FARMINGTON — A University of Maine at Farmington professor will research endangered tree species in Ecuador after winning the second Fulbright fellowship of his career.
Chris Brinegar, adjunct associate professor in the UMF Division of Natural Sciences, was granted the fellowship for a one-year stay in Loja, Ecuador, beginning this June. He will serve as a visiting professor in the natural sciences department at the Technical University of Loja. He will teach conservation genetics.
Brinegar’s studies concentrate on how plant species have evolved by studying the geographic distribution of various types of genetic plant makeup. The studies can shed light on biodiversity and identify types of plants in need of conservation.
While in Ecuador, he will research the population genetics of two threatened tree species.
One of the species, the cinchona tree, was harvested nearly to extinction in Ecuador to recover quinine from its bark. Quinine was used to treat malaria before the development of synthetic anti-malarial drugs.
The cinchona tree population has dwindled to only scattered remnants.
Brinegar also will research an Andean walnut tree, known as the Nogal, which is on the endangered species list because of overharvesting for its prized hardwood.
Brinegar has taught ecology, environmental science and biochemistry at UMF since 2006.
This is his second Fulbright fellowship. In 2008, he spent a semester as a visiting professor at Kathmandu University in Nepal under the Fulbright program. Two years ago, he was awarded a grant by the Save the Redwoods League to study the biology and ecology of coastal redwood forests.
The Fulbright Program was founded in 1946 by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, who said there was a need for a program that would promote mutual understanding of Americans and the people of other countries. The program awards about 8,000 grants annually, on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
Since its inception, about 300,000 recipients have participated in the Fulbright program.