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Mangroves at the beach in Naples, Florida.

National Science Foundation funding helps graduate student research mangroves in urban areas

Gabriela “Bella” Reyes, a doctoral student in the UF/IFAS Soil and Water Sciences Department, is the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. The prestigious award will support her while she studies how anthropogenic stressors affect mangrove structure and function. Reyes, a native of Miami, is conducting most of the study at the Biogeochemistry Lab at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida.

college student standing in front of mangrove trees

Gabriela “Bella” Reyes, Soil and Water Sciences graduate student. (Photo provided)

Reyes is looking into urban impacts on mangrove ecosystems and the benefits mangroves provide to urban areas. While there is interest in using mangroves to prevent coastal erosion and slow climate change, she said more research is needed.

“Increased nitrogen from the urban runoff and sea-level rise are two stressors that will impact mangroves,” Reyes explained.  “Research into how both stressors affect mangroves ecosystems and the services they provide urban communities is lacking.”

The research Reyes is proposing involves three parts:

  1. Characterizing how urbanization affects the physical and chemical structure of mangroves.
  2. Identifying the ability of mangroves to remove nitrogen in urban areas.
  3. Determining whether mangroves will persist with increasing nitrogen and salinity stressors and whether genetic diversity affects resistance.
college student taking measurements in mangrove trees

Bella Reyes taking measurements in the field. (Photo provided)

Mangroves Migration

“With increasing tropicalization due to climate change, mangroves are migrating northward,” Reyes said. “Targeting mangroves that are locally adapted to multiple stressors may enhance restoration success and longevity in urban areas.”

To get information to urban planners, Reyes is hoping to work with UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant agents. She would like to develop workshops on ecosystem services of mangrove restoration efforts.

“I want to work with communities to create town hall meetings on implementing green infrastructure and living shoreline projects,” she said. “I’m also passionate about science accessibility. I plan to mentor underrepresented groups in STEM during this project.”

Reyes received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. Dr. Ashley Smyth and Dr. Laura Reynolds are her co-advisors.