A new year!

Inside a Florida cypress swamp. Is this one hydrologically impaired? Note the exposed base of the tree and slumped ground surface. (Photo: Sharon Feit)

The new academic year is starting. We’re happy to have our graduate student Jessica Balerna back from a summer internship in DC. We’ll get the low-down on what she did there! Last year’s post-bacc researcher Andres Santini, after collecting a great dataset here in FL, spent the summer doing a prestigious National Park Service internship in Alaska. He’s still there in the backcountry! Annie Majette, our honors research student, graduated, and we’re happy to have her move into a technician position, and we’re also excited to welcome new PhD student Cassie Campbell, with her already great experience publishing and teaching.

Bert presents at the grad student research symposium

Bert contemplating Juncus needlerush from the safety of a sand flat

Bert Anderson, a PhD student in our lab, presented one of his dissertation chapters at the 2018 USF Graduate Student Research Symposium. His poster presented findings from his studies of a fascinating and unusual biophysical environment. Bert studies microbial mats growing across sand flats in saline intertidal zones. Microbial mats are taxonomically and metabolically diverse assemblages of microorganisms coexisting in cohesive, fabric-like mats, and the sand flats they grow across are extreme habitats that lack any other plant life. In this presentation, Bert examined the biogeochemical impacts of these mats on the carbon and nitrogen budgets of the soils atop which they grow.

Sand flats interspersed among a mosaic of upland forest, mangrove and salt marsh vegetation, and open water, along the west-central coast of peninsular Florida. (Image Google Maps)

Sandy graduates!!

Congratulations to  Sandy Voors. In posts below, you’ll see her research described: fascinating studies of the association between plant phenotypic and soil biogeochemical variability. All that work now pays dividends, she graduated with her M.S.!! Sandy was co-advised by Dr. Christina Richards, our awesome ecological (epi)genetics colleague.

Well-deserved smiles! Sandy graduating with her M.S., May 2018. Shown here with Christina Richards, the brains of Sandy’s co-advising team. (Photo shamelessly stolen from Christina.)

Annie (re)presents

Annie showing some Bulls pride at the USF Undergraduate Research Symposium

Annie Majette represented the lab, and presented her USF Honor’s research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Congrats!! On both the presentation and doing the work.

Annie’s work examines reservoirs of organic matter and nutrients in coastal soils. She is studying variation in OM and nutrients along 1-4 °C temperature gradients. These are permanent gradients, created by nearby industrial activity, so she is getting the signal of longer-term biological adjustment to altered environments, rather than short term physiological responses to warming, which could offer insights into possible climate change impacts on coastal soil properties and functions.

Congratulations Sandy!!

Sandy explaining it, owning it, defending it.

Congrats to lab member Sandy Voors on defending her Master’s degree! Sandy’s M.S. thesis is entitled “Linking Ecosystem Function and Phenotypic Variation in Spartina Alterniflora Salt Marshes”. Sandy did a great study examining the implications of trait variation in a foundation species (S. alterniflora in salt marshes) for the storage and cycling of carbon and nitrogen in marsh soils. She found a complex association among plant traits, soil biogeochemicial properties, and site effects across several marsh ecosystems. This work contributes to an emerging focus on the importance of populations and phenotypes within species as functionally important sources of biodiversity. Sandy was co-advised by Christina Richards, and did this work as part of a collaboration within Randall Hughes’ Marine Biodiversity lab at Northeastern U. Now that the defense is behind her, graduating in May is the next step!

Protecting vulnerable waters

Check out this recent paper outlining a vision for protecting the least-protected, most-imperiled surfaces waters. It was led by Irena Creed from Western Univ in Ontario, with contributions from a large working group, including us.

Valuation of ecosystem services provided by vulnerable headwater streams and wetlands outside of floodplains in the contiguous U.S.

In the U.S., the Clean Water Act protects interstate “Waters of the USA”. Protecting such waters requires stewardship and conservation of small, upland aquatic systems like wetland basins and headwater streams, whose ecological functions (e.g., flood pulse dampening, pollutant retention, biodiversity reservoir) determine the condition of downgradient Waters of the USA. Yet, conserving upland waters is controversial because preserving them can inhibit land development. Into this fray, the U.S. Supreme Court waded with two landmark cases limiting the Act’s application, and the current administration drags their feet administering the Act. This paper describes the scientific basis for how small & vulnerable waterbodies high in watersheds are linked (biologically and geophysically) to the rivers draining those watersheds, and it provides scientifically grounded options for protecting these vulnerable waters as governments struggle to find solutions for stewarding waters that serve as hotspots of ecological function.

Congratulations Kristen!!

Red mangrove propagules growing the field. Kristen reared huge numbers of these in the greenhouse! (photo: newtonsapple.org.uk/truly-amazing-mangroves)

Congratulations to Kristen Langanke on defending her Master’s thesis and graduating with her M.S. Kristen’s thesis was “Response to nitrogen and salinity conditions in Rhizophora mangle seedlings varies by site of origin”. Kristen collected well over 1200 red mangrove (R. mangle) propagules from a variety of mangrove ecosystem sites, and reared them in the greenhouse under varying conditions of salt and nutrient stress. These two forms of stress are likely to intensify with changing sea levels and pervasive coastal nutrient eutrophication. This study was a nice example of examining phenotypic variation in responses to stress. Kristen’s primary advisor was our frequent collaborator Dr. Christina Richards, and she was a member of the Lewis Lab group as well. Great work Kristen!

Ecological Footprint Activity

Visit this page to take the ecological footprint quiz (you can “log in” with a fake email address to play as a guest): http://www.footprintcalculator.org/

Enter data from your quiz here: Data Entry Form

Explore the ecological footprint database generated by the whole group: Data spreadsheet

Analyze and interpret ecological footprint data

Great series of articles by Dr. Hilary Flower

Mangrove ecosystems that depend on phosphate nutrients in the Everglades can be found growing over karst substrate at the ecotone between seawater and freshwater—ground zero for saltwater intrusion. (Photo: K. Jimenez)

Congratulations to Dr. Hilary Flower! Hilary has rapidly published a great series of three papers exploring the geochemical outcomes of saltwater intrusion into freshwater environments. Check out Hilary’s work here, here, and here.

Sea levels are rising on account of climate warming that is very real and very now. Most of us understand that rising seas inundate land, flood coastal cities, and threaten human infrastructure. Yet sea level rise has another less visible but perhaps equally dramatic outcome: the intrusion of saltwater into freshwater aquifers, ecosystems, and drinking-water wells. With salts come many chemical changes to water, and to the way water interacts with soils and sediments. Working in the karst limestone system of the Florida Everglades, Hilary investigated how saltwater intrusion affected the sorption and desorption dynamics of phosphate to and from sediments. Importantly, Hilary found that karst sediments lose their capacity to sorb phosphate at the very onset of saltwater intrusion, when the water interacting with sediments is <1% seawater! Rather, sediments desorb (lose) large, immediate pulses of phosphate as soon as they are hit with small amounts of seawater. These findings are critically important because they show that the chemical environment on which organisms and food webs depend is very sensitive to the unseen outcomes (e.g., saltwater intrusion) that ultimately arise from climate change.

The ability of sediment to adsorb phosphate declines sharply at the onset of saltwater intrusion, when the water mixture is less than 1% seawater. The blue and red show phosphate adsorption on two different rock types. These data are from the second article in Hilary’s series (Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 184 (2017) 166-176)

Hilary’s work also highlights the value of interdisciplinary cooperation, as she did her chemical analyses with the Lewis Ecosystems Lab while pursuing her PhD in USF Geosciences under Mark Rains.

Tiny wetlands, big effects

This landscape in west-central Florida contains a diverse portfolio of wetlands that vary in size, shape, and connectivity. Many of these are geographically-isolated wetlands.

Good things sometimes come in small packages. Check out this article, that the Lewis Lab participated in, on the importance of small wetlands, high in landscapes, for big ecological functions. This work was led by Matt Cohen, at the Univ. of Florida, and emerged from an EPA-hosted working group.

Landscapes consist of a patchwork of many ecosystems, and they provide services such as the generation of biodiversity, maintenance of key plant and animal populations, storage of water to prevent flooding and ensure available water during dry spells, and the capture of nutrients and sediments to prevent pollution of rivers and bays. Analyses in this paper support the concept that the provision of these services by landscapes depends on a portfolio of many wetlands that vary in size, shape, and connectivity. A host of landscape functions, this paper argues, require the portfolio to include geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs). Owing to their landscape characteristics, these GIWs shelter organisms, sequester captured pollutants, and are connected to other ecosystems in landscapes through sometimes hidden avenues, such as through migration and groundwater flow. This finding has important implications for whether legislation and policies concerned with the quality and biotic integrity of larger rivers and bays should include protection of the many small GIWs that help regulate what materials escape landscapes and enter these waterways.

Geographically isolated wetlands tend to be smaller wetlands (solid black line in upper panel), and more circular. Larger wetlands tend to have irregular shapes (larger perimeter:area ratios; green dots) that deviate from circularity, which is important because many ecological functions happen on the edges of ecosystems where reactants and organisms can mix. Despite the irregular shape of large wetlands, it is small wetlands that provide most of the “edge” habitat in a landscape, as the bottom panel shows that as wetland size decline, area drops off before perimeter length does. (Modified from Cohen et al. 2016, PNAS)