Western Pacific Tropical Research Center
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center is the research arm of the College of Natural & Applied Sciences (CNAS). WPTRC scientists explore topics that are germane to the wellbeing of the environment and people throughout the region. This includes research encompassing tropical agriculture, aquaculture, invasive species, plant pathology, protecting native plants, soil health and more.
Major funding for WPTRC research is provided through the Hatch, multistate Hatch, and McIntire Stennis programs administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the government of Guam. Additional funding comes from the National Science Foundation, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA Forest Service, The US Department of Defense, and the private sector.
The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center concentrates on applied research that directly impacts agriculture in Guam, as well as in other tropical areas. Current areas of specialization are soils, horticulture, entomology, plant pathology, turf grass, human nutrition, aquaculture and forestry.
Research laboratories are located at the University main campus and in Yigo with three field research facilities located in areas representing the different soil types of Guam: Yigo, Inarajan, and Ija. WPTRC has collaborative research programs with several land-grant universities in the western United States, the College of Micronesia, the College of the Northern Marianas, the American Samoa Community College, and several international research centers. Most of the research projects are designed to have direct application to Guam, Micronesia, and other areas of the Western Pacific region, and the tropics in general.
In addition to concentrating on research, the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center faculty teach undergraduate courses in Agriculture and Life Sciences, graduate courses in Sustainable Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Natural Resources, and Environmental Science. Through their classes, WPTRC scientists provide innovative research experiences to graduate students.
Sometimes the fruit of decades of research manifests in unintended but delightful ways. Thomas Marler, a research scientist with the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) at the University of Guam (UOG) has been studying Guam’s native cycad since the 1990s, long before it was subjected to the threats of non-native specialist insect pests. The accidental introduction of the Asian cycad scale to Guam has decimated the population of this once abundant tree. The uncontrolled tree mortality led to Cycas micronesica being listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.
Marler has coordinated seed exchanges and cycad research with the Montgomery Botanical Center, Miami, Florida since 1997. The extensive population of Cycas micronesica trees at the Montgomery Botanical Center is comprised of plants derived from seeds that Marler originally contributed in 1997 and 1998. But Marler was contracted in 2006 to start a fadang germplasm collection on the neighboring island of Tinian. The expansive seed collection efforts that enabled this Tinian collection were also used to expand the fadang germplasm collections with Montgomery Botanical Center and Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden in Thailand.
These trees now made it possible for Brian Thorson, the Botanical Curator at California State University, Long Beach, to obtain seedlings of this Endangered cycad for his collection. Originally from Guam, Thorson visited family on the island in January and was very excited to find mature fadang (the local name for C. micronesica) plants. During that visit, he went to the University of Guam to find a way to obtain seeds or plants to take back for the CSU collection. “I had fond memories of going into the jungle to collect cycad seeds to grind into flour for making titiyas. It was very exciting for me to see that there are some populations that are still unaffected by the invasive scale and other insects.”
His UOG visit enabled a connection between the two scientists, with Marler drawing on his cycad connections to assist Thorson in acquiring the desired plants. Montgomery Botanical Center was able to provide cycad seedlings to Thorson and offered to provide more seedlings next year. He was delighted with the quality of the seedlings and the promise of more to come. Through a meeting with a cycad grower in California familiar with Marler’s cycad work, Thorson heard more about the intensive research Marler has accomplished on Cycas micronesica. He stated in an email, “I had no idea that you were so passionately involved with their preservation. We (Chamorros) are so grateful for your work.”
WPTRC scientists continue to make a difference for the people, plants and ecosystems on the island and in the region. For more information about WPTRC research scientists and activities, please visit www.uog.edu/wptrc.
Brian Thorson, Botanical Curator at California State University, Long Beach, with his newly acquired Cycas micronesica seedlings.
The Children’s Healthy Living Program, a project to build a healthy food and physical environment to prevent obesity among youth in the Pacific region, has earned a special honor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture. The program was headed by the University of Hawaii and carried out in Guam by the University of Guam’s Cooperative Extension & Outreach service.
The Children’s Healthy Living Program received one of three 2019 NIFA Partnership Awards given to NIFA-supported projects. The award — the Mission Integration of Research, Education, and Extension award — recognized the program’s exceptional impact in solving a societal challenge.
“This is quite an honor,” said Rachael T. Leon Guerrero, director of the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs at UOG. “We worked for several years on this program collecting and analyzing data regarding the physical activity and eating habits of young children on Guam.”
Based on the data collected, the team trained a public health nutrition workforce; conducted public health nutrition research; developed a food, nutrition, and physical activity data-management and evaluation system; and communicated nutrition and health-related information to the public. The team also implemented the Getting Guam Healthy Incentives Program, which showed positive outcomes for both children and their parents through individual, family, and community activities.
Building on these activities, the government of Guam funded the Walk to Wellness Program and the Early Start, Fit for Life Initiative that encouraged walking among Guam residents and enabled professionals to conduct health screenings, provide educational outreach, and promote physical activity for children after school.
The team that worked on the grant through UOG’s College of Natural & Applied Sciences included Leon Guerrero; Extension Agent Mark Acosta; Assistant Professor of Nutrition Tanisha Aflague; Dean Margaret Hattori-Uchima of the School of Health; Associate Professor of Health Sciences Yvette Paulino; and Extension Specialist and Professor of Agriculture Economics Robert Barber Jr.Research informs the extension programs needed in Pacific Island communities, and as a land-grant university, the University of Guam is able to apply for and receive grant monies, including from federal agencies like USDA NIFA, to offer extension programs that address the needs and issues specific to Guam and the region.
Extension professional Clarissa Barcinas brings nutrition education to Guam's public elementary schools.
A University of Guam graduate student in the Sustainable Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources program took an important step in his future career by presenting his research, networking with others in the field, and learning about current trends and issues at the Soil Science Society of America conference held Jan. 6–9 in San Diego.
“This was my first time traveling to an annual conference that deals with my field of study — soil sciences,” said Chieriel Desamito. “The most valuable aspect of attending was being able to build my knowledge on soils from around the world.”
Under the theme “Soils Across Latitudes,” the conference invited researchers from various climates to present on soil issues in different environments and on soil issues related to climate change.
“I was exposed to the different problems that communities encounter with soil around the world and learned about recommended practices to solve these problems,” he said.
Desamito attended the conference with his faculty mentor, UOG Professor of Soil Science Mohammad H. Golabi. The two presented a poster at the conference on integrating the application of biochar into agricultural conservation practices in Southern Guam. Biochar is a carbon-rich charcoal used to increase soil fertility, agricultural productivity, and resistance to soil-borne diseases.
Desamito also came away from the conference with valuable connections with other students, professors, and colleagues from around the world who are doing research similar to his biochar project.
“I was also able to meet with researchers who offered me research positions for my PhD program that would help me grow as a future soil scientist upon my graduation from UOG,” he said.
Following his pursuit of a doctorate, Desamito said he wants to come back to Guam and help the community understand the importance of soils as well as research sustainable ways to improve soil health and fertility in Guam.
Chieriel Desamito plants corn in a field, in which different sections have been treated with either compost, biochar, a mix of biochar and compost, or nothing.
The Guam Orchids and Exotic Plants Club was delighted to spend several hours on a Saturday at the Guam Department of Agriculture Tissue Culture Lab with Alicja Wiecko. They were amazed and full of questions about all aspects of cultivating orchids from tissue culture.
“I don’t believe I have had a group that was so interested in what we are doing at the tissue culture lab. They were attentive and had questions about everything,” said Wiecko. She is one of the main people responsible for writing the grants and creating the lab.
“We were amazed with the spectacles of nature happening in the tissue culture laboratory! The Orchids and Tropical Exotic Plants Club members were inspired by Ms. Alicja Wiecko to learn more. Half of us signed up for an Orchid Grower Certificate course,” enthused Monica Guzman. Another club member, Antonia Evarifto said, “Such a pity that Alicja is retiring, but thank goodness she conducted that workshop before she is gone!”
Guam Orchids and Exotic Plants Club members from left: Imee Tuazon, Mary Reyes, Lou
Jean Borja, Alicja Wiecko, Mae Hanna, Mary Aguon, Tony Aguon, Monica Guzman,
Yeon Suk Park, Jane Story.
When visitors come to the nursery they will find thousands of orchid seedlings planted in small pots and hundreds of medium-size and mature orchids growing in larger pots. Some orchids have already produced seedpods, which are ready to propagate on a special medium where they will eventually germinate.
In the laboratory growth room shelves are crammed with hundreds of containers holding miniature Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium seedlings growing on agar. The tiny plants produced by the tissue culture team are free of viruses.
If you would like to learn how to grow healthy orchids in the nursery, or how to propagate them in the laboratory through tissue culture, you can sign up for a free course to learn the basics of growing orchids “in glass” and receive an “Orchid Grower” certificate.
For more information, please contact Ricardo Lizama, at 300-7974.
Guam Orchids and Exotic Plants Club members from left: Imee Tuazon, Mary Reyes, Lou Jean Borja, Alicja Wiecko, Mae Hanna, Mary Aguon, Tony Aguon, Monica Guzman, Yeon Suk Park, Jane Story.
Since the September 2018 release of the revised edition of Trees and Shrubs of the Mariana Islands, many people have expressed their appreciation in having an accessible reference for plants in the region. The CHamoru District Boy Scouts of America used the book to identify native and toxic plants during a scavenger hunt held in the historic village of Hagåtña last December. “As part of rank advancement, the boys need to learn to identify at least 10 local plants and have an understanding of the dangers of hazardous plants. These requirements have been a significant challenge because there are not many people available who can take boys on tours to show them the plants. It is books like yours that make the challenge much easier,” said Roy Tsutsui, Boy Scouts volunteer.
Originally published in 1991 by former University of Guam professor, the late Lynn Raulerson, and science educator Agnes F. Reinhart, the book has been out of print for years. “The College of Natural & Applied Science (CNAS), with permission from Reinhart, decided to revise and update the nomenclature and photographs. We are gratified to hear that the Boy Scouts have put it to good use,” said Lee Yudin, dean of CNAS.
Tsutsui is a UOG alumnus and Dr. Raulerson was one of his main professors. He credits her with teaching him everything he knows about plants. During his studies he also had a part time job at the Guam Herbarium, curated by Raulerson during her years at UOG. Tsutsui worked on collecting and processing plants from Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for leukemia research.
The winning team: Tyler Anderson, Billy Naputi, Gavin Hartzell, Kiki Kalima, Kawika Davis, Conner Hartzell, Bill Davis, Roy Tsutsui (Event Coordinator), Aaron Waibel, Melissa Waibel, George Waibel, and Christian Taiwerbwe.