Graduate student awarded fellowship to study how mangroves react to coastal hazards

By Paola Burgos-Carrasquillo

Mangroves are not indestructible but have been known to stand their ground in hurricanes. It’s that resilience that first piqued Alex Crow’s interest.

Crow, an incoming graduate student in the Department of Earth and Environment, was recently awarded the FIU-Rookery Bay’s Research and Education Graduate Assistantship. This funding allows him to further his research on the resilience of mangroves against coastal hazards.

Alex Crow

Since Crow joined FIU as an undergraduate student, he has been involved in research with the FIU Institute of Environment. At the Liu Laboratory for Plant Conservation, he studied how Hurricane Irma impacted air plants in the Everglades. At the Rockwell Plants and People Lab Crow worked as an environmental educator with Miami-based The Education Fund on the “Measuring Environmental Services in the Urban Food Forest Landscape” project. He was a student in the FIU Agroecology Program and served as the president of the FIU Beekeeping Club before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2019. Among all these achievements, Crow was also one of the first student members of the NSF-funded Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which allowed him to study the microbiology of soils of the Everglades.

Crow was impressed by the resilience of the mangroves and how they could act as an ecosystem on their own – supporting unique and specialized biodiversity that can tolerate living in conditions of high salinity.

“This project is so important to me because I grew up in South Florida, where we face the threat of hurricanes, so it is interesting to learn how these storms have impacted both people and mangrove ecosystems,” said Crow. “Sometimes the mangroves take it well and recover, and other times they might not. It’s interesting to me to see how a plant species responds to a big disturbance like a hurricane. I love that.”

Crow is the second person to receive the FIU-Rookery Bay graduate assistantship. First awarded to Kristine Zikmanis in 2020, the assistantship provides mentorship, funding, education, and research opportunities for graduate students. Rookery Bay spans 110,000 acres of mangrove forests, uplands, and protected waters and is as an important site to study blue carbon ecosystems, including mangroves, to learn how they will fare against climate change.

Alex Crow

“The internship program, and particularly Alex, is instrumental in bringing fresh observations about the importance of mangroves to the Rookery Bay estuary,” Tom Marquardt, President of Friends of Rookery Bay’s Board of Directors, on the FIU-Rookery Bay Research and Education Graduate Assistantship and its importance for Rookery Bay.

Crow’s findings will provide valuable information on the status of mangrove ecosystems after the hurricanes of 2017. They will support the Coastal Wetland Project led by Michael RossSouth Florida and Terrestrial Ecosystems Lab. They will also further the work of the Mangrove Coast Collaborative led by Danielle Ogurcak and funded by NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative (NERRSSC).

Through outreach efforts at Rookery Bay, this fellowship will also allow Crow to share his research with students of all ages about the importance of protecting coastal ecosystems.

“Seeing students get excited about the environment, whether they are getting their shoes stuck in the mangroves during a field excursion, or whether they are simply inspired by what they are learning about these ecosystems – that makes it all worth it,” Crow said.

FIU was ranked No. 11 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. 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.