IWER Senior Research Projects

The Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience offers many research opportunities for undergraduate students both on Lake Beresford and in the lab in partnership with dedicated staff and faculty.

Students working with aquatic plants on Lake Beresford


In 2023, senior research projects focused on water lettuce, Lake Beresford water quality, challenges with managing stormwater, and artificial reefs.

"Native potential of Pistia stratiotes in Florida using surface samples and a discussion on its benefits" by Brianna Michalski

Advisor: Andrew Joeseof 

Ecological history can be studied in sedimentary layers. Surface layers often contain vegetation, such as seeds. In Florida, Pistia stratiotes or water lettuce is considered an invasive species, but recent suggestions dispute that. Ecological history, abundance, and benefits could alter the status and management practices of P. stratiotes. In this study, surface samples were collected to assess the frequency and abundance of water lettuce seeds. 30 surface samples were extracted along areas containing water lettuce in Gum Slough, FL and Lake Beresford, FL at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center (SSAC). At the SSAC, samples were collected at one northern and one southern shoreline location. In Gum Slough, cores were taken at 6 different patches along the spring run. Samples were extracted using a piston core and a sieve was utilized to sift through the sediment. Wet weight (g), total seed count, volume (cm3), concentration of seeds per total weight of sediment analyzed (number/g), and concentration of seeds per total volume of sediment analyzed (number/ cm3) were measured. 3 seeds were found at the SSAC southern location. The seed abundance in surface samples presents a low seeding frequency and supports research on its ecological history, native status, and potential benefits.


"Water lettuce seeding in Florida" by Jan Vandermark

Advisor: Benjamin Tanner, Andrew Joesoef

Pistia Stratiotes is currently classified as a non-native species to Florida. Under this classification, it is also considered a weed that is regulated in the Florida waterways. The seeds for the plant have been difficult for researchers to acquire out in the field through core sampling. Radiocarbon analysis of seeds found in sediment cores provides insight into the nativity of the plant. Given the difficulty in acquiring Pistia seeds, this research observed variables that may contribute to plant seeding. The study was conducted at three different sites located in Deland, Orange City, and Deltona/Sanford. The following parameters were observed from August ’22 to March ’23: season, pH, nitrate, phosphate, temperature, environmental stressors, and other factors that may contribute to the production and release of seeds. Float testing was conducted to determine if and how long seeds remained suspended at the water surface before dropping down to the sediments. No seeding was observed from August ’22 to November ’22. However, post Hurricane Ian and Nicole, seeds were discovered in abundance on three separate occasions. This project contributes to the mechanisms for Pistia seeding in determining the nativity of the plant and those within the field.

"Artificial reefs: Addressing marine conservation and restoration" by Jacob Bronson

Advisor: Andrew Joesoef

Natural coral reefs are disappearing at an alarming rate, with some estimates predicting the current death toll of all coral reefs to be around half. While there are projects aimed at transplanting, genetically engineering, or replanting coral, immediate solutions are required to preserve and recover disappearing marine species that currently depend on healthy coral reefs.  This study compared collected data from Phil Foster Park and Coral Cove Park over the course of six weeks with research conducted by past studies to determine the effectiveness of utilizing artificial coral reefs for marine conservation and restoration. Phil Foster Park contains a variety of artificial sunken structures that together constitute an artificial reef while Coral Cove Park is a natural limestone reef. Phil Foster Park offers a unique look at the benefits of having different kinds of structures available on the reef. Additionally, data collected in this study was used to estimate species richness and biodiversity (derived from the Simpson’s Index) at each reef location. While both reefs were found to be in good health, Phil Foster Park had a higher level of species richness. Both reefs observed similar fish biodiversity.


"The potential effectiveness of vertical rain gardens in the mitigation of stormwater runoff and pollution" by Mollie Sioux James

Advisor: Jason Evans

Excess nutrients and pollutants in stormwater runoff cause poor water quality in nearby surface waters. Traditional concrete stormwater management techniques fail to filter runoff and are frequently overwhelmed by the increasing prevalence and severity of storms. Green infrastructure combines natural features within cities to solve these issues. However current green infrastructure techniques can also be problematic, as they are site-specific and require large spaces. Vertical rain gardens may provide the benefits of green infrastructure while avoiding these issues. Rainwater samples from residential downspouts will be tested for nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations before installing vertical rain gardens. The volume of runoff will also be measured. After installation, the tests will be repeated. Unpaired samples T-tests will be used to determine whether or not the volume of runoff and nutrient levels are significantly different after installing the vertical rain gardens. This research project will determine the potential effectiveness of vertical rain gardens in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in stormwater, as well as their ability to decrease the total volume of stormwater runoff from downspouts in densely populated urban areas of central Florida.


"The impacts of reclaimed water storage on pond health" by Kelcey Lidy

Advisor: Wendy Anderson

The rapid increase in residential development across Florida has placed stress on the groundwater supply. Groundwater depletion is particularly pertinent in Volusia County as it draws most of its potable water from a sole-source section of the Floridan aquifer to serve more than half a million residents. One strategy for conserving this valuable resource is to reclaim nutrient-rich wastewater for non-potable uses such as irrigation of urban landscapes. To understand the impacts of storing reclaimed water on the health of retention ponds, we assessed several water quality parameters in the sediments and water of four reclaimed storage ponds and four stormwater ponds in the Victoria Park Community. We hypothesized that the reclaimed water storage ponds would have higher nutrient levels in sediments and the water column than stormwater ponds. Although Fall 2022 hurricanes contributed to large fluctuations in pond storage levels across sampling periods, we found that phosphate and nitrate in the water were significantly higher in reclaimed ponds than in stormwater ponds, and phosphate in reclaimed storage pond sediments was marginally higher than in stormwater ponds. Chlorophyll-a and visual assessments of algae and cyanobacteria were also marginally higher in reclaimed storage ponds. These results suggest that mitigation efforts are needed to control the accumulation of phosphate and associated algal blooms in reclaimed storm ponds. Ecological solutions include planting littoral shelf plants and installing floating wetlands, and encouraging diverse aquatic communities including waterfowl that can transport accumulated phosphorus back into terrestrial landscapes.


"Zooplankton abundance in relation to chlorophyll content in Lake Beresford" by Corinna Lunsford

Advisor: Andrew Joesoef

Zooplankton are microscopic organisms found in many bodies of water and are one of the smallest elements of the biological food chain. They act as intermediary species transferring energy from primary producers to larger organisms in the environment. Zooplankton abundance can depict a healthy or damaged ecosystem. Chlorophyll-a, a predominant pigment involved in photosynthesis, serves as an indicator for phytoplankton, which is a primary food source for zooplankton. In this study, zooplankton samples and chlorophyll-a content were collected in Lake Beresford throughout the month of September 2022. Datasets were compared across weeks to determine if any spatial correlations were present between zooplankton abundance, type, and chlorophyll-a concentrations.


"Exploration and documentation of the Lake Beresford Springs" by Brendan Thanasiu

Advisor: Wendy Anderson

The surficial and deep Floridan aquifers are recharged along the DeLand Ridge in east Central Florida, but current and past land uses in these recharge areas impact the quantity and quality of the surficial and Floridan aquifer water. This project documented the existence of the spring system within Lake Beresford that is fed by these aquifers. Our intention is to highlight these previously undocumented seepages that contribute to the output and hydrology of the Volusia Blue Springs basin which encompasses much of Deland, Lake Helen, Orange City, and Deltona. These undocumented seepages and springs are particularly impactful to the ecosystems in their immediate vicinity and recognizing them is the first step towards instituting more effective procedures to manage the health of these ecosystems. Lake Beresford has been plagued in the recent past and currently with higher levels of nutrient pollution than expected based on nearby watershed run-off from limited development along the shore. Tracking the sources and destinations of nutrients from the urban and rural DeLand Ridge land uses through the inclusion of the Lake Beresford Springs and seepages builds a more comprehensive view of the DeLand Ridge and Blue Spring Springshed hydrology.


In 2020, Stetson students and affiliated faculty from all over campus focused research efforts on Water Quality and the Institute's four focus areas: Sustainability Management, Coastal Ecology and Conservation, Florida Springs, and Climate Adapation.

"Community-based water testing to prevent disasters" by Adam Cooper

Major: Chemistry | Advisor: Ramee Indralingam


"Presence/Absence of Escherichia coli at the Sandra Stetson Aquac Center in DeLand, Florida" by Jerred Durkovic

Major: Public Health | Advisor: Jason Evans


"The effect of littoral plantings on the health of retention ponds in Victoria Park" by Caitlyn Kreymborg

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Wendy Anderson


"Drinking water quality tests for bacterial coliform and total chlorine at Stetson University" by Rachel Saunders and Mackenzie Thomson

Major: Environmental Studies | Advisor: Wendy Anderson

"Investigating barriers to the incorporation of locally sourced food into commercial kitchens in Volusia County, Florida" by Courtney Converse

Major: Social Science | Advisor: Wendy Anderson


"Stetson University campus tree assessment and map" by Anthony DiCostanz

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Wendy Anderson


"Peer tutoring and rethinking 'purpose' in the context of nature writing" by Catherine Howell

Major: English | Advisor: Mary Pollock


"Investigating the accessibility to select organic food sources based on food desert characteristics within DeLand, Florida" by MacKenzie Quinn

Major: Environmental Studies


"Divestment: A fiscal analysis of cleaner energy endowment practices at Stetson University" by George Winston

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Wendy Anderson

"Investigating the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus levels on submerged aquatic vegetation within the Chesapeake Bay from the years 2000 to 2010" by Savannah Hardisky

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Jason Evans

Note: Savannah secured a treasure trove of SAV data from Virginia Institute of Marine Science and water quality data from the Chesapeake Bay Data Hub to develop the geospatial and statistical analyses that became her senior research project. Savannah also interned with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

"Finding a fingerprint for mangrove and salt-marsh soil deposits" by Camryn Soehnlein

Major: Environmental Studies | Advisor: Jason Evans, Ben Tanner

Note: Camryn's work was part of a project made possible through a Willa Dean Lowery Grant.

"Modeling residential on-site water disposal for upgrade prioritization in DeLand, Florida" by Todd Akin

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Jason Evans

Note: Todd's project came out of his work as a paid intern with the City of DeLand and is a fine example of how GIS can be applied to inform low-hanging infrastructure upgrades for spring shed protection.


"Effects of diet on neonatal growth of Melanoides Tuberculata" by Emily Clements

Major: Aquatic and Marine Biology | Advisor: Kirsten Work


"Higher benthic species diversity may indicate good out-planting sites for Acropora Cervicornis and Acropora Palmata in Roatan, Honduras" by Raquel Gilliland

Major: Aquatic and Marine Biology | Advisor: Kirsten Work

Note: Raquel presented her research at CMERA's Cruising for Conservation Conference, in Clearwater, FL in January and at the Association of Southeastern Naturalists meeting in Myrtle Beach, SC in March.


"The effectiveness of underwater video surveys and seining in measuring fish abundance and diversity in three central Florida springs" by Coramarie (Jifu) Jennings

Major: Aquatic and Marine Biology | Advisor: Kirsten Work


"Native vs. invasive" A comparative field study regarding the growth rates of the Floridian native Ceratophyllum Demersum and the invasive Hydrilla Verticilllata" by Alex Krest

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Jason Evans

Note: Alex's work was an outgrowth of his work as a long-term volunteer at DeLeon Springs State Park which required a large amount of ingenuity and perseverance.


"Low dissolved oxygen concentration have a negative effect on fish behavior in central Florida freshwater springs" by Ashlee Renich-Malek

Major: Aquatic and Marine Biology | Advisor: Kirsten Work


"Territorial behaviors in Lucania Goodei and Lucania parva in central Florida springs" by Alyssa Soto

Major: Aquatic and Marine Biology | Advisor: Kirsten Work

"Building a GIS database: Stormwater infrastructure for the city of Satellite Beach, Florida" by Eilyn Mitchell

Major: Environmental Science | Advisor: Jason Evans

Note: Eilyn interned with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, and then presented her work to City of Satellite Beach officials. The stormwater GIS database she developed is already being used as the basis for planning and engineering assessments in support of green infrastructure-based capital improvement projects in the City of Satellite Beach, and we consider it a model template for other municipalities to implement throughout the Indian River Lagoon watershed. Her project was supported through funding received through the Florida Sea Grant, in partnership with ECFRPC, the University of Florida GeoPlan, and the City of Satellite Beach.

"A 100-year storm coastal flood and sea level rise impact analysis for Volusia County" by Honor Stoner

Major: Environmental Studies | Advisor: Jason Evans

Note: Honor interned with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, of which his senior project was a direct consequence. 

In addition to the student projects listed above, Stetson students - Savannah Hardisky, MacKenzie Quinn and Camryn Soehnlein - attended the American Association of Geographers in April 2018 in New Orleans, LA with Dr. Evans, Dr. Tanner, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Falk to present research related to the four IWER focal areas of Florida Springs, Coastal Ecology and Conservation, Climate Adaptation, and Sustainability Management.