Rolando Santos: Making waves at FIU

Rolando Omar Santos Corujo, a postdoctoral associate in the Southeast Environmental Research Center within the Institute of Water and Environment, works to understand how different marine and coastal species respond to environmental disturbances. Santos is a seascape ecologist with expertise in fish, fisheries, benthic and spatial ecology.

Rolando Santos

He was recently appointed as one of the 2018-2019 Preeminent Distinguish Postdoctoral Fellows, a new college initiative that awards postdoctoral scholars with support to conduct activities and research, participate in outreach efforts, interact with graduate students and faculty and submit competitive research proposals.

“Getting appointed as one of the distinguished postdocs was a surprise, I had little hope since it was open to other universities, so I felt really accomplished and thankful for the support of Jennifer Rehage, Todd Crowl and my previous advisor,” Santos said.

Influenced by the beautiful beaches and the marine biodiversity of Puerto Rico, Santos moved to Miami in 2006 to pursue his graduate studies in marine biology and coastal management, and postdoctoral studies in marine biology and fisheries. In 2015, he started working at the FIU Coastal Fish Ecology and Fisheries Lab with Jennifer Rehage, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment. His research interests include the application of landscape ecology to study the “influence of spatial structure and habitat heterogeneity on the patterning of marine communities, and species interactions, distribution, and movement.”

Throughout his academic education and career, Santos has received various fellowships, scholarships, and research grants. As a CASE distinguished postdoctoral fellow, he received $50,000 to continue one of his research projects started last semester with Rehage. They’re investigating the role of seagrass seascapes and how the habitat of recreational sport fish species and the quality of prey are influenced by the spatial arrangement of seagrass habitats. They are using acoustic telemetry to track the species movement to understand their habitat use behavior in relation with disturbances and seagrass habitat changes in Florida Bay.

Another project Santos is working on was initiated by Todd Crowl and Alan Covich as part of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program with the idea of studying the abundance and distribution of different freshwater shrimps, specifically the Macrobrachium spp (freshwater prawns) at Quebrada Prieta in El Verde Field Station, part of El Yunque National Rainforest Reserve in Puerto Rico. Santos came on board the project to understand the specific individual movements of the species and has been designing and implementing the study by also using acoustic telemetry to track the movement of species when they travel upstream or downstream.

Rolando Santos out in the field

Alongside his study, Tatiana Barreto and Marla Valeria Santos Crespo, two undergraduate students who participated in FIU’s CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment (CAChE) 2017 Summer undergraduate program, have been working closely with Santos during the tracking of the Macrobrachium spp. using telemetry tags, while also understanding how their behavior would be affected by different adhesives and tag models. This shrimp has a high ecological value because it plays a role in other species’ assemblage and development as it is the dominant species. This study will contribute to the Luquillo-LTER mission because long-term ecological research is based on understanding how the tropical ecosystem is influenced by disturbances. Continuing the project will provide the researchers with a better understanding of what drives Macrobrachium spp movements as a function of hydrological regimes.

As one of his new initiatives and in collaboration with Rehage and other colleagues at FIU, UF, and UCF, a proposal was submitted for NOAA RESTORE. In this proposal, Santos and his colleagues proposed a coupled social-ecological approach to generate testable hypotheses regarding coastal community vulnerability and resilience to climate change by quantifying stakeholders’ perceived vulnerabilities to extreme climate events, while also assessing the spatiotemporal trends in catch and fishing effort in concert with the economic impacts associated with angler behavior and perception dynamics in response to extreme climate events.

“By using a movement ecology context we want to understand the mechanisms of spatial dynamics of aquatic species,” Santos said. “We have seen a change in the abundance and distribution of species populations but we don’t yet understand why or how.”

For more information about Santos, his research and the lab he works in, please view their website.

The College of Arts, Sciences & Education (CASE) Preeminent Postdoctoral Fellowship supports FIU’s efforts to advance the representation of women and underrepresented minorities across disciplines. A call for 2019-2020 Fellows will be announced in early Spring 2019.