seagrass

Sea urchins rely on seagrass for a source of food. Jamila Roth is interested in finding out if feeding sea urchins different types of seagrass will influence the eating habits of the urchins

A UF graduate student is learning how seagrass plays a role in combating the effects of climate change.

Jamila Roth, a 24-year-old UF ecology doctoral student, was awarded a $30,000 graduate research scholarship sponsored by the Florida Sea Grant College Program and the Nature Coast Biological Station (NCBS) to study seagrass at a UF marine science lab in Cedar Key.

“I am very excited to work on this research and I am very grateful for the funding from NCBS and the Florida Sea Grant,” Roth said. “I am honored to receive this scholarship from these two organizations that I greatly admire.”

The Florida Sea Grant College Program is a university-based initiative seeking to conserve coastal resources and enhance economic opportunities. The Nature Coast Biology Station, where Roth will be studying, facilitate conservation and sustainability efforts in the Nature Coast area through research, education and public outreach.

Savanna Barry, a regional sea grant agent at the Nature Coast Biological Station, said seagrass plays a crucial role in marine environments.

Seagrass is a flowering plant that grows in shallow water and is a vital part of marine ecosystems.

“Seagrasses are what we call a foundation species,” Barry said. “They create entire ecosystems just based on their presence.

The plant helps combat climate change by storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Since 1879, Earth has lost 29 percent of the known area coverage of seagrass because of algal blooms, warming temperatures and boating, according to a study done by the School of Marine and Tropical Biology at James Cook University.

But there’s hope for seagrass. Roth is researching how diversity in seagrass species impacts resilience in the ecosystem. Her research findings can be used to develop new restoration methods such as enforcing seagrass-conscious boating practices and creating more resilient populations, she said.

Laura Reynolds, a UF assistant professor of coastal ecology, has been Roth’s mentor throughout her research. She said Roth will work in the Big Bend region of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico, which contains one of the two largest seagrass beds in the continental United States.

“What she really wants to do is make a difference in conservation and restoration,” Reynolds said. “This will help facilitate interactions and help her make connections.”

Roth said she hopes to use the scholarship to improve the public’s understanding of what makes seagrasses able to withstand difficult conditions like climate change.

“With all of my research, I hope to produce relevant, realistic findings that translate well into practice and have implications for seagrass conservation and restoration,” Roth said.