Ana Maria Castellanos
Mentor: Dr. Bradley Bennett
Education: Ana Maria is majoring in Biological Sciences.

Research: Brugmansia suaveolens has been an important plant in various cultures around the world, particularly to indigenous people in South America and Central America.  Shamans use beverage or unguents to have visions, to heal the sick people in their village, for divination purposes, to communicate with his ancestors, to produce the feeling of levitation, etc.  Each of the Indigenous groups studied prepare the beverage or unguent of Brugmansia suaveolens in a different way, some drink it with alcohol and others drink it in an infusion, they also use different parts of the plants, such as the bark, leaves, roots and seeds.

My research is about the tropane alkaloids extractions such as scopolamine, and atropine, which are believed to have the properties to create this state in people.  Brugmansia suaveolens is found in Florida as an exotic species. The samples are being picked up from different house back yards in Miami.  The extractions are being done using HPLC and the results will show how are the tropane alkaloids distributed in the plant, what parts of the plant have a stronger concentration of the tropane alkaloids, how are they distributed to their different life stages.

Young people in our community are using it for entertainment purposes.   In South American countries is being used for criminal purposes.  It is important to understand the properties of the alkaloids in this plant and the consequences in humans (behavior, intoxication, etc) since now our community is seeing this plant in a different perspective than indigenous people.


Fabian Collins
Mentor: Dr. Suzanne Koptur
Education and research interests.
Fabian was drawn to the UMEB program because it works closely with the environment with particular attention to the Caribbean basin, which fascinates him. He is currently a Biological Sciences major with a minor in Chemistry.  He has worked extensively in the volunteering area having worked at the Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia as well as participating in Habitat for Humanity.  Fabian currently works in the deaf community and he is doing research with Dr.Koptur on the effects of herbivory on plants.  From this experience he hopes to gain an insight into the inner workings of the Caribbean environment, as he is a native of the Caribbean.

Research: The research I am doing relates to a species of plant known as Senna mexicana variety chapmanii. What we hope to determine is whether this plant actually increases extrafloral nectary secretion in response to herbivory.  This will be tested using artificial methods to represent herbivore activity and a retractor to measure to amount of sugars produced.  We are also quite interested in doing a chromatogram of the nectary secretions to determine the exact nutritional value of what is being secreted.  This can give us a unique insight as how this plant reacts to its environment and possible support the theory of induced recruitment.


Andrew Davis
Mentor: Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega
Education and research interests: Andrew is an Environmental Studies major.

Research: Andrew Davis is currently working at the Fairchild Botanical Garden molecular laboratory performing philogenetic analysis of two populations of the palm Coccothrinax argentata. Different populations of this palm in Northern and Southern Florida were observed to differ significantly in height. Individuals from each population were grown in a common garden experiment to determine if the structural differences observed in the field are due to genetic or environmental differences. Andrew works under the mentorship of Dr Javier Francisco-Ortega and under the supervision of Dr Carl Lewis. He is conducting DNA extractions and experimenting with different PCR techniques in search for the best method to conduct a philogenetic analysis of the two populations. Results from this work are expected to corroborate findings in the common garden experiment. Andrew is also assisting with research on the endangered species Coccothrinax crinita, endemic to Cuba.


Elaine Fontes
Mentor: Dr. Steve Oberbauer
Education and interests: Elaine is a Biological Sciences and a Environmental Studies major. She believes the FIU-UMEB Program is a great opportunity to learn about the Caribbean Biodiversity and to make a meaningful connection about environments and ecosystems around the world. As an undergraduate student, I have learned to better understand the scientific method, which I trust will help me become a sound researcher.

Research: Rainforests- the ultimate refuge for a great diversity of species are very sensitive tropical ecosystems. They are the habitat for several endemic and endangered species, which suffer considerably from the damage inflicted on their environment. The survival of this fragile ecosystem is however not appreciated worldwide, notwithstanding animals and plants are constantly threatened by anthropogenic activities. Fossil fuels, deforestation and greenhouse gases are among the major events that lead to global climate change, which is a primary environmental concern as a major factor affecting tropical plants physiology. It seems that temperature changes will play a major role in tropical flora growth. It is the goal of this research to predict what will happen to tropical trees under steadily increasing global temperature rates by monitoring photosynthesis, respiration, fluorescence and carbon exchanges in different plant species.

Alex Padron
Mentor: Dr. Joel Trexler
Education and research interests: Alex is majoring in Biological Sciences.
Growing up in South Florida, Alex has developed a profound interest in marine ecology as well as fish populations in the Everglades.  He is currently working with Dr. Joel Trexler, examining predator-prey interactions between Gambusia holbrooki, the eastern mosquito fish, and amphipod populations.  In association with this, he is trying to measure the effects of periphyton mat structure in forming refuges from predators for amphipods.  Alex feels that the UMEB program at FIU has given him the opportunity to expand his knowledge on the evolution of the Caribbean basin, the environmental problems associated with it, and possible ways to preserve the beauty and diversity of the region for future generations.


Maria Camila Pinzon
Mentor: Dr. William Anderson
Education and research interests: Maria Camila is majoring in Biological Sciences.

Research: The purpose of this research was to determine how plant growth responds to hydrologic periods and how climate has changed in Southern Florida during the last 60 years.  The Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, in Everglades National Park was the species selected for study because of the presence of annual rings (allowing for dating).  By measuring carbon isotopes from Cypress tree-ring cellulose, the investigation reached the purposes indicated previously.
Everglades National Park in Southern Florida is characterized by slight changes in elevation. Water, together with the diverse weather and soil, create entirely different landscapes, each with its own community of plants and animals. Summer in Florida is very wet, with high rainfall.  During this season, the Everglades becomes a wide grassy river.  In contrast, during winter, this territory is dry grassland. Though Everglades National Park is often characterized as a water marsh, several very distinct habitats exist within its boundaries including marine/estuaries, mangroves, coastal prairie, fresh water marl prairie, freshwater slough, hardwood hammock, pinelands, and cypress domes.
Cypress Trees can be found in several areas of the Everglades. Growing in the open saw grass, the trees appear to be dwarfed, but may be older than much larger trees growing in different areas. Cypress Dome areas are sites that are slightly lower in elevation and are almost circular in shape. The larger trees grow in the center creating a "dome." The largest concentration of cypress trees occurs in the cypress slough.  Here, the soil is deeper and perhaps richer.
The preliminary samples for this study were collected from tree islands near the C-111 canal. Our data indicates that d13C values in the Cypress trees rings (1970-2000) we sampled are related to water levels, and with increased rainfall, we see a positive relationship.  Therefore, we propose to extent this chronology further back in time with older trees to better understand base-line changes in Everglades hydrology.

Angelikie Zafiris
Mentor: Dr. Maureen Donnelly
Education: Angelikie is majoring in Biological Sciences.

Research interests: The coastal wetland communities of South Florida have been cut off from freshwater sheet flow for decades and are contracting and migrating landward due to salt-water encroachment.  I conducted a paleoecological study to determine the effect of salt-water encroachment on the location of boundaries between fresh- and salt-water ecotones in the southeastern saline Everglades.  Wetland soils were cored to bedrock at 8 locations in two transects perpendicular to the coast.  Transitions from basal marl soils to peat were evident throughout the transect, with a deepening of the peat layer toward the coast indicating increased production and interior extent of the fringing mangrove forest. Mollusks were abundant throughout the cores and 21 of the most abundant taxa served as useful paleoecological indicators.  Modern distributions among 86 sites in the same wetland were used to determine local habitat affinities, which were then applied to infer past settings from the sequence of sedimented mollusks.  Sites located between the drainage canal and the coast showed significant upcore increases in the ratio of marine to freshwater taxa, while sites to the interior of the canal show the opposite trend.  Terrestrial taxa have also increased in the interior sites, indicating a transition from shallow gramminoid marsh to the current shrub/forest community.  Together with historic accounts and aerial photograph archives, the paleoecological data are showing an interior migration of the fringing mangrove ecotone within the past 60 years, replacement of a mixed gramminoid-mangrove zone by a dense monoculture of dwarf mangroves, and a confinement of the freshwater gramminoid marsh to landward areas between urban developments and drainage canals.

Jonathan Arciniegas
Mentor: Dr. Dan Childers
Education: Jonathan is majoring in Biological Sciences.

Research interests The wetlands have always been a fascinating ecosystem that has always caught my attention.  It is the bridge point between the aquatics and terrestrial ecosystems.  For this reason, I am very proud to be working with Dan Childers in the South Florida Everglades.  My work will mostly revolve around what will happen to a ridge and slough habitat when you increase the water flow. We will attempt to quantify how an increase current will influence the flocculent material (floc) that floats at the surface of the soil line.  The main interest here is to see the amount transported with the increased flow, and the amount that would collect if no increase current was present.  After collected, I run some test on CN (carbon and nitrogen) and TP (total phosphorus), for example. The reason that we want to know more about floc is because the Everglades Restoration Act wants to increase the current in the everglades which is why our curiosity leads us to see how this suspended sediment will react.




Karina Becerra
Mentor: Dr. Steve Oberbauer
Education and research interests: Karina graduated with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Karina has a strong interest in tropical ecosystems and environmenta education. She spent her childhood in the Rosario Islands, Colombia and has had an internship in the Nature Conservancy of the Florida Keys doing fire ecology research. She worked with USGS doing mangrove research. She is working as an environmental educator at Children’s Nature Institute in L.A., CA.

Alison Brovold
Mentor: Dr. Daniel Childers
Education and research interests: Alison graduated in the Spring 2003, Magna Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Biology with Honors. She traveled to the Amazon of Peru on travel scholarship for Project Amazonas for the month of June 2003. Alison will be working in Miami for the next few months as a private tutor and art teacher and as an environmental educator at MDCC Environmental Center. Alison is looking for a Biology related job in California and plan to work for the next year and begin graduate school there in Fall 2004.

Barbie Freeman
Mentor: Dr. Tim Collins
Education and research interests: Barbie hasbeen working on the systematics of piranha in the subfamily Serrasalminae, focusing in particular on two species, Serrasalmus manueli and Serrasalmus gouldingi, that are difficult to distinguish morphologically. I am using DNA sequence from three mitochondrial regions (12S and 16S ribosomal RNA and the control region) to analyze phylogenetic relationships among piranha species from the genus Serrasalmus, as well as representatives from the genera Pygocentrus, Pygopristis, and Pristobrycon. Barbie presented preliminary results at the 2003 Joint Meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Manaus, Brazil, and she plans to submit a manuscript for publication by the end of 2003.

Paige Griffis
Mentor: Dr. Joel Trexler
Education and research interests: Paige is a Biological Sciences major, and she finds that the UMEB program provides a unique avenue for undergraduate students to be mentored and guided by their FIU professors. Paige has a strong interest in Environmental Biology and has been working regularly at an animal clinic. She is continuing her work with Dr. Joel Trexler, starting a second experiment that may produce a future publication.. Recently, she present a paper “Experimental Test of the Effects of Omnivory on Stable Isotopes” at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Savanna, GA. Paige plans to attend vet school after graduation

Stephen Hodges
Mentor: Dr. Bradley Bennett
Education and research interests: Stephen expects to graduate in the Spring 2004 semester. He is in the process of looking at graduate schools.  Stephen is currently grounds supervisor at the MDC Environmental Center, which entails caring for our flora and fauna, supervising environmental education classes and working on program development.  In recent weeks he has been trying to fend off a threat to the MDC preserve by detailing all the endangered and endemic flora and fauna that occur at the Center. Stephen presented his research at the annual Society for Economic Botany meeting in Tucson Arizona.  The title of this presentation was "The uses of Pluchea carolinensis in the Botanicas of Miami".

Susan Schultz
Mentor: Dr. Laurel Collins
Education and research interests: Susan graduated with a major in Geological Sciences and a minor in Biological Sciences. Susan has a special interest in paleo-environments of the Caribbean basin. She has participated in many environmental restoration and education activities, both in Georgia and Florida. She believes that the UMEB program provides an efficient vehicle to protect the endangered environments of the Caribbean. Currently, she is a graduate student at Arizona State University.