Student searches for clues about carbon cycling

By Maria Gabriela Gonzalez Starchek 

A summer research experience solidified Katherine Hulting’s belief she was made to work in the science field.


While browsing the web for an ecology research opportunity, Katherine Hulting came across the FIU Institute of Environment’s Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). Majoring in biology at Gordon College in Massachusetts, Hulting moved to Florida for 10 weeks to begin her first major-related research experience.

Hulting joined the institute’s Kominoski Lab and Florida Coastal Everglades LTER program. Last December, the Kominoski Lab put mesh bags of leaf litter at six long-term research sites in the Everglades. Four months later, the lab collected the bags. They removed and preserved the invertebrates inside the bags to later study.

creature under microscope

Hulting spent her summer studying the interactions between invertebrate communities, water chemistry and leaf litter quality in the Everglades. She identified invertebrate species, their taxonomic family level and measured their length. When comparing the invertebrates, she studied each litter bag for the type of litter, water chemistry of the site and type of ecosystem the invertebrates live in. 

The research will allow scientists to better understand how invertebrates and the environment impact litter breakdown, which is important for understanding carbon cycling in the Everglades – a major carbon storehouse. The impact leaf litter breakdown has on the environment will help predict how the Everglades can respond to climate change and sea level rise.  

“We want to know what impacts invertebrate communities in the Everglades because invertebrates are important for transferring nutrients from dead plant material to higher trophic levels,” Hulting said.

Hulting plans to attend graduate school to specialize in landscape ecology to achieve her career goal of earning a Ph.D. Eventually, she would like to do her own research on habitat fragmentation and educate others.