Undergraduate heads into the lab (and the marsh) to protect our coastlines

Salt marshes, often overlooked, provide critical ecosystem services to coastal communities. They protect against damaging storm surge by attenuating waves, and they guard against algal blooms and oxygen depletion by intercepting watershed nitrogen before it can prompt eutrophication in coastal waters.

In recent decades, numerous anthropogenic sources have increased nitrogen inputs to these salt marsh ecosystems. Yet, many of the effects of these nitrogen inputs on the carbon and nitrogen cycles, as well as the ecosystem’s resilience to sea level rise, remain unknown. To study the effects of these anthropogenic changes, the Bowen Lab and the Hughes Lab, at Northeastern University’s Coastal Sustainability Institute, have just received an NSF grant to research the effects of nitrogen in various forms on salt marsh ecosystems.

The researchers began a three-year study this year consisting of erecting field plots within salt marshes in the Plum Island Estuary LTER in Massachusetts and the North Inlet NERR in South Carolina. Throughout the study, the researchers will fertilize each site with different forms of nitrogen and study the plant-microbe system’s response; they aim to keep the experimental conditions between the two locations identical.

Luke Bagdonas, a co-op student in the Bowen Lab, jumped right into his position with a trip to South Carolina within the first few weeks on the job. As a chemistry student, Luke has always been interested in the environmental sciences. His position in the Bowen Lab allows him to blend both interests, and the trip to South Carolina showed him how his degree can be applicable outside of a laboratory setting.

“[The trip] was also an amazing opportunity to connect with those in my lab group, as well as network with other researchers studying all things salt marsh and biogeochemical cycling,” Luke says. “My co-op has given me a lot of clarity about what I want to pursue after graduating.”

Luke joined graduate student Stephanie Tsui and Postdoctoral Researcher Matt Costa from the Bowen Lab and Kristen Rabbitt from the Hughes Lab to conduct the field work, and will continue analyzing their findings through the summer with the team.

College of Science
Marine and Environmental Sciences