Hurricane Maria: U-M experts can discuss

September 21, 2017


Puerto Rico just took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island. The University of Michigan has experts who can discuss hurricane impacts to Puerto Rico, which has seen 446,000 people migrate to the mainland between 2005 and 2015 due to the island’s decade-long recession.

Ivette Perfecto is a professor of ecology and natural resources at the School for Environment and Sustainability. Her research focuses on biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, primarily in the tropics. She is originally from Puerto Rico and has conducted field research there and elsewhere in Latin America, including Mexico and Central America.

Perfecto and U-M ecologist John Vandermeer recently started a project in Puerto Rico to look at ecosystem services provided by biodiversity in coffee farms in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico. For nearly 20 years, from 1989 to 2007, they studied the recovery of tropical forests in Nicaragua following Hurricane Joan in 1988.

“In addition to the human suffering and hardships resulting from this direct hit by Hurricane Maria—coming less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma dealt the island a glancing blow—agriculture and natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands will be severely affected,” Perfecto said.

“Coffee farmers, for example, were getting ready to harvest their crop, and now it’s likely that they lost the entire crop for this year. Given the precarious situation of the farming sector in Puerto Rico, before the hurricane, it may take many decades and strong government support for farmers to recover from this devastating hurricane.”

Contact: 734-764-8601,

John Pottow, professor at the Law School, has testified before Congress regarding bankruptcy protection bills for Puerto Rico. He can discuss the economic effect the hurricane could have on the U.S. territory’s economy.

“It’s too early to say whether the federal disaster funds will be enough, but the already fragile economy could be devastated,” he said. “Consider how many people left New Orleans after Katrina never to return. Granted, leaving requires a plane ticket, but Miami flights aren’t that expensive. I’m worried this may tip a lot of people over the edge into depopulating the island.”


Ann Lin, associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy, is an expert on migration issues and says several factors must be considered when looking at a potential increase of migration from Puerto Rico to the mainland.

“Most Puerto Ricans have ties to people on the mainland, so it would not be at all surprising if they came to the U.S. mainland for temporary shelter, or relied heavily on their mainland relatives to send help,” she said. “Also, some of the Puerto Rican communities in the U.S., such as Orlando, have been affected by the storms as well. And Puerto Rico’s economy was very shaky before the storms, so storm-related migration is likely to be only one reason that Puerto Ricans migrate.

“Having said this, one impact of storms is that they create a lot of jobs in reconstruction. So the U.S. government could actually help stem the tide of migrants by making sure that Puerto Rico has access to the funds it will need to rebuild.”

Contact: 734-764-7507,

Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, is an expert on infectious disease epidemiology and has 20 years of experience in microbial risk assessment work focused on water quality. He is part of a group of scientists from around the country involved with the Modeling Infectious Disease Agents Study, an NIH-funded program that focuses on infectious disease transmission modeling with a particular focus on waterborne pathogens.

Contact: 734-764-5435,

Marisa Eisenberg, assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, is an expert in modeling infectious diseases, particularly cholera and waterborne disease in Haiti, Thailand and Angola. She has also studied other infectious diseases, such as dengue, chikungunya and Ebola. She also is one of the scientists involved with the NIH-funded Modeling Infectious Disease Agents Study that focuses on infectious disease transmission modeling.

Contact: 734-763-2991,

Aubree Gordon, assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, works on infectious disease epidemiology and global health, particularly the epidemiologic features and transmission of influenza and dengue fever. Her research also includes study of the Zika virus, including working on the Nicaraguan site of the NIH funded Zika in Pregnancy study.

Contact: 734-763-3580,