November 23rd, 2011 | University

Grant enables prof. to study ecosystem change

West River Memorial Park.
West River Memorial Park. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The YSI Foundation awarded Gaboury Benoit ’76, a professor of environmental chemistry at Yale, a $15,000 grant on Nov. 6 to study the environmental changes that will occur in a salt marsh ecosystem restoration project on the West River in Connecticut. The foundation awards “Minding the Planet” grants to researchers who aim to collect data that will further our understanding of environmental change.

Benoit will track the changes in West River as a result of a project to improve the tide gates, which currently exclude salt water from of the river. Tide gates are usually installed to prevent flooding, control mosquito populations and increase agricultural resources, but Benoit said that the original tide gates installed in the river were ineffective at the mission, limited the biodiversity and blocked the migration of fish.

Benoit said he has already been studying the current characteristics of the river’s ecosystem, including the plant communities, fish and bird populations, and water quality, so that he will be able to measure the effects of the restoration project. He added that he hopes to measure positive effects in the near future.

“There are a lot of kinds of restoration where the effects take a long time to show up, but this is a situation where we expect to see the effects in one to two years,” Benoit said.

Benoit said he anticipates observing positive impacts on environmental quality, including fish migration patterns and the resulting bird populations, as well as increases in biodiversity and regrowth of natural vegetation. If his predictions are correct, the study could provide evidence to support future restoration projects.