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IGERT Fellow Tischa Munoz-Erickson is co-PI and develops ULTRA-LTER in San Juan Puerto Rico


IGERT Fellow Tischa Muñoz-Erickson is Project Leader of the San Juan ULTRA-Ex site funded by the NSF. Implementation of the proposal, titled “Social-Ecological Systems Change, Vulnerability, and the Future of a Tropical City” is underway and Tischa leads the collaboration of 20 natural and social scientists ensuring integration and synthesis in the implementation of the research.

The overall questions being addressed are: 1) How do biophysical, socio-economic, and institutional factors influence the vulnerability of natural and human dominated ecosystems within the Rio Piedras River Watershed socio-ecological system, and how have they changed spatially and temporally over the past 70 years? 2) To what degree have these vulnerability factors influenced the city’s potential for sustainability? 3) What are the alternative scenarios and indicators for the future development of the RPRW? 4) What organizational networks and policies support them, and to what extent are these influencing vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities for urban sustainability?

For questions 1 and 2, Tischa helped facilitate the development of an integrated social-ecological methodology that includes 13 points across the city that represent a gradient of social and ecological characteristics of the city and in which SJ ULTRA researchers conduct field work. In these points, historical developments, social science surveys, vegetation and biodiversity inventories, water quality sampling, and other parameters, are being collected by the SJ ULTRA team. For questions 3 and 4 Tischa serves as the leader of this research group and is responsible for all aspects of the research, including the implementation of interviews and surveys (64) with local stakeholders; community forums (3) to develop land use scenarios through participatory mapping exercises; development of profile for stakeholder organizations and analysis of their networks; and planning focus groups with local communities.

The San Juan ULTRA team recently hired an Information Manager that developed the web-based infrastructure to manage, share, and disseminate the data collected by all researchers and Tischa was instrumental in finding and hiring a person that is highly competent in both the technical and interdisciplinary nature of this project. The web-based data infrastructure can be viewed at: Finally, in January 2011, Tischa coordinated a visit to San Juan for IGERT PI Dr. Charles Redman to give a seminar on “The Socio-ecology, Resilience, and Sustainability of Cities” for San Juan ULTRA researchers, thus promoting interaction and exchange of ideas and knowledge across urban sites.

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Address Goals

This activity addresses the primary goal of discovery through its significant implications for developing urban sustainability theory in general and urban social-ecological systems theory and methodology specifically. To develop the NSF proposal for San Juan ULTRA Tischa engaged natural and social scientists, and key stakeholders through various activities, including a needs assessment survey, a field trip, and interdisciplinary workshops. In addition to the synthesis and modeling of cities’ long-term sustainability, the project enhances interdisciplinary methods through transformative collaboration between social and biophysical scientists, and development of a vocabulary among the disciplines to achieve an effective synthesis.

A broadly inclusive workforce (second goal) is being accomplished by the recent stakeholder needs assessment survey with participation of 64 organizations from San Juan, as well as community forums, field trips and focus groups. Results from these efforts are being analyzed and are helping inform ULTRA’s research agenda and collaborative methods. Tischa maintains ongoing work of the research committees through trimester All Scientists Meetings (8) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and interactions with individual scientists and students on a continual basis. Tischa has also shared preliminary results from ULTRA research through various academic and non-academic audiences, such as the Conference on Urbanization and Environmental Change (October 2010), the Resilience 2011 Conference (March 2011), meetings of the University of Puerto Rico IGERT Program on Urbanizing Tropics (January 2011 and March 2011), and information meetings with community leaders and other stakeholders.