UTSA and Cibolo Preserve renew research collaboration agreement

(September 17, 2018) — The UTSA Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise (VPREDKE) and the Cibolo Preserve have renewed their research collaboration master agreement for another five years. Cibolo Preserve, a Texas charitable foundation/nonprofit, allows UTSA faculty, staff and students the controlled access to observe, instruct and conduct research per an application and vetting process managed by the VPREDKE.

The Cibolo Preserve, originally established by philanthropist Bill Lende, is a 644-acre outdoor natural preserve used for research and education purposes, located east of Boerne in south-central Kendall County. The site is known for its geological features, including a narrow canyon through a large exposure of caprinid (an extinct mollusk) rudist reef. The creek (also named Cibolo) provides critical recharge for the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers and connects to the San Antonio River. Slopes around the creek offer special microhabitats for some of the region’s more interesting plant species including Texas mock-orange, big red sage and hairy sycamore-leaf snowbells. It is also one of the only great blue heron rookeries in the county.

“This is the heart of Texas Hill Country. It’s not only beautiful but it is also a vibrant, thriving, natural living laboratory where UTSA can conduct sustainable and responsible research in regards to the flora, fauna, land and water resources of the region,” said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA interim vice president for VPREDKE.

Most recently in FY 2018, Brian Laub, UTSA assistant professor in the Department of Environment Science and Ecology, was awarded two grants to conduct research on the preserve: one to map the aquatic habitat in Cibolo Creek with the help of two students and the second to evaluate estrogen concentrations in the creek with the assistance of a graduate student. The same year, Jeffrey Hutchison, UTSA assistant professor in environmental science, was funded to study the acoustic bat activity on site. In FY 2017, Vikram Kapoor, UTSA assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, used molecular tools to track fecal sources. The preliminary data he gathered helped another funding application in which he subsequently secured a sizeable grant from the City of San Antonio to track fecal contamination in the Edwards Aquifer.

“The partnership between UTSA and Cibolo Preserve is key to fostering a greater understanding of central Texas natural resources and the issues that surround them,” said Donna Taylor, environmental research scientist and one of the seven Cibolo Preserve trustees. “The partnership not only encourages high quality multi-disciplinary research, but inter-agency cooperation as well since the Cibolo Preserve invites Texas Parks and Wildlife, San Antonio River Authority, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Cibolo Nature Center to conduct studies too. Urban pressures on riparian corridors and recharge features, water quality impacts from waste and storm water inputs and habitat availability for wildlife are issues that affect all Texans. The research being conducted is helping the Cibolo Preserve understand these impacts on it specifically, while simultaneously informing the broader region, which is imperative as the area rapidly grows in human population.”

Yongli Gao, UTSA associate professor with the Department of Geological Sciences and the director of the Center for Water Research (CWR), has conducted multi-year research relating to hydrogeology and geomorphology onsite since 2013. Through VPREDKE, CWR has had four prScreen Shot 2018-09-17 at 11.12.40 AMojects funded for more than $45,000, and has had more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students involved in experiential learning, from collecting samples, conducting field investigations, and running analysis.

“The Cibolo Preserve is a very unique place and it is part of a complex aquifer system; it is a natural Karst lab ideal to conduct long-term research projects and monitoring,” said Gao. “This access and experience have also benefited my students in many ways: they have gained valuable research skills and have also developed materials and data to use in their own research papers and thesis proposals, and to be published in journal articles and conference proceedings. I look forward to continuing my research this year and next.”

Since 2009, 15 UTSA faculty members and their teams have been received funding support from VPREDKE and access to the Cibolo Preserve. These disciplines include Anthropology, Architecture, Biology, Environmental Science & Ecology, Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI).