John Kominoski: Sunlight

To celebrate UK Pride Month, the British Ecological Society journals have re-launched ‘Rainbow Research’ – a blog series which aims to promote the visibility of STEM researchers from the LGBTQ+ community by connecting each post to a theme represented by one of the colours shown in the Progress Pride flag.

In this post, John Kominoski, Associate Professor at the Institute of Environment & Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, USA, uses yellow on the Progress Pride Flag—representing “Sunlight”—as his inspiration for working to restore and manage the Florida Everglades!

I have chosen yellow as the theme for this blogpost because it is my favourite colour. It symbolizes the sun, light, hope, happiness, warmth, and a new day. The Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina and Georgia use the term “day clean”, which symbolizes new opportunities of each day.

About the author

I was always an outside kid. We had the library, the park, or the field out back—we rode bikes to and from school, walked in the forest, and collected lightning bugs in summer. I knew that most kids my age were more into Nintendo—which we didn’t have—and although we had an old Atari, I couldn’t imagine that my childhood outdoor upbringing would become rare. I loved nature as a place of childhood play, and today I study and continue to love nature as a resource of hope.

Ecology was something I discovered while naively pursuing a Masters in Biology without much direction. One day, I was helping a friend with her field research on using macroinvertebrates as bioindicators for a stream restoration project in a nearby preserve that I had never visited. A world opened to me that I never realized existed, and it was so intriguingly beautiful. With this experience, I quickly found my direction. The world was my oyster, and ecology was my pearl!

About their research

I am an ecosystem ecologist whose research integrates spatiotemporal scales of biogeochemical cycling and organic matter processing. My research focuses on the interface (ecotone) between ecosystems where community transitions and exchanges of materials occur. I study how disturbances affect elemental cycles in ecosystems. You can find out more about my research on my Google Scholar page. I live and work in Miami, FL, USA, focusing on the Florida Everglades and efforts to restore it to a more functional and sustainable landscape of ecosystems interconnected by water. The world’s largest and most expensive restoration efforts have been underway in the Everglades for nearly 30 years, and, recently, the pace of restoration and climate change are accelerating and have required intensive interagency collaboration between science and society to understand, forecast, and adapt our urban-wildland coastal mosaic to these environmental changes. 

Group photo of the Carbon in Urban River Biogeochemistry research team, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA (credit: John Kominoski)

I oversee a large research team called the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program. Since 2000, with support from the US National Science Foundation, we have been studying how sea-level rise and human management of fresh water shape the structure and function of extensive peat and marl marshes, coastal mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows. We have measured how a continuous press of saltwater intrusion from sea-level rise interacts with pulses of marine water from the increasing frequency of tropical storms and pulses of fresh water from inland restoration and management. Everglades Restoration is working, but our climate is also changing and our coastal ecosystems are undergoing various shifts in development. Therefore, there’s room for celebration and a need to continue to work towards a holistic understanding of how ecosystems and people adapt to sea-level rise. It truly is a remarkable place to live and work, and I am honoured to be leading such a talented and dedicated team!

About their identity

John Kominoski visiting the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA (credit: Lizz Maloy, Living on Earth)

I am a cisgender white gay man. I am happily married to my husband of 18+ years and I have supportive families on both sides. I am privileged and fortunate to have had support and encouragement throughout my life. I have also had obstacles placed in front of me, and I have been discriminated against, openly, for being gay. I learned early on, probably in high school, that there were people who didn’t want to see me succeed or be happy (two different things). I largely ignored them, and I believe this served to my benefit. I tried to keep my head down, focusing on finding my path.

Although it took me longer than some to find my path, I am grateful to be running along it now. My advice to anyone is to keep going on your path. Ask for help when you need it, find support, understand your power, and become a mentor to others. The world needs diverse ecologists who can work with different people to understand how to sustain nature for the environment and people, given the complexity of the modern world amidst a rapidly changing climate on planet Earth. Try not to be discouraged by others, rather, find your courage to persevere and further encourage others to do the same. Nature is relying on us!

Enjoyed the blog? Follow John Kominoski on Twitter here.

Discover more stories like this on our Rainbow Research page.

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