Florida State University

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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Geography Prof Takes on Seagrass Restoration Research Under New Grant

January 25, 2018

A faculty member in the Department of Geography has been awarded a grant as part of national funding for a series of projects on new technologies for monitoring and evaluating environmental restoration projects.

Assistant Professor Sarah Lester received $365,699 for a research prject titled “Developing an Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Framework for Evaluating Ecosystem Service Outcomes from Seagrass Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Seagrass habitats have long been experiencing degradation from human impacts yet offer substantial environmental advantages when healthy. Restoration is therefore a major priority for the Gulf of Mexico. However, ecosystem service benefits are rarely tracked by restoration monitoring efforts due to a lack of standardized approaches for measuring them.

Lester’s project intends to address this gap using existing datasets on seagrass along the Florida Gulf Coast to develop models and metrics that can be used to link and quantify the relationship between seagrass restoration and ecosystem services.

The outputs produced by this project will include maps of seagrass habitat suitability and service delivery, predictive spatial models of seagrass services, and a tradeoff analysis framework to compare the service outcomes and costs of different restoration projects.

“These outputs will fill key gaps in our scientific knowledge about the functioning of this important but widely threatened nearshore habitat and will reveal potential synergies and tradeoffs in ecosystem service outcomes for seagrass beds,” Lester explained.

Project outputs will also be immediately applicable to seagrass management, restoration planning, and decision-making about restoration priorities.

Lester’s research team includes geography Ph.D. student Jennifer McHenry and master’s student Tyler Lynn. Lester’s co-principal investigator is Andrew Rassweiler, assistant professor in the FSU Department of Biological Sciences.

The funding is provided by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Total funding for the seven projects throughout the U.S. totals $5.3 million.

Assistant Professor of Geography Sarah Lester (left) and Ph.D.
student and project team member Jennifer McHenry.