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UNF and partners awarded National Science Foundation grant to study seagrass health

UNF researchers studying seagrassUniversity of North Florida Department of Biology chair Dr. Cliff Ross, in collaboration with the University of South Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, has been awarded a federal grant from the National Science Foundation to study seagrass health. The entire grant, among all partnering institutions, is $1M and will be the first in history to research viral infections of seagrass and the resulting impact on coastal ecosystems.

Seagrasses are marine flowering plants that create expansive underwater meadows that form the basis of highly productive and valuable ecosystems in coastal oceans. To collect the data, the researchers will conduct microcosm experiments at UNF and field studies in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Teachers from the Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program will be involved through the development of lessons that dive into seagrass biology. Students from Girls Incorporated, Girl Scouts, and the University of South Florida’s Oceanography Camp for Girls are participating as citizen scientists by photographing Tampa Bay’s seagrass ecosystems and contributing their observations to the Seagrass Spotter website.

Since no previous research has been conducted on this topic, this project will provide fundamental knowledge about seagrass-virus interactions and have direct implications for understanding seagrass production and resilience in the face of global climate change and anthropogenic stress.