From Minnesota to Miami, student studies mangroves during REU program

By Maria Gabriela Gonzalez Starchek 

An AP biology course introduced Kyle Wong to the intricacies of ecology and microbiology. It propelled him into the environmental field.

“I was captivated by how tiny organisms played such a large role in the environments they inhabit, whether it’s our own bodies or an entire ecosystem,” Wong said.

To learn more about these topics, Wong began looking for research opportunities that matched his curiosity in microbiology and ecology. He found the perfect opportunity at FIU.

Wong spent the summer of 2021 as a part of FIU Institute of Environment’s Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). He studied the characteristics of roots and soil of red mangrove communities in the Biscayne Bay coastal wetlands and worked alongside institute professor Michael Ross and Ph.D. student Rosario Vidales.

Research field work included collecting and separating samples of roots and soil from the Biscayne Canal, measuring the amount of live and dead red mangrove roots and counting the organic matter in the soil samples he collected.

“By understanding the roots and soil characteristics of red mangroves, we can predict the movement of these communities in response to sea level rise,” Wong said.

The mangroves’ strong roots act as a natural barrier to storm surge and flooding. As sea level rise and climate change continue to threaten coastal communities, understanding the structure of mangroves is critical. Studying the roots and soil allows scientists to predict how these mangroves may respond to sea level rise, including gaining a better understanding of whether they can survive rising seas or not.

Wong plans to enrich his knowledge in microbiology by pursuing a Ph.D. after he graduates from the University of Minnesota.