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NSF renews long-term Everglades research program based at FIU

NSF renews long-term Everglades research program based at FIU

February 28, 2021 at 11:20am

The National Science Foundation is providing a four-year $4.75 million renewal of the FIU Institute of Environment’s Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) program.

This marks the fourth renewal since the program’s founding in 2000. For two decades, FIU researchers and their partners have collected data on water quality, plant and animal communities and ecosystem function from a network of research sites in Everglades National Park.

“The FCE LTER is invaluable to our understanding of how the Everglades is changing because it provides long-term data documenting changes that take place over years to decades,” said Evelyn Gaiser, the Endowed George Barley Eminent Scholars Chair and FIU biological sciences professor who has led the program since 2007.

Research produced from data collected by the program has shown how restored water flows are benefiting the Everglades, how the building block of the Everglades is under threat and how healthy wetlands can help stave off rising seas.

The research program also provides one-of-a-kind research opportunities for undergraduate students and for teachers. Graduate students including Selena Chavez, Peter Flood, Bradley Strickland and Chloe Vorseth have conducted meaningful research on how the Everglades and its wildlife respond to a rapidly changing climate.

“Our long-term research in the Everglades has enabled understanding of how multiple environmental stressors and their legacies interact to influence the future direction of coastal ecosystems — like the Everglades — that are expanding or contracting in the face of rapid climate change,” said John Kominoski, an Institute of Environment ecologist who will be the program’s new principal investigator.

Because of the FCE-LTER, we have learned coastal ecosystems worldwide are experiencing similar problems caused by salt water intrusion. The FCE-LTER, Kominoski said, is helping water managers make more information decisions to help coastal wetlands adapt to increased threats from rising seas, hurricanes, and ever-increasing demands of coastal societies for fresh water.

“Research in the Everglades, one of the world's iconic wetlands, is a perfect example of research that informs the world on coastal wetland restoration,” said Todd Crowl, director of the Institute of Environment, a pre-eminent program at FIU. “The FCE LTER is one of the crown jewels of FIU’s environmental science research portfolio. As the former director of the Long-Term Ecological Research Program at NSF, I have seen first-hand how the LTER Sites provide the world’s most cutting-edge research in ecosystem sciences.” 

The FCE LTER includes 86 collaborators and 70 students from 29 academic, agency, and NGO partners and is one of only 28 sites funded for long-term ecological research by the National Science Foundation.

FIU Institute of Environment researchers Kevin Grove, Jennifer Rehage, and James Fourqurean also serve as co-principal investigators of the program.

Findings and data collected by the research program is publicly available online.

In 2020, FIU was ranked No. 9 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The university ranked third in the United States and is the only institution in the state of Florida to make the list. FIU was designated as a university of distinction for environmental resilience by the State University System of Florida Board of Governors.