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Loyola environmental biology faculty and students research coastal ecosystems

Loyola press release - May 6, 2010

The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico has many experts concerned the oil spill will deal a devastating blow to fragile coastal ecosystems still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Loyola University New Orleans environmental biology faculty and members of the Center for Environmental Communication have extensive research experience in the areas affected by the spill and engage students in ongoing state-of-the-art research to study how emergency situations such as this could affect them.

Loyola biologists have numerous ongoing research projects throughout coastal Louisiana and Gulf Coast states, including the Mississippi River delta, Lake Pontchartrain, coastal wetlands and the Florida panhandle. In all of these studies, faculty researchers have not only established long-term projects that are providing the critical research needed to understand these ecosystems, but also know how they function and what is needed for their restoration. Working with these faculty, Loyola undergraduate students participate in cutting-edge research that ultimately results in the production of honors theses and publications and can lead to their development as professional environmental biologists.

“We are focused on involving undergraduate students in being full team members in this nationally competitive research,” said Craig Hood, Ph.D., professor of biology and chair of the biology department. “Whereas other universities tend to focus on training graduate students, we engage undergraduates to give them transformative experiences. Every Loyola student can potentially have a truly outstanding environmental experience here.”

Some of the ongoing research projects include:

  • David White, Ph.D., professor of biology, and his students have worked for more than 25 years on understanding the productivity ecological processes of succession and plant community ecology in the interior marshes of the Mississippi River delta. Their research reveals the important biological processes shaping productive freshwater marshes and the long-term data that is vital to tracking and restoring the coastal zone. White and his students have also worked for more than 30 years on describing and understanding the community structure and diversityof hardwood forests along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, which are among the rarest ecosystems in the region.
  • James Wee, Ph.D., the Provost Distinguished Professor of Biology, and his research students are studying the diversity, biology and ecology of microbes of the Lake Pontchartrain estuary and coastal Louisiana. Their studies, which have documented new species in the estuary, have led to establishing long-term monitoring of the algal flora of this important ecosystem.
  • Hood and his research students are engaged in ongoing studies to understand the mammals inhabiting the forests, swamps and marshes of the Barataria Preserve of Jean Lafitte National Park. Their studies are not only providing the first baseline data to understand mammal ecology of the Park, but also of coastal ecosystems of Louisiana.
  • Hood, White and Don Hauber, Ph.D., professor of biology,and their research students have worked for more than 20 years to understand the genetics, ecology and invasion biology of roseau cane (Phragmites australis) throughout the Gulf Coast, especially in the marshes of the Mississippi River delta.
  • Frank Jordan, Ph.D., professor of biology, and his research students are studying the fish communities associated with the interior marshes of the Mississippi River delta. Their research is revealing the important species interactions that are vital to successful freshwater marshes. Jordan and students have also worked for more than 20 years on the ecology of the Okaloosa Darter, an endangered fish inhabiting some rivers in the Florida Panhandle. The long-term study has provided critical data to understanding the ecology of this endangered species.

  • Paul Barnes, Ph.D.,the Rev. John H. Mullahy, S.J., Endowed Chair in Environmental Biology, and his students are researching the decomposition processes in the marshes of the Barataria Preserve of Jean Lafitte National Park. Their studies are providing critical data to understand the ecosystem functions and the effects of climate change of a major habitat found throughout coastal Louisiana.

In the Center for Environmental Communication, Chair Robert A. Thomas, Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to local, national and international media outlets on environmental issues, including the oil spill, and trains environmental journalists and stakeholders to stimulate clear and accurate public discussion on the environment. The center is also in its 11th year of a program that welcomes a diverse group of professionals for evening sessions to discuss issues of vital environmental importance to the region and nation.

For more information about the many environmental research opportunities at Loyola, contact Hood at chood@loyno.edu or call 504-865-2193. For more information on the Center for Environmental Communication, contact Thomas at 504-865-2107 or rathomas@loyno.edu.