LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal grant made to the University of Arkansas is the first step in developing a national system to detect threats to lands and forests.

A team of UA researchers will use the $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop detection and response tools for invasive weed species.

Caleb Roberts, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist at the Arkansas Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit based in the University of Arkansas’ Biological Sciences Department, is the principal investigator for the program.

The program is being initiated through the use of cogongrass, Roberts said.

“As a test species, we are using cogongrass, an invasive grass that was first recorded in southeastern Arkansas in 2021,” Roberts explained. ”Cogongrass has been called the ‘seventh worst weed in the world’ and is known to reduce timber production, increase wildfire risk due to its high flammability, and negatively impact biodiversity due to its thick, mat-forming growth pattern.”

Roberts stated the program’s goal would be to increase early detection abilities. The challenge is that invasive species can move and change to suit a given environment. Roberts and his team intend to meet this challenge by a combination of modeling possible environments, remote sensing and statistical analysis.

Joining Roberts will be research ecologists Devan A. McGranahan and Carissa L. Wonkka, both with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Victoria M. Donovan, an assistant professor at the University of Florida and Hsiao-Hsuan Wang, a senior research scientist at Texas A&M University.