Swamp Thing

Published: June 24th, 2008

Category: Spotlights

Patrick Inglett

Patrick Inglett

Assistant Professor
Department of Soil and Water Science

As a boy, Patrick Inglett was fascinated by anyplace where soil met water – streams, mud puddles, fishing ponds.

He still is.

But now, he’s fascinated by a much larger place where soil meets water: the Everglades.

The 33-year-old Georgia native has focused his research on the Everglades since he came to UF as a master’s student in 1997. He now has a Ph.D. in soil and water science.

Inglett found a way to use stable isotope ratios-measured precisely in a machine called an “isotope ratio mass spectrometer”- to indicate that nitrogen, and not just phosphorous as originally thought, was also involved in maintaining the Everglades’ delicate ecosystem.

The low phosphorous levels historically found in the Everglades needed to sustain the microbes, algae and plants were rising, leaving phosphorous- and nitrogen-happy cattails free to take over the native sawgrass.

His work with stable isotope ratios followed his master’s work at UF that looked at the effect of phosphorus on the Everglades algae.

Last fall, Inglett was named the 2006 recipient of the Emil Truog Award that goes to a doctoral-degree student who’s made an outstanding contribution to soil science.

Of the 34 recipients thus far, Inglett is the fourth from UF to win the award.

Although most of his recent work has kept him in a lab, he’s spent plenty of time in the Everglades, collecting samples and wading around in waist-deep water.

And despite common wisdom that says alligators are easily scared away by the sound of the helicopters and airboats that ferry researchers out into the middle of the swamp, Inglett has seen that proven wrong at least once.

“I was getting my sample, I’m wearing waders and I can barely move, and I saw those jagged edges of a tail. I thought ‘That’s way bigger than I want it to be,’ and started trying to back up.”

“I proved them wrong that day – he was right by the boat.”

Inglett says he enjoys the lifesaving aspect of keeping ecosystems healthy.

“If you want tomorrow’s life sustained, we still need this kind of basic soil and water science,” he says. “We can’t all be studying the buzzwords.”

Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography

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