Keysa Rosas-Rodriguez, a University of Georgia doctoral student in Integrative Conservation and Ecology, has been awarded a 2018-2019 Fulbright Student Program scholarship to conduct research in Tabasco, Mexico. She will use her grant to study how the conversion of land to palm oil production affects rivers and streams.
Palm oil, obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree, is a versatile substance that can be used for everything from cooking to soaps and shampoos to biodiesel fuel. With global demand rising, oil palm plantations are expanding throughout tropical and Neotropical regions, with impacts on terrestrial biodiversity as well as local economies and social structures. Less understood is how conversion to oil palm affects freshwater resources. Rosas-Rodriquez’s study will be one of the first to explore this question in the Neotropics.
In collaboration with scientists at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), she will assess water quality and quantity in streams located in watersheds with varying levels of oil palm development. To determine how stream ecosystems respond to oil palm conversion, she will measure indicators of stream health such as biodiversity, pH, nutrient levels, turbidity, conductivity and the presence of bacteria, as well as stream metabolism—the consumption and production of oxygen by the microbial communities in the stream, a way to gain insight into aquatic food web dynamics.
Rosas-Rodriquez will also look at how the ecosystem services provided by these streams—in some communities they are the only source of drinking water—are affected by the structural and functional changes resulting from oil palm conversion.
As part of her efforts, she will share her findings with the local communities, summarizing her results in Spanish, and will create workshops about freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem services for local K-12 students.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides opportunities for graduate students and recent graduates to study, conduct research or teach in more than 140 countries around the world. Rosas-Rodriguez is the seventh Fulbright Student Program scholar from the Odum School.
“Since joining the Odum School of Ecology and the graduate program in integrative conservation, Keysa has demonstrated her passion and aptitude for research in freshwater systems,” said Assistant Professor Krista Capps, Rosas-Rodriquez’s advisor. “She has become an integral part of both programs and of the Capps Lab. This is such a well-deserved honor for Keysa and I am excited to see how her research progresses as a Fulbright Student Fellow.”