Iowa State senior conducted research in Rome and presents it in China this week

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University senior Emily Zimmerman could have graduated in three years. Instead, she will graduate in four with a second major that has enabled her to conduct research last summer in Rome and present it this week in China.

Zimmerman, of Marinette, Wis., likes school, and didn't want to finish her biology major "too fast." So she took on global resource systems, a new major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. After all, she likes travel, science, languages and world cultures. She could combine all of those "into one cohesive forward movement," she said.

Global resource systems -- or global, as Zimmerman calls it -- requires completion of an internship in another country. The college connected her with a study abroad group headed to Rome to work in the area of biodiversity. During her six-week stay, Zimmerman also worked on a research internship -- which is continuing here this fall -- with Bioversity International. The agency conducts research on genetic erosion and the rapid loss of crop diversity, and is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

This week, Zimmerman presents her research poster, "A Review of the Current Status of Agrobiodiversity Monitoring Systems," at the Managing Biodiversity for Sustainable Development Conference at Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming, China.

The conference is the second in a series of four related to agricultural biodiversity and environmental sustainability sponsored by a four-university partnership: Iowa State; Yunnan Agricultural; Yeungman Agricultural University, South Korea; and Kagoshima University, Japan. Conference presenters are researchers from the sponsoring universities, including Iowa State's Richard Schultz, University Professor, natural resource ecology and management. Attendees are scientists and faculty from Canada, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

In Rome, Zimmerman worked with senior scientist Stefano Padulosi, who is proposing a global system for monitoring agrobiodiversity. She completed an annotated literature review for the proposal.

"It was a great opportunity. I read 51 research papers," she said. "Dr. Padulosi works in underutilized species and is a wealth of knowledge. I learned a lot!"

The research poster presents her conclusions. There's currently no system in place to track agricultural crop species in danger of disappearing. As generations of people and their knowledge pass on, a potentially valuable crop can be lost forever, she said. Because farmers in developing nations have limited knowledge and resources, any system for identifying and recording crop species needs to be easy to understand and use.

"A lot of people don't know this, but the biodiversity of crops is decreasing rapidly," Zimmerman said.

This fall, she is working with Padulosi on a research paper to "spur additional collaborations and awareness."

Zimmerman is a bit of an old hand at presenting posters. As an undergraduate research assistant for W. Stanley Harpole, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, she has presented at the annual "Research in the Capitol" event in Des Moines, and the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference in Ames.

Following the conference in China, Zimmerman and a group of ISU faculty and staff will visit Zhejiang University and several agricultural enterprises in rural Zhejiang Province.

After graduation in May, Zimmerman plans on attending graduate school in environmental science and public policy.

"Ultimately, I see myself working in conservation and policy. But I'd like to teach because I think it's really important to give back what you've been given," she said. "I've had such a great experience with professors here!"