Biology Student’s Research Seeds Success


UCF Biology student, Michelle Shaffer, has been awarded the July 2016 Distinguished Undergraduate Researcher Award (DURA) for her ecological research.

This award recognizes UCF undergraduate students who demonstate exemplary academic research in their field. Under the guidance of a mentor, the student’s research is submitted for review by the Student Undergraduate Research Council.


Michelle Shaffer conducting her research in the field.

Shaffer’s award-wining research, “Evaluating red mangrove propagule (seed) recruitment along the restored shorelines of Turtle Mound,” examines a natural population of red mangroves along the restored shorelines of a historic shell midden called Turtle Mound to determine if natural red mangrove recruitment and settlement was occurring (or had occurred).

“The importance of this research is to determine if and when this restored shoreline can become self-sustained,” said Shaffer. “This ties back into the bigger picture of preventing artifact loss and further erosion in the area due to climate change and human influences.”

Her findings concluded that the restored shoreline’s condition was not yet self-sustaining to allow for a natural population to be established. The sediment’s large grain size in the area may have played a factor in the prevention of the shoreline’s sustenance, preventing the red mangrove seeds from properly being wedged in the ground for growth.

Shaffer will be presented a $200 scholarship of recognition, a certificate and an Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) pad-folio, as well as recognition on the Office of Undergraduate Research website for her research. She will also be acknowledged in the monthly OUR newsletter.

Shaffer acknowledges her mentor Melinda Donnelly, Ph.D., for exposing her to research as an undergraduate student.

“From the first time she came out to volunteer, it was clear Michelle would make an excellent field researcher,” said Dr. Donnelly. “She had a genuine interest in learning and was motivated enough to brave mud, mosquitoes, and rain to collect good data. She sought out a variety of research experiences as an undergraduate by participating in Dr. Linda Walters’ CEELAB, completing two independent study projects, and volunteering to help with my research as well as many other students’ projects. Between her skills in the field and her positive and laid-back attitude, she quickly became the most sought after student assistant in the lab.”

Shaffer has also been recognized for her research on shoreline bird communities with a second place award at the 2016 Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE). She will be presenting this research at the 4th Mangrove and Macrobenthos Meeting (MMM4) in July of this year.

Currently, the award-winning undergrad is looking at how the northward expansion of black mangroves into salt marsh ecosystems along the east coast of Florida is affecting shoreline bird populations. After graduating this summer, she plans to apply for a master’s program in coastal ecology.

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