The Greater Everglades Research Initiative (GERI) conceptual model, reflecting the research focus of the Environmental Science Program, is organized around four major human-caused stressors and the associated impacts on environmental resources. The model shows the relevance of FAU’s Environmental Science research to some of the most pressing problems in South Florida and other coastal areas. It is issue-driven and focused on aquatic systems, from their freshwater source out to the coral reefs, where many of these problems are most obvious. Humans are viewed as an integral part of ecosystems rather than separate from them; there are no ecosystems left on the planet that are unaffected by human activities.
Healthy aquatic ecosystems have direct importance to humans. Although many practitioners of Environmental Science at FAU believe that ecosystems and their components have intrinsic value, defining values relative to humans also leads to good management decisions and the long term sustainability of our natural systems.
Humans use ecosystems in different ways and for different purposes. Their use is guided by ethics, culture, and economics. The research aimed at understanding these factors can help resolve environmental conflicts and lead to more effective and efficient implementation of conservation projects and resource management decisions. The framework within which the large scale use of ecosystems by humans is governed, involves planning, public outreach and education, and ultimately policy. Understanding this framework is just as critical to effective resource management as is an understanding of biological processes.
Faculty research and education in this area draw heavily on examples from the large scale restoration and management of south Florida ecosystems. Our planning and policy expertise is sharpened by working in a setting where urban planning must be conducive to large scale restoration and management of our wetland ecosystems. South Florida's vast sensitive wetlands are directly adjacent to a large and burgeoning human population that is dependent on the same water, so South Florida is encountering sooner than most areas, unprecedented challenges in balancing human and environmental water needs. However, the evidence is mounting that worldwide water conflicts are on the rise and they will continue. In other words, for many places around the world, it can be said that this is a problem coming to a town near you. Developing tools and expertise to solve such thorny water-related problems, put our faculty and students in a strong position to apply their expertise to other areas around the country, and indeed the globe.
Human use of ecosystems can lead to many outcomes. Human activities that negatively affect environmental sustainability are termed stressors. In South Florida and other coastal systems, some of the worst stressors are the (1) destruction of wetlands, (2) hydrologic and climatic changes, (3) increase of contaminants, and (4) introduction of invasive species. Listed under each category are specific examples that are applicable to many areas of the world.
The research interests of faculty in the Environmental Science Program reflect our emphasis on freshwater and near-shore marine systems, which dominate South Florida. We are strong in our ability to bring genetic and physiological tools to bear on environmental problems, as well as in our use of ecological models and GIS. We also have a number of faculty with expertise in the ecology and management of rare and endangered species, of which Florida has the dubious distinction of having more than almost any state in the U.S. The list of research topics will change often to reflect the change in our faculty members and their evolving research interests.
The success of the Greater Everglades Research Initiative depends on the diverse and talented faculty doing research in environmental science at FAU. This list is not exhaustive but is rather meant to facilitate contact between our faculty and students, scientists, or agency staff with a common interest in a research topic.