Students wade through research in the Everglades

Have you ever wondered what the inside of an alligator smells like? Do you know what a symphony of mosquitoes sound like?  Have you ever imagined what it is like to work with carcinogens, flammable materials and high-voltage equipment on a daily basis? Answers can be found on the Wading Through Research blog.

The blog was launched by the FCE Student Organization two months ago to share stories, photos and research ranging from failed experiments to successful endeavors. Since then it has more than 2,400 views from 10 countries, including the United States, Russia, Slovenia, Germany and Canada.

“The idea started out small as a ‘test-the-waters’ type of project,” said David Lagomasino, a doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Environment and president of the student organization group. “We’re very excited about the sudden popularity it’s gained, we weren’t expecting it.”

Biology graduate student David Gandy goes electrofishing for snook with Ross Boucek in the Everglades.

As part of FIU’s Florida Costal Ecosystem-Long Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER) program, the student organization provides an academic and social environment for students conducting research in the Everglades and adjacent ecosystems.

“Our FCE students are among the most active student community in the LTER network, working together across departments and universities on research and outreach projects” said Evelyn Gaiser, professor of Biological Sciences and lead principal investigator of the FCE-LTER network. “Their blog is an example of what research sites can do to engage the public. It’s a great venue for frank and fun discussion of the realities of research in the Everglades.”

The blog has eight graduate students volunteering full-time to keep it updated. Students from diverse majors, including biologymarine sciencesgeoscienceenvironmental studies and anthropology, post stories and photos on a regular basis.

“It’s a conversational blog, we talk about the nitty-gritty details of research in the field. Our goal is to share with our audience what they won’t see presented at conferences or published in journals,” Lagomasino said. “I work with mangroves in saltwater. Sometimes I get so caught up in my work, I don’t get to see what my colleagues are doing in the freshwater regions of the Everglades. So, even for me, it’s a great way to learn and experience this vast environment.”

The FCE-LTER program is part of the U.S. Long Term Ecological Research Network, a collaborative effort with 26 national sites involving more than 1800 scientists and students investigating long-term ecological phenomena. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it is based at FIU and includes 75 senior researchers and 64 students from 29 institutions, including the University of South Florida, Everglades Foundation, South Florida Water Management Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the University of Virginia.

Lagomasino and 15 other FIU students and faculty will attend the 2012 LTER All Scientists Meeting Sept. 9-14 in Estes Park, Colorado. Lagomasino will discuss his doctoral research on hydrology and ecohydrology, as well as the FCE-LTER student blog.

“Many of the other LTER sites have shown interest in setting up their own blogs,” Lagomasino said. “It’s going to be great to share information and ideas with them to help get them started. We also hope to, eventually, launch a national LTER blog, but that’s a long-term goal.”