In the Coastal and Wetlands Ecology Laboratory, we examine the community-level interactions and processes that structure coastal ecosystems. Our work spans many coastal habitats, including salt marshes, mangroves, tidal mudflats, seagrass beds, and tidal freshwater wetlands. We are particularly interested in changes in trophic interactions following habitat restoration, nutrient enrichment, or other anthropogenic alterations. In addition, we investigate how plant and animal diversity influence ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, nursery habitat, and water quality. We utilize field experiments and a wide array of analytical procedures (stable isotopes, HPLC, stoichiometry) to investigate community dynamics in tropical, subtropical, and temperate environments.
Our ultimate goal is to incorporate our understanding of coastal ecosystem dynamics and processes into the management of restored and anthropogenically impacted habitats. We seek to apply our findings to the design and management of restored coastal wetlands, maintenance of water quality standards in local watersheds, and coastal habitat management in the face of near-term climate change and sea level rise.
Our current research evaluates the influence of habitat restoration, nutrient enrichment, climate change, and other anthropogenic disturbances on coastal wetlands, mangroves, and subtidal seagrass beds. Current projects include:
Ecosystem restoration: ecological restoration of emergent coastal marshes and aquatic habitats
As our understanding of complex biotic and abiotic links between emergent marshes and adjacent aquatic habitats increases, restoration approaches must also increase in complexity. The development of plant canopy features is often considered to be a sign of successful coastal marsh restoration, but a robust plant canopy may not correspond with the recovery of other ecosystem attributes such as nutrient retention or energy flow through food webs... Read more.
Changing coastal ecosystems: causes and consequences of mangrove expansion into northern Gulf of Mexico salt marshes
On the Texas coast, black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) regularly expand from persistent populations into salt marshes during periods with warm winters, and occasionally contract in distribution during periods with severe freezes. Over the coming decades, mangrove distributions are expected to continue expanding due to rising global temperatures and milder winters. As a result, large areas of the Texas coast that historically have been dominated by salt marshes will become dominated by mangroves. ... Read more.
Blue carbon in coastal wetlands: the effects of restoration and woody encroachment
Carbon can be absorbed from the atmosphere and stored by microbial and plant communities in a process called sequestration. A portion of this carbon is respired by the plants and released back into the atmosphere, but the remainder is converted into biomass that may become sequestered in the soil for decades. Carbon that is sequestered in marine habitats such as marshes, mangroves, and seagrasses, is known as “blue carbon.” Read more.