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Villanova University President's Report
Focus on Protecting the Planet

Principles of sustainability govern and guide the University, which recognizes the sacredness of creation and the responsibility of global stewardship. This consciousness influences curricula and permeates research.

Samantha Chapman, PhD (pictured, left, with two Villanova students)
Samantha Chapman, PhD (pictured, left), is among many Villanova professors with expertise on the effects of climate change.

Biologists Contribute to International Landmark Document

The International Union for Conservation of Nature released the milestone report Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, Scale, Effects and Consequences, which presents an exhaustive review of the science and implications of ocean warming. Scholars worldwide collaborated to contribute chapters within their areas of expertise, illuminating the severity of the impact, gaps in capability and the need for global action.

Among those scholars were Villanova’s Samantha Chapman, PhD, and Adam Langley, PhD, associate professors of Biology. They had been invited to help write the section of the report that describes the effects and consequences of ocean warming on tidal marsh and tidal freshwater forest ecosystems, including plant production, decomposition rates, carbon sequestration and methane emissions. According to the authors, the ability of these ecosystems to withstand accelerated sea-level rise ultimately will depend on the balance of the complex feedbacks between plants, microbes and physical processes.

At Villanova, Dr. Langley researches how ecosystems respond to global change—and how those responses accelerate or slow down global change. Supported by a National Science Foundation grant, he is studying the effects of rising carbon dioxide and sea levels on marshes. Dr. Chapman investigates how biodiversity, climate change and nutrient pollution alter the services that ecosystems provide for humans. She led a NASA-funded study that showed that the spread of mangroves may protect coastal wetlands—research being furthered with an NSF grant.

Fighting to Conserve Coral Colonies

Rising ocean temperatures and acidification levels are imperiling vibrant-hued coral colonies around the globe. Evidence of the toll being taken on corals is the ominous phenomenon known as bleaching, in which the organisms lose the symbiotic algae that nourish them. Lisa Rodrigues, PhD, associate professor of Geography and the Environment, has the expertise, network and funding to explore new ways to conserve these marine invertebrates and the tropical ecosystems that they build.

With the help of a National Science Foundation Collaborative Research grant awarded to her and a team of colleagues at the University of Washington, Dr. Rodrigues will study the mechanisms corals use to tolerate and successfully reproduce under thermal stress caused by changes in their environment. Her research will focus on an important and dominant reef builder in Hawaii that has the capacity to sexually reproduce despite bleaching.

In addition to aiding coral conservation and management efforts, Dr. Rodrigues’ findings will be used to educate young people and adults about the need for long-term recovery. From a workshop with teachers from Hawaiian immersion schools, to marine biology lesson plans for teachers of underrepresented groups in Seattle, to classroom activities and field trips for underserved high school students in Philadelphia, community outreach programs will incorporate her research.


Practicing Environmental Law, a new, innovative, practice-based text, guides students through real problems that environmental attorneys encounter. The approach challenges students to creatively resolve complex scenarios. Todd Aagaard, JD, vice dean of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, is a co-author.


In a study published in Climatic Change, Stephen Strader, PhD, assistant professor, Geography and the Environment, and his co-authors investigated how risk and the vulnerabilities of the built environment influence tornado disaster probability. Their results suggest that the potential for annual tornado impact magnitude and disaster will increase dramatically over this century.