiments, including transplanting mature piñon pine (Pinus edulis) to warmer and dryer sites on the elevation gradient to investigate the mechanisms contributing to recent and widespread piñon pine mortality.        
Common Gardens
The use of common garden studies to investigate genetic variation is a growing area of interest. The Arboretum of Flagstaff, which has abundant space, has facilitated the development of research plots for these types of studies. In 2002, Dr. Stanly Faeth was one of the first to establish research plots at The Arboretum. His work, which continues today, examines the interactions between native plant species, fungal endophytes, and herbivores under different growing treatments and has resulted in some key publications. Since the construction of the MPRS, Dr. Faeth and his students have stayed at the field station.                    
Ecosystem Interactions
Individual researchers are looking at a variety of research questions involving interactions within ecosystems. For example, Cassandra Allsup, a University of Illinois Ph.D. candidate, is studying scarlet gilia’s (Ipomopsis aggregate) below-ground interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi under drought conditions.         

Courses and Workshops

In addition to serving as a base of operations for visiting researchers, MPRS facilities are available for use by university classes to provide students with valuable field experiences. Examples of the types of classes that have used the facility and the activities supported include the following:

  • NAU’s environmental science Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation to support research participation by undergraduate students, annually holds a 4-day workshop at MPRS for students from community and tribal colleges. Students are taught basic field research techniques during the 4-day workshop.

  • As part of a new course, MPRS also hosted a day-long training for K–12 teachers designed to give them the knowledge needed to effectively use arthropods to demonstrate scientific concepts in their classrooms.

  • A University of Oklahoma course on the geology and botany of the Colorado Plateau used MPRS as a base of operations when the class visited the region.

  • A class from the University of Delaware Botanical Garden and Arboretum Program stayed at MPRS while visiting The Arboretum at Flagstaff.

Native American Partnerships

The Colorado Plateau is home to a diverse range of Native American tribes. MPRS has partnered with tribal institutions and scientists to support research and training activities. For example, Diné College, a public institution of higher education chartered by the Navajo Nation, uses MPRS facilities when its students visit Flagstaff for training in GIS and molecular genetics. Students from tribal and community colleges are introduced to field research at MPRS through NAU’s environmental science Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Additionally, since 2009, MPRS is the base of operations for a collaborative effort between Harvard, Navajo, and NAU scientists to identify new ant species and to catalog ant diversity.