The Faculty Early Career Development Program offers awards to support exemplary teacher-scholars through the integration of education and research.
The grant will allow Muller — who earned her doctorate in 2011 — to conduct new research with staghorn coral, or acropora cervicornis, a threatened species that has dwindled significantly in Florida and beyond. Muller will study the coral’s potential to be affected by, and rebound from, major environmental stresses such as disease, high water temperatures and ocean acidification.
She also will involve students in her research. “This is what I got into science to do, help save an ecosystem in peril,” Muller said. “Now this grant is helping me reach my lifelong goal.”
Mote president and CEO Michael P. Crosby said, “This award will allow Erinn to help fulfill Mote’s mission of not only conducting great science, but translating and transferring it through education. “Mote is proud of its scientists who continue to get recognized by prestigious organizations like NSF and we’re happy to foster the work of scientists like Erinn who expand the frontiers of science with innovative research and make such a significant impact in the world,” Crosby said.
Muller focused her graduate studies on threatened corals, earned her doctorate from the Florida Institute of Technology and joined Mote’s team in 2012. when she received a Mote postdoctoral research fellowship designed to help support the next generation of “exemplary” scientists.
Her studies have taken her to the Virgin Islands, Japan, Curacao, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Sicily, Australia and the Florida Keys, where she conducts research from Mote’s operations on Summerland Key. Miller has published peer-reviewed papers in 17 international journals and some of her work has been cited in other scientific publications over 100 times.
Her NSF proposal concentrates on staghorn coral because its populations are now a fraction of what they were in the 1980s. It dominated shallow water reefs in places like the Florida Keys for the last 2 million years, providing important habitat for other organisms and structure for the reef.
“Coral reefs are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world and also one of the most important,” Muller said. “They bring millions of people to Florida each year, as tourists go to look at the reefs. They provide over 70,000 local jobs and are worth billions of dollars to our state economy. But reefs are in danger of being lost forever.”