Fellowships empower graduate researcher to study bull sharks at Rookery Bay

Kristine Zikmanis, a biology Ph.D. student in the Institute of Environment’s Marine Community and Behavioral Ecology Lab, is researching sharks with the help of fellowships. As an undergrad, Zikmanis conducted volunteer shark surveys at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“The partnership between Rookery Bay and FIU was the entire reason I applied to FIU for graduate school,” Zikmanis said. “I knew I wanted to do research on the Picayune Strand bull sharks and the best place to do that would be FIU thanks to this close partnership.”

The partnership provides students including Zikmanis mentorship and research opportunities and funding through a graduate fellowship. Zikmanis was also awarded a $56,000 NOAA Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Fellowship to further her research, pending congressional appropriations. Fellowship programs like these are critical to the development of the next generation of environmental scientists.

“The people I have met through Rookery Bay have helped me develop both as a scientist and as a communicator by giving me opportunities to help with field research and public education programs,” Zikmanis said.

These funds support Zikmanis’ studies on the impact the Picayune Strand Restoration Project is having on bull sharks in Rookery Bay. Using acoustic tags, she studies how long the sharks stay in the estuary before moving into more marine systems. She will also study whether bull sharks feed in the estuary or in saltwater systems and if this varies during different seasons.

Learning how the restoration project is affecting a top-level predator helps scientists predict how the project’s completion will affect the rest of the ecosystem.

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. Research in this area is spearheaded by the College of Arts, Sciences & Education through its Institute of Environment, which is leading projects and programs that support and safeguard the survival of key ecosystems and marine species.

To support a fellowship program at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education, please visit the Give page. Details on environmental research conducted at the FIU Institute of Environment is available at environment.fiu.edu.