Student Spotlight: Nadia Romero, LSU Discover Grant Recipient

Name: Nadia Romero

Classification: Senior, CES

Anticipated graduation: December 2019

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

High School: Riverwood International Charter School

photo of nadia romero smiling in a lab 

The College of the Coast & Environment’s Nadia Romero is fiercely committed to understanding the impacts of Louisiana’s changing coastal environment. Romero is a Coastal Environmental Science undergraduate and one of 16 LSU undergraduates to receive the LSU Discover Undergraduate Research Grant this spring. This grant funds undergraduate research and creative projects for students with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Romero will be using her grant to perform a study to determine the productivity and growth of black mangrove trees, Avicennia germinans, in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, where this type of wetland is expanding due to a historical increase in air temperature.

Southern Louisiana is known for its extensive wetland area that includes salt marshes and mangrove trees. These wetlands provide key ecosystem services to the state of Louisiana, such as habitat for economically important fish species and coastal protection during storms.

“Sadly, we are losing large areas as result of a combination of factors including sediment depletion and increasing level rise,” Romero said.

Romero has been working with her faculty mentor, Dr. Victor Rivera-Monroy, in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, on a project to determine how environmental factors regulate the productivity of mangroves trees and how they interact with other type of wetlands in providing ecosystem services in coastal Louisiana. 

In contrast to grasses like saltmarshes, mangrove wetlands are trees and shrubs that produce large amounts of wood and leaves that are eventually used as food by other organisms in the ecosystem. So, Romero and Rivera-Monroy want to find out how this production changes with the seasons and how it is impacted by human activities. 

Once a month, Romero travels to Port Fourchon with Rivera-Monroy and his graduate students, Xiaochen Zhao and Ivan Vargas, to collect mangrove litterfall samples from baskets that are placed under the forest canopy to catch organic matter such as leaves, branches, flowers, and other woody material. All samples are carefully packed and transported to Rivera-Monroy’s lab within LSU’s College of the Coast & Environment. After drying all the litterfall in an oven for 72 hours, the material is then sorted by its components and the selected material is analyzed for total carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Romero then uses these data sets to determine what the monthly organic matter production is and how soil fertility controls this production during warm and cold environmental conditions. Nadia checking litterfall samples in Port Fourchon

Romero plans to compare her Louisiana mangrove productivity data not only to other coastal regions in the Gulf of Mexico, where mangroves are extensive,—including Mexico, Florida and Cuba—but also to other highly productive mangrove wetlands in Columbia, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela.   

“Although the mangrove tree height is less than four meters here in Louisiana, there is the potential for this tree to grow taller since Louisiana’s climate is getting warmer due to climate change. My research project will provide key baseline information to compare how these shrubby trees might become a taller forest that could replace our eroding saltmarshes in the future,” Romero said. 

When asked about her experiences working with Dr. Rivera-Monroy, she added, “I feel like I'm learning from the best. And, it's nice to directly apply what I’ve been learning at LSU for the past four years in a very practical manner.”