Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 68.36
Liaison Marianella Franklin
Submission Date Jan. 10, 2023

STARS v2.2

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Richard Kline
School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution own or manage land that includes or is adjacent to legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, or regions of conservation importance?:

A brief description of the legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance:
UTRGV, as a multi campus institution, is located across 5 counties and a plethora of biodiversity. The biodiversity needs are considered through a series of ongoing research assessments and projects located across disciplines. As a spotlight, The UTRGV coastal studies lab located in South Padre Island, TX, is central to understanding and managing the ecosystem of the area. South Padre Island is part of Laguna Atascosa, one of the protected areas of native flora and fauna on the Texas south of the river.

The UTRGV Brownsville Campus is also surrounded by a unique biodiversity of natural environments with a multitude of diverse wildlife and plant species to include multiple wetlands, the Laguna Madre, and the Brownsville Resaca waterways.

Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify endangered and vulnerable species (including migratory species) with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution?:

A list of endangered and vulnerable species with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution, by level of extinction risk:
Among nongame species in South Texas using this diverse assemblage of habitats there are a number of federally listed threatened and endangered species which include: mammals such as ocelots and jaguarundis, and ; birds like brown pelican, whooping crane, bald eagle, northern aplomado falcon, piping plover, least tern (inland breeding populations); plants such as black lace cactus, star cactus, Walker's manioc, Johnston's frankenia, Texas ayenia, South Texas ambrosia, ashy dogweed, slender rush-pea, Ocelot,Black spotted newt (amphibian), Tamaulipan Thornscrub, Sea Turtle species; Bees, Ocelot Leopardus pardalis, Star Cactus Astrophytum asterias, Walker’s Manioc
Manihot walkerae, Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis septentrionalis,, Texas Ayenia
Ayenia limitaris, Least Tern Sternula antillarium, Zapata Bladderpod Lesquerella
thamnophila, Gulf Coast Jaguarundi Herpailurus yagouraroundi cacomitli, Piping
Clover Charadrius molodus




Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution?:

A brief description of areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution:
The various biodiversity of UTRGV covers a range of animal and environmental systems and species affecting life on land, life under water, and at sea; some of which can only be experienced in the Rio Grande Valley.

As a spotlight, the Brownsville campus is known for its resacas. Resacas are described as former channels of the Rio Grande River carrying freshwater into the Laguna Madre and Gulf of Mexico. They are very important to the wildlife in the valley since they are some of the only sources of freshwater in a saltwater dominated area. The studies conducted by UTRGV departments and their students help identify the resacas' role in the wider Lower Rio Grande ecosystem as well as the ecological threats that they may face.

At South Padre Island, research is being done on a new species of sea slug.

The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or areas of biodiversity importance and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:
Responding to their unique area of expertise, UTRGV faculty employ different methodologies in their practices and laboratories. These spotlighted projects reflect the commitment to UTRGV to its various biodiversity in its plans for sustainment and growth of quality of life for life on land, life under water, and life at sea.

Dr. Richard Kline head of the Kline Lab which asks ecological questions of diverse ecosystems from the Texas Gulf of Mexico to the inshore thornscrub communities. The lab uses their understanding of animal behavior, physiology, and population structure to measure the effects of habitat changes and the effects of mitigation efforts such as placement of artificial reefs, restoration of wetlands and installation of animal crossings. Dr. Kline and his students conduct research using tools such as acoustic telemetry, sonar, remote imaging, and molecular techniques to assess changes in populations.


Under the Biology department, the FeriaLab is focused on understanding the present and future (under climate change) distribution of species. One of their three main lines of research is endangered species. To track organism´s distribution the lab utilizes geographical information system (GIS) technologies and species distribution models.


A brief description of the scope of the assessment(s):
Assessments are consistently being conducted through interagency partnerships within the university including research and projects with the Fish and Wildlife Services, the Texas Wildlife Service, local environmental protection agencies, and through coalitions like the Valley Environmental Coalition.

UTRGV is one of the main regional partners in assessing and preserving the biodiversity of the Lower Rio Grande Valley region. The scope of all assessments therefore extend beyond the university grounds to ensure a complete and complex understanding of the ecosystem.

a complete description of research projects can be found below:

A brief description of the plans or programs in place to protect or positively affect identified species, habitats, and/or ecosystems:
As an intermediate plan, UTRGV efforts in biodiversity are aggregating into a biodiversity library. As a response to the Rio Grande Valley being home to a broad variety of species found nowhere else in the world, but many of the creatures of the region and their exceptional communities are critically endangered and already have lost more than 95 percent of their original cover to urban sprawl and agriculture.


As a commitment to promoting equitable biodiversity a few initiatives have led protection, reforestation, and replanting efforts across UTRGV.

Dr. Christopher Gabler, as a faculty lead, is planting over 100,000 seedlings in an effort to promote reforestation of Tamuplian Thorn scrub Forestry

Dr. Alejandro Fiero Cabo, through his partnership with the Nature Conservancy are also targeting reforestation of the Tamulipan Thorn scrub

As a prime researcher in the Resacas, Dr. Jude Benavides, focuses on watershed protection planning in both the Arroyo Colorado and Lower Laguna Madre / Brownsville Ship Channel (LLM/BSC) watersheds, with the immense value that it adds to the sustainable development of the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Hudson Deyoe, as a faculty lead, researches with his students the value and impacts that seagrass has as a a natural filtration of the laguna madre, and a barrier for natural disaster protections.

Dr. Richard Kline, through UTRGV Strategic Plan Funding, has led a project to support the replacement of the local endangered coral reef of the coast in South Padre Island.

As a Bee Campus USA designated institution, UTRGV´s grounds continue to implement an integrated pest management plan with new designs and features to promote and grow pollinator populations. Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, spent time this summer studying apiculture (bee keeping) and issues affecting honeybee health, thanks to a fellowship she received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As part of ongoing research and treatment plans, Dr. Nicholas Blackburn and research team, are studying Fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-promoting disease in sea turtles, is growing in prevalence locally in the RGV and globally. This proposal is a partnership between UTRGV and the community-based Sea Turtle Inc. to tackle this disease. This project will use innovative genomic technologies to profile sea turtle tumors to answer fundamental questions about the disease biology. This project fosters community partnerships and engagement in research. This project highlights UTRGV’s environmental sustainability mission on a research issue that impacts the RGV and beyond. This project will break new ground on fibropapilloma biology.

The post-delisting monitoring plan for the Johnston´s Frankenia is another project in place to positively affect species has been undertaken by FeriaLab. After a species is delisted, USFWS typically requires 5 years of PDM efforts. However, the Johnston’s frankenia PDM is planned for 9 years in order to provide more time for the monitoring of residual impacts that could impact the habitat of this species and that could be associated with landscape modifications (e.g., road construction). The lab has not only developed surveys but they have had the opportunity to engage the community on the importance of the project.

Estimated percentage of areas of biodiversity importance that are also protected areas :

Website URL where information about the institution’s biodiversity initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.