Campus News

UGA Ecology Ph.D. candidate receives three-year NOAA graduate research fellowship

UGA Ecology Ph.D. candidate receives three-year NOAA graduate research fellowship

Virginia Schutte, a Ph.D. student in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, has been awarded a highly competitive three-year National Estuarine Research Reserve System graduate research fellowship.

NERRS, a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states, was established to study and protect coastal and estuarine resources. Fellows conduct their research at one of the program’s 27 reserves, which are located in 23 states and Puerto Rico. NERRS fellowships also include a service learning component. Fellows contribute to their host reserves’ research and/or monitoring, stewardship, education, or coastal training programs.

Schutte’s fellowship is one of 22 NERRS fellowships awarded in 2010. She will study the effects of nutrient pollution on red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) in Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico.

Schutte explained that red mangrove forests are found throughout the tropics. As a foundational species for its ecosystem, red mangroves provide important terrestrial and marine habitats. Several studies have shown that increased levels of nutrients lead to greater mangrove growth—at least, as measured above water. The effects of increased nutrients on underwater growth, and the marine habitat it provides, are not known. According to Schutte, understanding these effects is important for the management of red mangrove ecosystems.

“There have been proposals for using red mangrove forests for municipal wastewater treatment in some poor communities—running polluted water through mangrove forests instead of building costly treatment plants,” she said. “But it’s important to understand the effects this would have on marine ecosystems.”

Besides her research, Schutte will assist with the Jobos Bay Reserve’s education program as part of her fellowship.

Schutte is the first graduate student from the Odum School of Ecology to receive a NERRS fellowship. Her adviser, Associate Professor James Byers, was a NERRS fellow from 1998-2000.

In addition to the NERRS fellowship, this year Schutte has won a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, an East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes research grant from the National Science Foundation, the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the University of Georgia, and the Graduate Student Symposium Outstanding Proposed Research Award from the Odum School of Ecology.