Fulbright scholar to study pasture cleanup in New Zealand

Matt-Jones-dung-beetle (1)PULLMAN, Wash. — Driving thousands of miles to catch dung beetles in traps baited with pig droppings may not sound like glamorous work to most, but for entomology graduate student Matt Jones it is just another day in the field.

Jones is Washington State University’s newest recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship. The award will fund his ongoing doctoral research on what he calls nature’s “cleanup crew.”

“I’m interested broadly in the beneficial ‘ecosystem services’ that insects offer,” said Jones. “Specifically how dung beetles can suppress human pathogenic E. coli.”

Agriculture relies heavily on the work of dung beetles, which feed on feces. This improves nutrient cycling in soil and can protect livestock and humans from pathogens by removing feces from the soil surface and facilitating decomposition.

Matt-Jones-dung-beetle (3)
Matt Jones

Using the Fulbright funding and a half-million-dollar grant from USDA-NIFA, Jones will head to New Zealand in January to initiate a standardized dung-beetle biodiversity-monitoring program.

“New Zealand is in the process of introducing dung beetles to control pasture fouling, much like what Australia and other countries have done successfully,” said Jones. “Monitoring this introduction and its impact on native species will help us understand the biological implications of such a program.”

He added: “The timing of the situation in New Zealand is just too perfect.”

This opportunity, so closely related to his own doctoral research, influenced Jones to apply for a Fulbright award. He sees this opportunity in New Zealand as a way to answer critical questions about his current research.

Sarah Ann Hones, recently retired director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program at WSU, said the work of Jones and other applicants started long before the process of applying.

“Scholarships like these are built on a longstanding foundation of achievements,” said Hones, “It’s really a process, and if you look at Matt’s record, you could tell this would be a no-brainer for the scholarship board.”

Jones received his undergraduate degree from Gardner-Webb University and won three major awards for his Masters’ work in insect ecology at the University of Maine before coming to WSU to pursue his doctorate. He’s traveled to El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Peru, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Canada to study and volunteer abroad.

During his Fulbright, Jones will attend the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand and work at several research field stations nationwide.

Of course, he also has plans for his down time. An avid surfer and mountaineer, Jones hopes to find time for both between his research and academics. This more laid back and human side of Jones was also important to his application, said Hones.

“If the Fulbright board is looking for anything, it’s nice people,” said Hones. “The winners are global ambassadors to further strong academic and cultural ties to the rest of the world.”

Indeed, former Senator J. William Fulbright proposed the bill to create the awards program to fund the “promotion of good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” It is the largest U.S. exchange program and awards approximately 1,900 grants for students to travel to 140 countries.

The Fulbright has several different types of awards. Several WSU undergraduate students have received grants from the UK Fulbright program as well as the Fulbright-mtvU award. Jones is excited to be added to the list.

“I was a bit surprised that I would be going,” says Jones. “I had 24 hours to decide to accept, so it was a bit of a crazy day. The freedom to explore obscure but culturally relevant research questions is incredible.”

For more information about the Fulbright and other distinguished scholarships visit: http://distinguishedscholarships.wsu.edu

Media contact:

Matt Jones, Department of Entomology, 404-432-9528, matthew.s.jones@wsu.edu

Mary Sanchez Lanier, Assistant Vice-Provost, School of Molecular Biosciences, 509-335-2320, sanchez@vetmed.wsu.edu