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Meet the Students

Influence of Soil Disturbance on the  Distribution 
of Caesar Weed (Urena lobata) at DuPuis Management Area 

Daniel Hagood, FAU Graduate in Environmental Science

DanielDaniel Hagood is a FAU graduate student pursuing a Masters’ of Science degree in the Environmental Science Program under Dr. Brian Benscoter. Daniel learned about the opportunities for student research at DuPuis from Dr. Benscoter after he attended a FAU Faculty Retreat at DuPuis in July 2015. Daniel states that “My advisor mentioned that DuPuis has an aggressive prescribed fire program. I needed a new research site, so I wanted to check it out. I set up a meeting with CES and the SFWMD’s Land Manager at DuPuis, Justin Nolte. I toured the site and asked lots of questions. Then I had to submit a research proposal and once it was accepted, I started working on my research project in August 2015.

When asked to describe his research project Daniel says, “I am studying the influence of soil disturbance on the establishment and distribution of exotic invasive plants, focusing on Caesar weed ( Urena lobata ).”

At DuPuis, he set up twenty 2x2 meter random survey plots within the burn units in the Pine Flatwoods prior to the scheduled burns. His research methods include visually assessing the percent coverage per species. Within each plot, Daniel measures:

Daniel clearing site
  • surface soil moisture using soil moisture probes
  • temperature at 2, 5, 10, and 20 cm depth using temperature probes
  • the thickness of the surface duff/litter layer
  • vegetation biomass
  • soil disturbances
  • distance to nearest invasive plant population

After the burns, the plots are assessed to quantify:

  • fuel reduction
  • burn severity
  • vegetation recovery
  • incidence of invasive plants

Daniel discusses his objectives, “I am assessing how manually disturbed soils and prescribed fire influence plant invasion responses, as well as the composition of the soil seed bank in disturbed and undisturbed habitats.”

He hopes that “The data from my research will provide land managers with information to help prevent the spread of Caesar weed. By providing data on the influence of soil disturbances on the distribution of invasive plant species in native habitats, land managers can determine how to minimize soil disturbances, especially in sensitive regions.”

“The favorite part of my research is being able to work outside in the field weekly to assess my experimental plots,” he says with a smile.  

Reflecting on his project, he says that “I have found that it’s challenging to coordinate my research days with future prescribed burn schedules. However, the managers at DuPuis are very easy to work with and are burning all the time!”

Daniel’s advice to students interested in pursuing an environmental science or education career, “There are plenty of opportunities out there. Push yourself to search for interesting and diverse opportunities. Be sure your writing skills are top notch, so you can effectively communicate your ideas. Gaining different types of environmental experiences will help you have the best chance of being selected.”


Science Enrichment Program for Indiantown Middle School

Ben Katz, FAU Graduate Student in Environmental Education

Ben in actionBenjamin Katz is a FAU graduate student pursuing a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Environmental Education. Ben has been working part-time as CES’ Education Assistant since May 2014. He has proven to be a very dedicated, passionate and talented member of the CES team! Ben has many program development and implementation responsibilities, but working as interpretive instructor for Student Field Studies Investigating the Pine Flatwoods at DuPuis is his most important task. Ben leads elementary, middle and high school student classes teaching them about Florida’s ecology and agricultural resources found at DuPuis. He teaches student STEM lessons (science, technology, engineering and math) focusing on habitats, adaptations, native and non-native plant communities, listed species, soils and water chemistry and the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades watershed. Ben says “my favorite moment of working with students is when the class opens up and starts asking questions. The harder the question, the more fun it is to work out the solutions with the class. This is really when things all come together, and we learn from one another!”

CES’ Asst Director met Ben when he was a student at Riverwoods with his Environmental Education graduate class. Ben was very interested in the Kissimmee River Restoration, and helped with all the inter-active field activities. By the end of the day, he was offered a part time position as Education Asst to support CES’ Education and Research Programs at Riverwoods and DuPuis.

Ben recently completed his Masters’ Capstone project for FAU, by working closely with CES’ team and Indiantown Middle School (IMS) teachers. Ben explains, “The project that I completed for school credit was developing the 5th grade curriculum as a Science Enrichment Program for IMS students. The project turned into my Capstone project for FAU graduation.”

The curriculum consists of four lesson plans:

  • Pre-visit lesson – preparing the students at IMS for their field experiences;
  • Student Field Studies lesson at IMS - focusing on habitats and species;
  • Student Field Studies lesson at DuPuis – focusing on adaptations and fire ecology; and
  • Post-visit lesson – assessing students’ performance and increase in knowledge.

The pre and post lessons are led by IMS 5th grade science teachers, and the two outdoor lessons are led by the CES environmental educators. Ben says that “I am very excited and proud to pilot the curriculum for 130 - 5th grade students in Feb, 2016.”

When asked about Ben’s most challenging project, he states, “My most challenging project has been the 5th grade program, because it was the most comprehensive curriculum that I have ever developed. We were on a deadline and that required a lot of time invested. As with any challenging project, I came out with more knowledge and confidence in curriculum development.”

Ben exclaims, “I was very excited to learn the process of curriculum development and implementation! I loved working with the IMS teachers and seeing how excited they were to share the Science Enrichment program with their students. By supporting me in this project, CES has been instrumental in my success and educational knowledge.”

Ben’s advice to students interested in pursuing an internship in environmental science or education, “The greatest advice that I can give from my limited experience as a new environmental educator is to seek out the experts that spend their lives in environmental work. Find guided walks, lecture series, nature centers, wildlife art/photography events, and talk with the leaders. If you love your work, then the experts will see it, and try to help you.”

He continues, “There are too few environmental educators around, and, we are excited to assist interested students. We do environmental work because we love it and want to help create a better tomorrow! Helping students feel comfortable in their own “backyard” is one way that we can achieve a brighter future.



 Last Modified 11/8/16