November 26, 2018
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Siobhan Fennessy, professor of biology and Philip and Sheila Jordan Professor of Environmental Science, is playing an instrumental role in the first-ever national survey on the condition of the nation’s wetlands. A renewal grant of $319,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency guarantees her research will continue for at least three more years.
The grant funds Fennessy’s quest to develop tools that measure the human impact on wetland ecosystems. Her proposal — titled “Integrating indicators of Ecological Condition and Ecosystem Services for the Assessment of Anthropogenic Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems” — is part of a broader EPA examination that also includes rivers, streams, lakes and coastal areas.
“The goal of the overall project is to provide a report card on the status of all these ecosystems so we can demonstrate the degree to which our decisions are improving them,” said Fennessy, who is analyzing some of the data collected by field crews from a sample of 1,235 randomly selected sites from Alaska to Florida. The design and execution of the survey will increase the capacity to evaluate conditions in the wetlands and other aquatic environments.
Undergraduate students on Fennessy’s research team perform grant-related work in soil ecology and other aspects of the project. The grant also funds a post-doctoral fellowship for Amanda Nahlik ’02, a past member of Fennessy’s undergraduate research team. “I think it is great exposure for our students to work with an alumna who is off to a promising start in her science career,” Fennessy said.
A nationally known specialist in wetland ecosystems, Fennessy has been working on the EPA survey for several years. Despite her track record, Fennessy said approval of continued funding “is never a given, there is always some anxiety.” Renewal, she added, “is a vote of confidence in our work and indicates that the EPA thinks we are a good investment.”