C of I professor wins NSF grant to boost awareness of Idaho flora

Dr. Don Mansfield, a professor of biology at The College of Idaho, will use a $365,815 National Science Foundation grant to enhance what scientists and the public know about plants, lichens and fungi in southwest Idaho and surrounding areas. The NSF grant will be paid out over 36 months to fund SWITCH, a collaboration between C of I and Boise State University to create an online resource focusing on the unique botany of the region.

 “It’s exciting because our faculty and students have been collecting plant specimens since the time of (College founder) William Judson Boone,” Mansfield said. “Through this project, we finally have the opportunity to make all of those efforts internationally known and available to the world.”

Mansfield will work with C of I alumna and research associate Dr. Barbara Ertter ’75 and Boise State professors Dr. Merlin White and Dr. James Smith to establish “Southwest Idaho: The Comprehensive Herbaria,” an online database resource for botanical research and education. The SWITCH project will provide online access to nearly 120,000 preserved plant, fungus and lichen collections housed at The College of Idaho, Boise State University, and regional, state and federal agency herbaria. Most specimens in these herbaria are from southwest Idaho, eastern Oregon and northern Nevada, a region from which plant specimens and data presently are underrepresented in national efforts to understand and map plant diversity.

“This region has been a geographic hole for many years,” Mansfield said. “Fortunately, the National Science Foundation determined that we have something worth contributing right here in Caldwell. Now we will be able to provide a research tool to understanding the evolution, ecology, biodiversity and commercial potential of the flora in this region.”

The NSF grant will fund equipment, including a new camera and imaging station, as well as internships and full-time summer jobs for C of I students. Mansfield will oversee the project while continuing his decade-long work documenting the flora of the Owyhee region.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including six Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another ten Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit