Arara indigenous peoples and fisheries affected by the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Image courtesy Dr. Simone Athayde

The newly created UF Biodiversity Institute (UFBI) awarded a Faculty Interdisciplinary Seed Grant to a joint effort by UF faculty, students and Brazilian collaborators of the Amazon Dams Network (Rede Barragens Amazônicas -ADN/RBA), hosted in the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD) in the Center for Latin American Studies, in partnership with the UF Department of Geography, and the Levin College of Law.

The project “Incorporating traditional ecological knowledge and biocultural diversity into policy-making for infrastructure development across the Amazon” aims to develop an innovative approach to translate biocultural diversity into development policy and decision-making, through the creation of a transdisciplinary pilot training program for indigenous “paralegals” – providing indigenous communities with sufficient capacity to participate in large infrastructure planning processes across the Amazon Conceptually, this term is similar to “para-taxonomist” and “para-ecologist” terms already used to support community-based and citizen science programs for biodiversity assessment and conservation in the region. The framework and tools resulting from this project can serve as a model to inform UFBI strategies and programs for documenting and monitoring human and cultural dimensions of biodiversity, as well as to translate research on biocultural diversity into natural resource management, protection and sustainability.

The project will be developed through a collaborative effort by UF and Brazilian faculty and students, as well as Amazonian indigenous peoples, lawyers and public defenders. At UF, project leaders include Dr. Bette Loiselle (PI, TCD Director); Dr. Simone Athayde (Co-PI, co-leader ADN/RBA/TCD); Thomas T. Ankersen, J.D. (Legal Skills Professor and Director, Conservation Clinic, Center for Governmental Responsibility, UF Levin College of Law); Dr. Cynthia S. Simmons(Associate Professor, Department of Geography and TCD); Timothy E. Mclendon, J.D. (Staff Attorney, Center for Governmental Responsibility, UF Levin College of Law); and Dr. Michael Heckenberger (Department of Anthropology). UF Student Assistant is Brazilian lawyer and doctoral student in geography Ms. Maíra Irigaray. In Brazil, project leaders include Dr. Robertson Azevedo and Dr. Felício Pontes (Public Defenders, Ministério Público); Dr. Odair Giraldin (Universidade Federal do Tocantins-UFT); Dr. Paula Moreira (RBA/UFT); Dr. Juliana Laufer (RBA/UFT); Dr. Lígia Soares (RBA/UFT); Dr. Teodoro Irigaray (Universidade Federal do Maro Grosso-UFMT) and MS. Neiva Araújo (Universidade Federal de Rondônia – UNIR). Three Brazilian exchange students currently at UF – Monise Busquets (UFT), Adriana Medeiros (UNIR) and Esther Mesquita (UFPA) – will also be involved in this effort.

UFBI seed funds will leverage existing resources from ongoing programs in each of the participating departments. With support from NSF and CAPES projects, the TCD Program is currently sponsoring four doctoral students from Brazil. Using the facility of the College of Law’s Program in Sustainable Development Law in Costa Rica, and support from UFBI, Ms. Esther Mesquita, a doctoral exchange student from Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA) in Brazil, will be partnered with UF Law students Honor Humphrey and Pilar Morales Giner, and charged with assisting with research on basic infrastructure law and planning processes, and in drafting a pilot guide for training purposes. Using the facility of the College of Law’s Brazilian Judges and Prosecutors Training Program, UFBI seed funding will support the participation of Amazonian public defenders in an annual workshop at UF, who will develop law and policy analyses for incorporating biocultural diversity and a formal procedural role for indigenous paralegals under Brazilian law. Seed funding will also support a UFBI workshop that brings together indigenous leaders to validate and share the framework and tools that result from it.

Expected outcomes from this project include: 1) Larger proposals to be submitted to NSF and private foundations, to support project implementation and continued engagement by participating units, 2) A validated training manual for incorporating biocultural diversity and training indigenous paralegals in infrastructure development processes, 3) A white paper (policy analysis) that characterizes current law and policies governing planning processes in Amazonian infrastructure development with recommendations for reform, and 4) Outreach materials in accessible languages and varying formats, including digital platforms.

Image courtesy Dr. Jane Southworth.
Image courtesy Dr. Jane Southworth.

The Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of $1.6 million to  study the impacts of land transactions and investments on agricultural production, ecosystem services, and food-energy security in Ethiopia.

Dr. Jane Southworth, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of Florida is leading the project in collaboration with Dr. Arun Agrawal and Dr. Daniel Brown from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

The grant will provide the resources to study the economic, social, and environmental impacts of large-scale land transactions in the African nation of Ethiopia—a region that has witnessed thousands of land transactions, or “land grabs,” which allow foreign investors, including those from the United States, to develop large-scale farms. The research will focus in particular on the outcomes of the investments on agricultural, ecological, and food and energy security. The project will generate new data that will be available for use by other scholars and researchers, build greater research capacity among international collaborators, and produce findings that will support decision making by government agencies, NGOs, and donor organizations.

“This work is vital in our understanding of how international development affects those regional environments and communities especially vulnerable to external control of their resources,” Said Dr. Arun Agrawal. “Our research will provide information that can contribute in real ways to policy decisions that produce more sustainable outcomes.”

“We are using a combination of satellite images, ecological field work, and social surveys to identify when large-scale land transactions generate positive versus negative outcomes,” said Dr. Jane Southworth. “We hope to discover generalizable knowledge about the impacts of land tenure changes on farm-level processes, ecological dynamics, and community well-being to help inform future land use policies.”

“It’s exciting to conduct this study in a region where our findings have the potential to make a real impact,” said Dr. Dan Brown, “ and I am pleased that the importance of this research is recognized by NSF, and in addition, a similar project previously awarded funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).”


The start date of the CNH grant is September 2016, with an estimated end date of August 31, 2020.

Image courtesy Mr. Alex DeRosier
Alex DesRosiers was able to fly into Hurricane Matthew, during his internship with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters. Image courtesy Mr. Alex DesRosiers

University of Florida senior and undergraduate research assistant Alex DesRosiers worked a research based summer internship with NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters. The internship was based out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa where he worked under meteorologist and flight director Ian Sears. Alex’s internship was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Dr. Corene Matyas and the University Scholars Program.  

It was a dream come true for DesRosiers, and engineering major, who has been obsessed with meteorology from a young age. DesRosiers’ project focused on working with an atmospheric equation that extrapolates sea level pressure in the eye of a hurricane.

Alex will present the results of his research, along with some work on flooding in tropical cyclones affecting the US at the American Meteorological Society’s 2017 Annual conference in Seattle. Although recruited for the internship due to a mathematics background, DesRosiers says “it would have been impossible to secure this opportunity without first obtaining my certificate in meteorology and climatology through the Geography department”. 

As president of the University of Florida American Meteorological Society chapter, Alex is well on his way to a career in meteorolgoy.  He reminds fellow students “Whether you are in the Geography department, or in an outside major like me, this certificate is an invaluable asset to your degree.  Meteorology and Climatology are growing fields, and employers value the few that have a good knowledge of them.  I am incredibly thankful to Dr. Matyas and her certificate program for prepping me for the career I have always wanted.”  

Come join the Certificate in Meteorology and Climatology!

Ryan Lab Fall 2016. Image courtesy Dr. Sadie Ryan.
Ryan Lab Fall 2016. Image courtesy Dr. Sadie Ryan.

This summer, Geography’s Ryan Lab and the Emerging Pathogens Institute were proud to host Lauren Fregosi as a summer research intern working on Dr. Sadie Ryan‘s National Science Foundation’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (NSF EEID) grant. The internship, which was offered through the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, was focused on modelling approaches on the effects of climate, land use, and socioeconomic conditions on vector-borne disease transmission.

Ms. Fregosi is a native of Long Island’s south shore, and is a rising senior at Syracuse University (class of 2017), pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology, with a minor in Applied Statistics, and conducting research at SU’s Falk School of Public Health. She was excited to work with the Ryan Lab because of her passionate interest in vectorborne disease control. This work built on her existing experience working on a project analyzing biting rates of different mosquito species and urbanization in Ecuador, at the Falk School of Public Health. Fregosi has enjoyed learning multiple strategies for organizing, analyzing, and describing datasets, in R, developing models in both R and GARP, and becoming well versed with GIS, and ArcGIS model builder.

When not polishing her GIS skills, Ms. Fregosi donates her free time volunteering at Syracuse’s Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and Habitat for Humanity. She also organizes phlanthropic activities, community projects, and fundraisers for her sorority.

The Department of Geography thanks Lauren for all of her hard work this summer, and wishes her luck in her continued studies!

Aedes_aegypti_bloodfeeding_CDC_Gathany
Aedes Aegypti mosquito, jentavery, (CC BY 2.0)

GAINESVILLE, Florida — Dr. Sadie Ryan (Assistant Professor of Medical Geography in the Department of Geography and UF’s Emerging Pathogen Institute) and colleagues, have just received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program rapid response, or RAPID grant to study the socio-ecology and climate responses of Zika virus transmission by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in southern coastal Ecuador. By analyzing blood samples, deploying climate sensors, and conducting socio-ecological surveys, the researchers will gain insight into the spread of Zika as climate, altitude and socioeconomic levels change.

The research team has extensive experience studying vector-borne illness in Ecuador. Lab work will be based at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), which was recently ranked as Ecuador’s top research institution in Nature Publishing Group’s 2016 Annual Index.

The collaborative research team includes experts in epidemiology, public health, ecology, entomology, mathematical modeling, and geography: co-principal investigator Sadie Ryan (University of Florida), lead investigator Anna Stewart Ibarra (SUNY Upstate Medical University), co-principal investigator Marco Neira (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE)), and Timothy Endy (SUNY Upstate Medical University). The work expands upon Dr. Ryan’s prior work with the Center for Global Health & Translational Science at SUNY-Upstate Medical University.

GAINESVILLE, Florida — A new 5 year multi-institutional collaborative research grant of $1.85 million funded by the National Science Foundation’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (NSF EEID) program will support research on the effect of temperature on 13 different diseases transmitted by insects. It will also measure the capacity for two common disease-carrying mosquitoes in the Americas to adapt to new (or changing) temperatures.

Many of the world’s most devastating and neglected infectious diseases are spread to people by mosquitoes and other insects. Malaria, a mosquito-transmitted parasite, kills over 650,000 people each year. Dengue fever, an incurable mosquito-borne virus, infects around 400 million people annually, a rate which has grown dramatically in recent decades. With limited options for medical treatment or vaccination, preventing infection is the best way to control these diseases. This approach requires understanding—and predicting—how the climate affects mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

“If we want to predict the spread of mosquito-transmitted diseases, we have to learn how these insects and pathogens respond to the environment and changing climate,” says Dr. Sadie Ryan, Assistant Professor of Medical Geography at the University of Florida and co-principal investigator on the project. “We will improve on our existing predictive models by validating them with real data. Integrating field data on local conditions with mapped model predictions will enable us to understand the multiscalar dynamics of climate-disease relationships”

Dr. Ryan (UF) and Dr. Anna Stewart Ibarra, Assistant Professor of Medicine at SUNY-Upstate Medical University will launch a new field project component in Ecuador. They will be adding new sites to their previous collaborative research on climate-dengue dynamics, starting the first of five years supported under this grant, with the onset of the coming dengue season.

“This is a critical component of the research,” says Dr. Stewart Ibarra, leader of the Ecuador field team. “Testing new and existing models on the ground in dengue-endemic areas will be a big step towards improving the science behind vector control and public health.”

The collaborative research team includes experts in epidemiology, public health, ecology, entomology, mathematical modeling, and geography: co-principal investigator Sadie Ryan (University of Florida), lead investigator Erin Mordecai (Stanford University), Anna Stewart Ibarra (SUNY Upstate Medical University), Matt Thomas (Penn State University), Leah Johnson and Jason Rohr (University of South Florida), Van Savage (UCLA), Marco Neira (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE)), and other collaborators in Ecuador. The work expands upon Dr. Ryan’s prior work at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Center for Global Health & Translational Science at SUNY-Upstate Medical University.

The team will begin work this year to develop temperature-sensitive transmission models and fit them with data from published sources for 13 vector-borne diseases: vivax malaria, trypanosomiasis, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile, Eastern equine encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Ockelbo (Sindbis) disease, Ross River fever, and bluetongue. By studying this suite of diseases, the team hopes to uncover general patterns of temperature responses across multiple insects and pathogens.

See the press release for more information on the newly funded projects in the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program, a joint program of the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.