Dr. Brian Roberts, associate professor and associate director of Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), and Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Distinguished Research Professor at LUMCON and Shell Oil Endowed Chair in Wetland Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU), are Co-Principal Investigators on a team recently awarded $2,057,684 to study marsh restoration in Louisiana. This project will provide new information describing how restored marshes function. Researchers will work with an advisory panel of resource managers from local, state, and federal agencies to use their results to inform current and future resource conservation.
Louisiana has lost more than 1,500 square miles of its coast since the 1930s. That number will double in the next 50 years without preventative action. Roberts said that their recently-funded study “aims to improve the information available to coastal planners and managers tasked with making critical management decisions for our coastal ecosystems.” He added, “We have a unique opportunity to examine how two types of restoration efforts (river diversions and marsh creation projects) impact plants, animals, and their interactions in coastal wetlands.” Measuring restored ecosystems isn’t common, but is critical for indicating whether a system has truly returned to normal and if restoration projects could be improved in the future.
The project, entitled “Linking community and food-web approaches to restoration: An ecological assessment of created and natural marshes influenced by river diversions,” is led by Dr. Michael Polito at LSU. It is one of 15 proposals awarded a total of $16.7 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s RESTORE Act Science Program. The funding stems from penalties paid by parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Polito and colleagues will use food webs as an indicator of marsh health and will perform an unprecedented comparison between natural and created marsh food webs.
“With support from this federally funded science program, we can continue to delve deep into research of the Gulf, which is a critical U.S. natural resource,” said Rabalais, who will lead research on the organisms living on or in the mud at the team’s study sites.
Roberts will supervise the research on marsh primary producers: organisms like phytoplankton and grasses that produce their own food.