Katherine Henning: The Outdoorist and the Fenholloway River

Hello! My name is Katherine Henning and I am a sophomore majoring in environmental science from right here in Tallahassee. As you may guess from my major I love the outdoors, you can often find me going to the beach or hiking in my free time. I am a student in the FSU Honors program, and also a member of the Delta Zeta sorority.

Katherine Henning, Environmental Science major
Nancy Casper Hillis and Mark Hillis Undergraduate Research Award winner

I first got involved with research through the UROP program, where I was able to meet
my advisor, Dr. Jeroen Ingels. He operates a very unique lab at the FSU marine laboratory- the Meiolab. In the Meiolab, we focus on the study of meiofauna, which are tiny invertebrates that live in the sediments and water column of both freshwater and marine environments. Meiofauna have a huge wealth of diversity, and they function in their own small communities as well as playing important roles in overall ecosystems.

While a UROP student, I conducted research on the ecological quality of the Fenholloway river, using meiofauna as ecological indicators. The Fenholloway river is located in northern Florida near the town of Perry, and has been polluted in recent decades by a cellulose mill. In the 1990s the state tasked the milling company with cleaning up the river, and in 2020 the mill relocated their waste pipeline to a location nearer to the coast (among other changes in their manufacturing process) to meet these new standards. While the amount of point pollution into the river itself will decrease, there is concern that relocation of the pipeline may cause the surrounding estuary and coastal area to be negatively affected.

Inverted microscope with slide, used to measure biomass of nematodes and copepods.

Regarding the scientific aspect of my research, I will be collecting sediment samples
from 11 previously sampled sites in the Fenholloway river. Using the same sampling sites will allow for comparison with samples gathered in 2019, before the pipeline was installed, and in 2021, only a few months after installation. Samples will also be taken from 11 previously sampled sites in the Econfina river, which serves as a control, since it is extremely close to the Fenholloway and very similar, only differing in the amount of pollution. Once samples are collected, they will be washed and processed to carefully remove all of the meiofauna from the sediment, then the individuals will be picked and counted under a compound microscope to record abundance. After this step they will be measured using an inverted microscope in order to record their biomass. In particular, I will be measuring the biomass and abundance of nematodes and copepods, two taxa that are very good environmental indicators. Once research is completed, my advisor and I plan to write a scientific paper using the 2019, 2021, and 2022 data.

Two copepods viewed under a compound microscope.

For the social outreach aspect of this project, I will be holding community outreach
events in late July in Perry and Wakulla, two small towns in the northeast of Florida. These events aim to “bridge the gap” between scientists and local inhabitants. It is of the utmost importance to me that my research is accessible since people have a right to be informed citizens. In collaboration with the Taylor County public library and Wakulla County public library, I will be giving a short presentation and taking surveys. The survey will be used to document if people’s opinions towards environmental issues and environmentalists changed after being exposed to some current research about issues in their area.

Through the UROP program I have found that scientific research is one of my passions,
and something I would love to dedicate my career to. After completing this project, I hope to be able to complete a honors in the major project. After graduation I will continue to pursue an education. I would love to be able to get a PhD, but I plan on going to graduate school at the very least. Marine biology and environmental sociology are some of the disciplines I could see myself furthering my education with.

A variety of nematodes viewed under a compound microscope.

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