From volunteer to researcher, student dives into Everglades ecology

By Maria Gabriela Gonzalez Starchek

Veronica Restrepo

Veronica Restrepo grew up in Spain seeing diverse and rich ecosystems. She fell in love with its mountains, lakes and beaches.

When Restrepo began her studies, she realized she wanted to pursue a career in the environmental sciences. Looking for her first research experience, Restrepo started working as a volunteer in FIU professor Jennifer Rehage’s Lab for Coastal Fish Ecology & Fisheries. She spent six months researching in the iconic Everglades ecosystem.

“This experience awakened my passion for research,” she said.

Restrepo is currently working on a Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER) project with FIU professors John Kominoski and Edward Castañeda. While working with Rehage, she took part in several projects in the coastal Everglades, including research on seagrass die-off and food web dynamics.

Restrepo learned the process of preparing prey samples for stable isotope analysis to study food web dynamics. While studying seagrass die-off, she worked in the field collecting samples from different trophic levels, including plants and various snails and fish that were later prepared in the lab for stable isotope analysis to study food web structure. Restrepo would go into the field to deploy acoustic receivers, download data and tag fish with acoustic tags to study their movements and distribution.

Restrepo’s research focuses on investigating vegetation dynamics in response to seasonality and soil properties in the Mississippi River Deltaic Plain. The results will be used to generate landscape-level vegetation mapping and patterns to identify indicators of ecosystem vulnerability across multiple coastal basins and environmental settings. Restrepo is also part of an FCE LTER project that studies the fluorescence of dissolved organic carbon. The composition and source of the carbon molecule can be determined from the results.

Restrepo recently graduated with a bachelor’s in environmental science and has a bachelor’s in natural and applied science, a minor in biology and a certificate in biodiversity conservation and management. She plans to continue her studies at FIU with hopes of earning a Ph.D. in Biology.