College of Arts & Sciences

UNCW Awarded Grant to Research Invasive Species in Puerto Rico

JULY 26, 2018

UNCW has been awarded $77,061 in federal funds (66% of total costs) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant program entitled “University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program Institutional Plan for 2018-2022 (grant number NA180AR4170089)” to help protect Puerto Rican marine ecosystems and habitats from invasive species.

Susanna López-Legentil, associate professor, and Patrick Erwin, assistant professor in the UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology, will collaborate with stakeholders to develop a cost-efficient assessment tool to prevent the establishment of invasive marine species in Puerto Rico. The research team will include graduate and undergraduate students at UNCW and the results will be disseminated to the University of Puerto Rico, as well as at the Center for Environmental Education, Conservation and Research.

By sampling sixteen harbors and marinas, the team will identify areas of the coastline most vulnerable to species introductions and develop an accessible, web-based assessment tool to help detect the arrival of new species and monitor the spread of potentially harmful ones. They will also provide the Puerto Rican scientific community, harbor managers and local environmental groups with a watch list of species of concern.

Biological invasions cause significant economic ($137 billion annually in the U.S.) and ecological damage. Cost-efficient assessment tools and effective containment and eradication plans are critical to mitigating these impacts.

The results of the team’s research will provide local communities with a practical tool kit to help reduce economic losses and natural ecosystem damage caused by invasive species. Research and global engagement are key priorities of the university’s Strategic Plan.

“Globalization and climate change are altering species distributions worldwide with real world consequences,” said López-Legentil. “We need to understand and minimize these changes in order to protect our native ecosystems and our children’s legacy.”

-G. Guthrie