FAU College of Science Faculty Receive USGS Grant to Assess Carbon Dynamics of the Greater Everglades
BOCA RATON, FL (November 30, 2011) – Brian Benscoter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of biological sciences, and Xavier Comas, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of geosciences within the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, have received a grant from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to assess carbon dynamics of the Greater Everglades. The three-year pilot study will assist in determining the potential impacts of disturbance, restoration efforts and climate change on ecosystem carbon cycling.
“We must understand the mechanisms and drivers of peat soil carbon storage if we want to assess how peatlands may respond to climate change,” said Benscoter, who was recently published in Nature Communications as part of a team that was the first to investigate the synergistic effects of drainage and wildfire burning on carbon storage in northern peatlands. “Tight internal regulation and potential for positive feedbacks to climate change make understanding the drivers of Everglades carbon cycling and their vulnerability to climate change increasingly important.”
Although peatlands occupy less than 3 percent of the Earth’s land surface, their extensive organic peat soils, which are derived from partially decomposed plants, make up one-third of the global terrestrial carbon pool. Currently, the Everglades likely continue to sequester atmospheric carbon as peat, although natural and human disturbances like fire, drought, and land development place this soil carbon at risk. Furthermore, the Everglades are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases, particularly methane, whose production and release are also linked to climate drivers and have the potential to accelerate climate shifts. Benscoter and Comas will thoroughly examine soil carbon exchange, and the impact of disturbance using high-tech analytical equipment and models. Data collected in this study will help researchers further understand the thin margin between carbon storage and release in the Everglades, and its vulnerability to environmental and climatic change.
Field studies for this project will take place throughout the Greater Everglades watershed, as well as the Loxahatchee Impoundment Landscape Assessment, an 80-acre model of the Everglades ecosystem on the grounds of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach. The project will also take advantage of FAU’s new Davie West Science Complex, a joint-use facility shared with USGS and the University of Florida, combining faculty office space, classrooms and state-of-the-art labs for Everglades restoration and environmental science research, as well as the greenhouse on the FAU-Davie campus.
“Despite the role of soil organic carbon in multiple components of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, as well as the importance of subtropical peatlands to the global carbon cycle, there is a lack of a comprehensive assessment,” said Comas. “This results in a high degree of uncertainty as to size and formative processes of the Everglades carbon pool, and makes it difficult to assess its vulnerability to management practices and environmental change. This research will provide fundamental information on sensitive ecological indicators that may be useful for informing policy on climate change, ecosystem management, human health and water resource protection.”
-FAU-Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. In commemoration of its origin, FAU is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2011. Today, the University serves more than 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses and sites. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.