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From endangered species to complex ecosystems, we study the diversity of life at multiple levels in order to better understand and protect it.

Animals

  • Amphibian Conservation

    Our work in cloud forests of the Amazonian slopes of the Andes and throughout the Andean cordillera is quantifying the impact of chytridiomycosis disease on amphibian biodiversity, and tracing the spread of the fungal pathogen and associated amphibian declines in the region.

    Learn more about our work with amphibian conservation

  • Disease Ecology in Megadiverse Tropical Amphibian Communities

    Lead: Alessandro Catenazzi

    Project Title:  Disease ecology in megadiverse tropical amphibian communities

    The pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been associated with amphibian population declines and extinctions throughout the world. Such declines have been particularly dramatic in the tropical Andes, which are among the most amphibian rich regions in the world. Our work in cloud forests of the Amazonian slopes of the Andes, and throughout the Andean cordillera is quantifying the impact of disease on amphibian biodiversity, and tracing the spread of the fungal pathogen and concomitant amphibian declines in the region.

    A major ongoing effort is to examine the disease dynamics of fully terrestrial amphibians, a guild of tropical frogs that have been experiencing cryptic population declines and extinctions ostensibly linked to disease, droughts, shifts in host behavior, spatial aggregation, and pathogen spillover. We are comparing spatiotemporal disease dynamics among co-occurring terrestrial-breeding and aquatic-breeding amphibian species, with particular attention on divergent host movement patterns and responses to climatic variability. We will use field survey and experimental data to produce a multi-host disease modeling framework using recently developed models accounting for imperfect host and pathogen detection, and population viability analyses to examine long-term host population stability under future climate trends.

    Find out more about this project and related research from our Catenazzi Lab: Conservation Biology and Herpetology

  • Dominica's Parrots

    Residing exclusively on Dominica, the Imperial parrot is this Caribbean island’s national bird. It's also one of the most endangered in the world. The Rare Species Conservatory Foundation has been partnered with Dominica’s Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division for over 20 years, studying and protecting the parrots and helping establish protected areas for wildlife. The partnership is now launching a post-Hurricane Maria rapid wildlife assessment, to be followed by long-term monitoring and additional conservation actions.

    Learn more about our work with Dominica's parrots

  • Dwarf Crocodiles

    The Congo dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus osborni), a partially protected species endemic to the Congo Basin, is an important top-down and bottom-up trophic regulator  and is traded in the tens of thousands annually as a key local and regional wild meat resource. Ensuring the sustainability of this important wildlife resource has significant implications for local livelihoods and wildlife conservation in places like Congo's Lac Tele Community Reserve.

    Learn about our work with Congo dwarf crocodiles

  • Evolutionary Reversals of Growth in Lizards

    Lead: Christian Cox

    Project Title: "Evolutionary Reversals" in the Hormonal Regulation of Growth Across Lizard Species

    The hormone testosterone is classically viewed as a promoter of growth, but this generalization is based on model species in medicine, agriculture, and aquaculture. In most of these model species, males also happen to be larger than females. However, in several lizard species in which females are larger, testosterone inhibits growth. This raises the intriguing possibility that, far from being hard-wired, the effects of testosterone (and other hormones) on growth and other processes may change considerably during evolution.

    This project will test for such "evolutionary reversals" in the hormonal regulation of growth across lizard species. These species have been selected to span repeated evolutionary shifts between those in which males are larger and those in which females are larger. By simultaneously characterizing the effects of testosterone on the expression of thousands of genes, this project will also determine how such "evolutionary reversals" in the hormonal regulation of growth are accomplished at the genetic level. The results of this collaborative study will broaden understanding of the endocrine system. It may also challenge generalizations derived from traditional animal models by investigating how closely related species evolve different responses to the same hormone. The project will also contribute to filling national teaching needs and will involve high school teachers in research experiences in an intensive summer program.

    Find out more about this and related projects from our Cox Lab of Integrative Evolutionary Biology

  • Pangolins

    Pangolins are the world’s only scaly mammal and are in dire need of urgent conservation action. Eight species occur in Africa and Asia, where they have been exploited locally for food and traditional medicine throughout history. Despite their importance to local communities as a protein source, their ecological role in tropical forest trophic webs, and their general charisma, pangolins are likely the least-known mammals in the world. We are researching pangolin basic biology, resource use, and utilization by local communities in Cote d'Ivoire to better support their in and ex situ management.

    Learn more about our work with pangolins

  • Pygmy Hippos

    The pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis) is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is one of the least studied of Africa's charismatic, endangered fauna. Continuing population declines are due to habitat loss and degradation, industrial agriculture, logging, mining and an ever-expanding human population. We are implementing the most comprehensive study of wild pygmy hippo to date, producing the necessary ecological, health and abundance data to support the implementation of in and ex situ conservation action.

    Learn more about our work with pygmy hippos

  • Red-browed Amazon Parrots

    Our scientists are leading a 25-year captive-breeding program for the Red-browed parrot, South America’s most endangered Amazon parrot. Starting with 11 birds 30 years ago, we have produced a self-sustaining captive population and integrated recovery techniques and methods with Brazilian partners. The Red-brow is now recovering in the wild.

    Learn more about our work with red-browed amazon parrots

  • Slender-Snouted Crocodiles

    African slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops spp.) are the least-known crocodile species, and our estimates suggest that fewer than 500 adult West African slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops cataphractus) are left in the wild. We aim to ensure the survival of the Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile through scientific research, capacity building and support of West African national partners.

    Learn more about our work with African slender-snouted crocodiles

  • Small Primates

    Our scientists have participated in the international Lion Tamarin Conservation Program for more than 25 years. This program works closely with agencies in Brazil to protect wild populations and expand protected areas. Our efforts in small primate conservation also benefit the pygmy marmoset; we have maintained North America's largest pygmy colony for over 25 years.

    Learn more about our work with small primates

Plants

  • Atlas of Florida Plants

    Lead: Alan Franck

    Project Title: Atlas of Florida Plants

    Humans have occupied Florida and studied its flora for the past 14,000 years. Today there are over 3,200 species of land plants native to Florida, more than 200 being endemic to the state and more than 500 considered endangered or threatened by the state. An exceptionally high number of naturalized, non-native plant species also occur in Florida (over 1,500 species) with several added each year. The flora is dynamic and much remains to be studied. The Atlas of Florida Plants is a regularly updated website that provides information on each native and naturalized plant species occurring in Florida.

  • Fungi of Florida

    Lead: Alan Franck

    Project Title: Fungi of Florida

    Fungi are one of the most diverse kingdoms of life, nearly as ubiquitous as prokaryotes and spanning a wide range of ecological roles. About 90% of the species are solely microscopic, while the remaining species are macrofungi (e.g. mushrooms) that are readily seen without magnification. In total, there are probably around 10,000-20,000 species of fungi in Florida. Despite their widespread importance, the diversity of fungi in Florida is very poorly known. As biodiversity is inextricably linked to ecosystem processes and human wellbeing, improved knowledge of fungal diversity and their ecological roles is essential. Field work and morphological and molecular analyses will greatly improve knowledge of Florida fungi.

    Photo from medium.com.

  • Plant Taxonomy and Conservation

    Lead: Javier Francisco-Ortega

    A native of the Canary Islands, Prof. Javier Francisco-Ortega has developed most of his projects on taxonomy, population genetics and phylogenetics of island plant. Member of his lab has been primarily working with species restricted the Macaronesian region (Azores, Canaries, Cape Verdes, and Madeira) to the Caribbean Islands. His laboratory is located in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and the vast majority of these projects are being performed with botanists of this botanic garden. Montgomery Botanical Center (Miami) is also major research partners. It is well known that island floras have a high proportion of threatened species; therefore a high proportion of these endeavors target plants groups that are Critically Endangered or Endangered. All of these initiatives are conducted with partners working in research institutions from the region.

    To learn more on Caribbean Island projects performed by Prof. Francisco-Ortega's lab, read this article published in the 2019 issue of Hemisphere devoted to Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean (pages 6-8). This is the official magazine of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center.

    Learn more about Dr. Francisco-Ortega's lab

    Pictured: Prof. Javier Francisco-Ortega, left, and Dr. Michael Calonje, Cycad Biologist of Montgomery Botanical Center, performing field work pertinent to the Critically Endangered cycad Zamia lucayana. This is a species restricted to a small area of Long Island, The Bahamas. Read the article published in The Tropical Garden, magazine of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

  • Revising Gentry: Neotropical Field Guide

    Lead: Christopher Baraloto

    Project Title: Revising Gentry: A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Neotropical Woody Plants

    We are revising the most widely read field guide to Neotropical plants by the renowned botanist Alwyn Gentry, with updated descriptions of more than 1,500 genera and new descriptions of 650 additional genera expanding the coverage to all Neotropical woody plants.

  • Trees of FIU

    Lead: Alan Franck

    Project Title: Trees of FIU

    Urban forests are incredibly economically valuable, with generally positive impacts to human health, soil stability, stormwater reduction, storm surge reduction, wind mitigation, carbon sequestration, cooling costs, property value, wildlife habitat, and education. Since FIU held its first classes in 1972, it has been planting trees across the campus, much of it catalyzed by the work of Charles M. Henington, the first supervisor of grounds. The MMC campus now is home to nearly 10,000 trees, including a forest of native tree species at the FIU Nature Preserve. Our goal is to inventory all trees on the FIU campuses to understand the species diversity and their value to humans and the environment.

  • Vegetation Monitoring in Hardwood Hammocks

    Lead: Christopher Baraloto

    Project Title: Vegetation Monitoring in Hardwood Hammocks of Florida and the Caribbean

    Tropical hardwood hammocks are a unique and threatened ecosystem of Florida and the Caribbean, and we are coordinating efforts to understand their composition and dynamics in the face of increasing pressures from urban development and climate change.

Ecosystems

  • Amazonian Forest Plots

    Lead: Christopher Baraloto

    Project Title: A Network of Amazonian Forest Plots with Small Trees

    We have assembled more than 800 vegetation plots across South America that contain both large and small trees, which is leading to revised estimates of the diversity of these forests and the number of tropical tree species worldwide.

  • Ecosystem Services in Community Forests of SW Amazonia

    Lead: Christopher Baraloto

    Project Title: Monitoring Ecosystem Services in Community Forests of Southwestern Amazonia

    We are working with collaborators in communities across the tri-national frontier of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to examine the impacts of road paving and associated infrastructure, on the ecosystem services provided by regional forests.

  • Multi-Taxonomic Biodiversity Inventories in Tropical Forests

    Lead: Christopher Baraloto

    We have carried out the first coordinated multi-taxonomic biodiversity inventories in more than 50 sites across French Guiana, leading to revised ideas of biodiversity hotspots and relationships between plants, animals and microbes in tropical forests.

  • Natural Enemies and Beta-Diversity in Amazonian Forests

    Project Title: Natural Enemies and Beta-Diversity in Amazonian Forests (NEBEDIV)

    The NEBEDIV project represents a comprehensive evaluation of tropical forest beta-diversity across broad geographic and environmental gradients. We will integrate not only plot level analyses of more than 100 tree communities across Amazonia, but also the first characterizations of soil fungi and insect herbivore communities at this scale.

    Learn more about the NEBEDIV project

Engagement

  • Connecting undergraduate students with plants: Alleviating plant blindness

    Leads: Dr. Melissa McCartney, Dr. Hong Liu, Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega

    Title: Connecting undergraduate students with plants: Alleviating plant blindness

    Plant blindness is the widespread lack of awareness of plants in one’s environment by the general public. At an undergraduate level this has consequences regarding how our highly skilled future workforce will value plant conservation, services, and research. Starting in 2016, the team has developed educational initiatives centered in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG) to identify and alleviate plant blindness among freshman undergraduate students. This educational project focuses on FIU undergraduates who are taking one of the two introductory courses of biology. Graduate/undergraduate students and botanists working in FTBG have also actively engaged in this initiative. Preliminary results have led to a project funded by NSF to discuss future educational actions on this issue. This new project involves the participation of other US universities and botanic gardens.

    Learn more about results of this project in The Tropical Garden, the magazine of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

  • Farmers' Outreach Program

    Leads: Mahadev Bhat and Krish Jayachandran

    Project Title: Farmers' Outreach Program

    The Farmer’s Outreach Program aims to empower small and under-represented farmers in urban sustainable agriculture, as well as beginning farmers who are interested in starting their own business. This program is predominantly geared towards assisting veterans, small farmers, minorities, and the socially disadvantaged by offering hands-on farming experience through apprenticeships, agricultural-related workshops, and technical one-on-one advice on USDA loans/grant programs. We have collaborated with several farms, nurseries, and organizations throughout South Florida to provide this engaging and practical learning experience.

    The apprenticeship entails of 100 paid hours working alongside experienced farm hosts to learn what it takes to be a South Florida grower. Once completed, apprentices may choose to apply for the second stage of the program. This advanced apprenticeship provides the opportunity for apprentices to develop their own agricultural business plan and have a deeper understanding on what it takes to run a farm or nursery business. This program has been supported through various grants from the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (2501 Program) and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program.

    Read more about the project in this Miami Herald article.

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  • FIU Organic Garden

    Lead:Amir Khoddamzadeh

    Project Title: FIU Organic Garden

    The FIU Organic Garden was established by the Agroecology Program in 2005 to provide a hands-on teaching facility for students to gain experiential and experimental learning in sustainable food production and its relationship to the ecosystem through gardening, field research, and challenge-based community engagement. In 2019, a massive effort was undertaken to redesign and improve Organic Garden resources. With the University’s support, we have built 27 new raised beds, one meeting accessibility standards set through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Numerous nursery benches were constructed for the shade house, seeds stores were restocked, and 26 tropical fruit trees were transplanted into the food forest. An herb spiral, composting area, and drip irrigation system are also currently being installed.

    The Organic Garden is committed to promoting a tranquil and inviting environment for agricultural learning and often serves as a setting for technical workshops open to both students and the general public. The FIU Organic Garden is designated as USDA People’s Garden and has been supported through various USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s grants over the years.

    Find out more about the FIU Organic Garden.

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  • Grove ReLeaf

    Coconut Grove retains a lush tropical canopy that renders it unique among most South Florida neighborhoods. Nevertheless, neighborhoods are developing rapidly, and some apprehension has arisen regarding the future of this verdant landscape.

    Grove ReLeaf focuses on teaching plant identification and inventory skills while also developing a citizen science network for urban tree mapping and monitoring across the Miami area. The data collected from this program will help our International Center for Tropical Botany scientists to assign concrete values to the tree canopy, to identify threats, and to understand the consequences of different management options.

    Knowing the composition of our tree canopy is important. It will help our scientists and city officials to:

    • Determine which trees are at risk of falling during hurricanes.
    • Calculate the important ecological and economic benefits of trees.
    • Plan the best species to be planted in particular locations.
    • Monitor trees that can have negative impacts on residents and wildlife.

    To participate in the program, download the iNaturalist mobile app and join the Grove ReLeaf project. While in spending time in Coconut Grove, take pictures of trees and submit them through the app.

    If you are interested in scheduling a group workshop to learn tree inventory and valuation skills, please contact tropics@fiu.edu

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  • Kampong Science Teacher Enrichment

    The Kampong Science Teacher Enrichment Program (KSTEP) exposes participants to several botanical and environmental science experts through in-depth lectures, field visits and hands–on activities. Our faculty present on topics for use in the environmental science, human geography, and biology curricula, and that include connections to the human populations. In addition, participants engage on in-depth discussions on aligning curricula with NGSS and Florida standards, and they have the opportunity to develop and share curricular materials learned with assistance from other STEM experts and veteran teachers.

    In KSTEP 2020 (Resilience of Caribbean Urban Ecosystems), FIU scientists will introduce participants to the Kampong’s vast collection of exotic fruit, palms, cycads, and flowering trees and discuss cutting-edge research related to:

    • Belowground ecological processes in the Caribbean region and root plant potential adaptations to climate change
    • Identifying Caribbean trees and monitoring Miami’s urban trees

    In addition, participants will receive a toolkit with starter materials to conduct all of the exercises presented in their classrooms.

    For more information about the program, please contact Nina Jungman.

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  • Supply Chain Study

    Lead: Mahadev Bhat

    Project Title: Florida Tomato and Strawberry Supply Chain Study: Strategies for a Resilient Future

    FIU is working to ensure people can work and eat despite climatic and logistical challenges.

    With support from The Walmart Foundation, researchers in FIU's College of Arts, Sciences & Education and the College of Business conduct a thorough assessment of Florida's tomato and strawberry production systems. They evaluate the entire supply chain - from farmer to processor, distributor, retailer and consumer - to identify what works, what doesn't, and why. 

    Tomato and strawberry, are the two major cash crops grown in Florida. Florida is the second largest producer of tomato and strawberry in the US after California, and Florida contributes almost 90% of the domestic winter tomato and strawberry supplies. However, 50% of the Florida tomato production was declined over the years due to the market pressure from cheaper imports, weather uncertainties, and growing costs of inputs and labor. This project is currently evaluating (a) environmental and social sustainability components of Florida tomato and strawberry industries, (b) the impact of climate change on production scenarios and (c) the resiliency in supply chain system, and (d) the feasibility to develop a comprehensive sustainability certification on fresh produce.

    Read about the project in this FIU News article or learn more about the research.

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  • Tropical Botany Course

    Title: Tropical Botany Course

    Tropical Botany is an intensive course of study in the biology and systematics of tropical plants. The class is largely based on the extensive holdings of tropical vascular plants at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, University of Miami's Gifford Arboretum and the Montgomery Botanical Center. These gardens have the largest living collections of tropical plants in the United States. Additionally, field trips to the Florida Everglades, the Florida Keys, and adjacent natural areas are included. The natural vegetation of South Florida, which includes littoral and dry land habitats, mixed tropical hardwood hammocks, pinelands, and mangrove communities, introduces students to the diversity of tropical vegetation.

    The object of the course is to provide advanced students and/or professionals with a detailed coverage of the systematics, phylogeny, diversity of structure, economic botany and conservation of tropical seed plants. Dr. Lucas Majure (University of Florida) and ICTB Director Dr. Christopher Baraloto teach this intensive month-long course along with Dr. Oscar Valverde (ICTB). Students can enroll in either BSC 6936 (graduate) or BSC 4934 (undergraduate) at Florida International University to receive credit for their participation. 

    Learn more about the Tropical Botany Course

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  • USDA Hispanic and Multi-cultural Scholars

    Lead: Eric Betancourt

    Project Title: USDA Hispanic and Multi-cultural Scholars Higher Education Grants Program

    Our Agroecology Program offers scholarship opportunities providing students with agriculture education, research training, internship experience and professional development opportunities that facilitate transitions to long-term careers with the USDA and other federal agencies. Various USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grants programs primarily target Hispanic and multicultural students. 

    During fall and spring, students perform research under the guidance of an experienced research mentor with the expectation of presenting the work at appropriate conferences, meetings and symposia. Students are also expected to engage in agriculture-related coursework, a weekly hour assisting with maintenance of the on-campus Organic Garden and occasional community engagement activities. During the summer, graduate students continue research activities and undergraduate students participate in experiential or experimental agriculture-based internships.

    Applicants should be U.S. citizens or permanent residents registered under the Agri-Science Major or Agroecology Certificate with a minimum GPA of 2.7.

    Learn more about the program on the Agroecology webpage.

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