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FISH AND WILDLIFE RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Gil McRae, Director
FW C Fis h and Wild life Res earch I n s titu te
The magnificent resources of the state of Florida support numerous multi-billion dollar industries that form the foundation of our state’s economy. Our world-renowned beaches, spectacular variety of fish and wildlife, diverse habitats, and navigable waters attract businesses and visitors alike. There is no mistaking the fact that economic prosperity, quality of life for Floridians, and the satisfaction of our many visitors are all dependent on a healthy environment. Florida’s ecosystems support fishing and hunting, nature viewing, and other recreational and commercial activities easily exceeding $20 billion in value annually. Despite the natural wonders surrounding us in Florida, too many people view the natural world as somehow separate from their everyday life. This is especially true for young people, many of whom are less connected to the outdoors than in previous generations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) operates under the reality that people are a part of our ecosystems, not separate from them. As one of the most rapidly growing states in the nation, Florida faces many environmental challenges in the years ahead and it is critical that managers adopt forward-looking, informed management policies to protect critical resources and balance competing demands for limited resources. These management decisions must be driven by sound scientific information. Planning and conducting research to provide this information is the core of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s (FWRI) mission.
As the research division within FWC, FWRI operates programs statewide that focus on obtaining the wide-ranging data and information needed by fish, wildlife, and ecosystem resource managers. We have established many collaborative partnerships with other government, academic, non-profit, and private fish and wildlife research institutions. Our programs are diversely funded from user fees such as hunting and fishing licenses, specialty license plates, grants, and state general revenue and are organized to rapidly provide the vital scientific information necessary to conserve and protect Florida’s precious natural resources. This annual science programs document provides an overview of our major programs and is intended to present readers with an enhanced understanding of the scope and purpose of the technical information we produce. This summary document cannot convey the details of each project within our programs. Additional information is available on our Web site. Thank you for your interest in FWRI and the health of Florida’s resources. I assure you that FWRI will continue to focus on the most pressing needs relative to our resources. We encourage you to become an active participant with us in the wise management of our fish and wildlife and their habitats and encourage you to provide us with issues, concerns, and comments related to our programs and our mission.
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2010–2011 Budget Sources Flow Chart Marine Fisheries Research
Research Spotlight Keeping Their Eyes on Bay Scallops Logging Charter Boat Trips Sawfish: Discovering an Endangered Species Spiny Lobster Fishing and the Florida Keys Environment
14 Freshwater Fisheries Research
Research Spotlight Monitoring the American Eel Fishing for American Shad
20 Wildlife Research
Research Spotlight Investigating Cave Crayfish A Cold Year for Manatees Saving Oiled Sea Turtles The Beach Mouse of Perdido Key Surveying for Striped Newt Tracking the Wild Turkey
30 Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration
Research Spotlight What Fuels Florida Red Tide? Mapping Plant-Life at Florida Lakes
36 Information Science and Management
Research Spotlight Center for Biostatistics and Modeling Responding to an Oil Spill
42 Office of the Director
Research Spotlight Watching Streams and River Fish at Blackwater A Cedar Key Landmark
48 FWRI Locations 49 FWRI Addresses
On the Cover: The FWC’s main method of counting alligators on Florida waters is a night-light survey: aim a spotlight and look for pairs of shining eyes. These surveys, which include size estimates, take place in the spring and summer.
2010–2011 Budget Sources
CarltF general gdtF (0.54%) reVenue (5.95%) PrtF (1.33%) (0.68%)
sgtF/ grants (1.08%)
ngWtF/ grants (0.23%) ngWtF (3.78%) MrCtF/ grants (15.12%)
CARLTF—Conservation/recreation lands Program trust Fund FGTF—Federal grants trust Fund GDTF—grants and donations trust Fund MRCTF—Marine resources Conservation trust Fund MRCTF/Grants—Marine resources Conservation trust Fund grants Program NGWTF—nongame Wildlife trust Fund NGWTF/Grants—nongame Wildlife trust Fund grants Program PRTF—Florida Panther research and Management trust Fund SGTF—state game trust Fund SGTF/Grants—state game trust Fund grants Program STMTF—save the Manatee trust Fund 4 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Office of the Director
Marine Fisheries Research
Keys Fisheries Research Marine Fisheries Biology Marine FisheriesDependent Monitoring Marine FisheriesIndependent Monitoring Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment Marine Fisheries Stock Enhancement
Freshwater Fisheries Research
Freshwater Fisheries Biology Freshwater Fisheries Resource Assessment
Avian Research Marine Mammal Research Marine Turtle Research Reptile and Amphibian Research Terrestrial Mammal Research
Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration
Fish and Wildlife Health Habitat Research Harmful Algal Blooms
Information Science and Management
Center for Biostatistics and Modeling Center for Spatial Analysis Information Access Socioeconomic Assessment
Budget Office Computer and Network Support Facilities Management Keys Marine Laboratory
A sonic tag is implanted in the abdomen of a redfish in spawning condition. The fish’s activity can then be recorded by underwater receivers in the nearshore areas where redfish gather in large numbers to spawn.
Marine Fi s h er i es res earc h
Luiz Barbieri, Program Administrator luiz.Barbieri@MyFWC.com
Florida’s marine fisheries offer opportunities and challenges for over four million recreational anglers and more than 11,000 commercial fishers annually. Recreational anglers alone using Florida’s vast marine fishery resources had a $5.5 billion economic impact on the state in 2010. Combined, saltwater fishing and the Florida seafood industry produce an economic contribution of at least $11 billion. Marine fishery resources support fish and other marine animals, such as sea birds and bottlenose dolphins, and attract visitors and residents alike. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages these valuable resources for their long-term wellbeing and the benefit of Florida’s residents, tourists, and future generations.
Program Budget: $21,060,159 Staff: 275
MrCtF/ grants (15.53%)
Researchers monitor the abundance of recreational and commercial fishes in six estuaries around the state. This data is also used to describe the health of the estuarine ecosystems in which Florida’ economically-important fishes live.
Marine Fisheries researCh 7
This page Left: Hatchery-reared fish are graded and counted as they are added to a recirculating aquaculture system. This method of rearing fish “intensively” in tanks is an emerging alternative to traditional pond culture. Right: Interviews with anglers help to describe how harvests and fishers change in response to management regulations, and allow researchers to monitor trends in the harvests of marine fish and invertebrates. Opposite page Left: A researcher tags juvenile oysters that are placed in cages--one type allowing access by predators, the other excluding predators--at natural reefs in the St. Lucie estuary. They are measured monthly to monitor their growth and survival for a year. Right: A spiny lobster is released after having a sonic tag attached to its shell. FWRI scientists analyze the information transmitted to underwater receivers to better understand patterns of movement and habitat use.
The Marine Fisheries Research section of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) is tasked with studying and monitoring Florida’s marine fishery resources. Marine Fisheries Research consists of six subsections, which provide nearly all of the biological information and analyses that the FWC and other fisheries managers – including interstate commissions and councils – use to regulate Florida’s marine resources. Fisheries-Dependent Monitoring Researchers collect and analyze data on the number of fish caught and the number of trips made by commercial and recreational fishers, using this information to monitor trends in marine fisheries throughout Florida. These data provide assessments of how management regulations affect harvest and fishers.
8 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Fisheries-Independent Monitoring Researchers capture, identify, count, and release millions of fish each year to monitor the status and relative abundance of economically important fish and invertebrate species from six estuaries around the state. Keys Fisheries Research Keys Fisheries Research encompasses a variety of research and monitoring programs focused on the recreationally and commercially important fish and invertebrate species inhabiting the Florida Keys’ ecosystems. Marine Fisheries Biology Researchers collect and provide data concerning the life history, biology, age structure, stock abundance, and fishery
characteristics of important commercial and recreational fish and invertebrate species in Florida. Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment Researchers integrate the physical, biological, and fisheries data gathered in the Marine Fisheries-Independent Monitoring, the Marine Fisheries-Dependent Monitoring, and the Marine Fisheries Biology programs to analyze Florida’s marine fisheries stocks. This information is provided to marine fisheries managers. Marine Fisheries Stock Enhancement Biologists focus on breeding and rearing marine game fish and mollusks for release as well as on evaluating the use of hatchery-reared animals as a management tool to enhance or rebuild coastal fisheries.
Florida department of environmental Protection Florida sea grant Program national oceanic and atmospheric administration national sea grant Program southwest Florida Water Management district st. Johns river Water Management district suwannee river Water Management district the nature Conservancy u.s. Fish and Wildlife service u.s. geological survey
Marine Fisheries researCh
of the Panhandle was closed. Although bay scallop populations remain relatively stable in some traditional harvest areas, other areas that were once harvested have unstable populations that do not seem to be recovering. Biologists annually monitor bay scallops along Florida’s Gulf coast from Pine Island Sound to St. Andrew Bay. Monitoring takes place every five years in the Pensacola Bay system. Locations are surveyed during May and June. At each of 10 sampling locations in seagrass habitat, divers survey along 20 lines, each measuring 300 meters, for a total of three acres. Researchers also use traps to monitor juvenile scallops, called spat, year-round. A network of volunteers watches the spat grow in cages. Those juveniles may become reproducing adults for low-population areas. Research shows that bay scallop reproduction peaks in spring and fall
Counting and measuring bay scallops during an underwater survey.
Keeping Their Eyes on Bay Scallops
The bay scallop is a popular addition to the dinner table for seafood lovers, but many sit down to eat without thinking about what it takes to ensure that they remain plentiful for years to come. Marine Fisheries Research biologists have taken on that task for the better part of two decades, monitoring the bay scallop population along Florida’s Gulf coast and leading restoration activities. In 1991, bay scallops were still harvested by both recreational and commercial fishers. Worries that overharvesting was taking place prompted the study – to provide real numbers to assess the population. Researchers found that concerns were justified, as bay scallop numbers in some areas were short of the levels believed to support viable populations. New regulations eliminated commercial harvest of bay scallops in 1994 and closed some areas to all harvest. Since then, the coastal waters of Hernando, Citrus, and Levy counties were reopened for recreational harvest, but a large portion
and that in most years, a low level of reproductive activity continues yearround. Biologists are working to restore populations in Pine Island Sound, Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay, and St. Andrew Bay. Project scientists are also trying to make sense of discrepancies between adult abundance and the amount of spat in an area. In some cases, they collect a small amount of spat in high adult-population areas; in others, the opposite is true. Yearly results of the program will help scientists monitor long-term trends and identify areas needing to be stabilized or restored. The project will continue as long as scallops are harvested. The main goal would shift from monitoring to restoration if the results suggest that the species is once again declining.
10 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
groupers, snappers, and triggerfish. The year-long study involves developing and testing an electronic logbook reporting system, which records detailed catch and fishing effort information. Vessel operators are asked to report weekly for the duration of the study. Because the information is self-reported, researchers conduct field work to confirm the accuracy of reported catch and effort. This follow-up includes random dockside and at-sea sampling of fishing trips to verify the species and numbers of fish caught – both harvested and released. At-sea sampling also provides information on the depth of the area fished and the size of caught and released fish. For some reef-fish species, those released may far outnumber those that are kept, and their survival depends on factors such as their size and condition and the depth at which they were released. Information gained by tracking released fish has become increasingly important to
A biologist tags a red snapper caught on a Panama City charter fishing vessel.
Logging Charter Boat Trips
Hundreds of thousands of anglers charter boats to take them saltwater fishing in Florida. More than 2,100 licensed for-hire vessels operate in the state, and the fish targeted vary greatly based on the time of year, the location, and the boat type. Keeping reliable records of what these recreational fishers catch and how long they are out on the water has been a challenge in Florida and beyond. The National Research Council reviewed recreational fishery survey methods and recommended that for-hire vessels be required to keep logbooks. In 2010, Marine Fisheries Research biologists working cooperatively with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service began a pilot study to test a new logbook program that will inform future decision-making. Project scientists chose to focus on Panhandle-region charter boats that possess federal reef-fish permits. The region’s vessels typically carry anglers targeting reef fish such as scientists who assess species population status. Results from the study are made available to conservation managers to aid in their decision-making. Researchers have found that the amount of information collected can be maximized by establishing and maintaining strong lines of communication with vessel operators. Project scientists have conducted outreach workshops and routinely call nonreporting vessel operators to encourage their continued participation. Once all the data are analyzed, project scientists hope to understand what information can be reliably reported through the system. The same pilot study is being conducted simultaneously in Texas, so stakeholders can compare the success of the system in both states upon completion.
Marine Fisheries researCh 11
on the mouths of rivers where sawfish tend to congregate. Biologists use gill nets to capture smaller sawfish, whereas adults, which grow to about 18 feet long, are typically caught with longline gear and rod and reel. Researchers use several kinds of tags to monitor sawfish movements, including acoustic tags for juveniles and satellite tags for adults. Members of the public also report sightings of the fish. Researchers conduct studies year-round, most intensively from February to September. Very little has been known about sawfish, but recent research has uncovered much new information. Sawfish are typically about 2.5 feet long at birth and double in size by the end of their first year. Juvenile sawfish adjust to changes in salt concentration by moving toward the mouths of rivers during wetter, higher-flow periods and farther upriver in drier, low-flow conditions. The research is still in its early stages; upcoming studies
Sawfish: Discovering an Endangered Species
Understanding the smalltooth sawfish is key to saving this endangered species. Once occupying U.S. waters from North Carolina to Texas, the population is currently confined to southwestern Florida and nearby waters. Researchers cite two main factors in the steep decline of sawfish numbers and range over the past century: they often became bycatch when their saws were entangled by fishing nets, and their rate of reproduction is relatively low. In 2004, a year after sawfish was added to the endangered species list, Marine Fisheries Research biologists began studying young sawfish and their habitat needs in order to develop methods of protecting the remaining population. FWRI biologists are focusing their sawfish research mainly on the Charlotte Harbor area of the Gulf coast. Partner organizations are studying those in the Ten Thousand Islands, the Keys, and Florida Bay. The monitoring efforts center
A tagged smalltooth sawfish is released after tagging.
will compare how juveniles use three nursery areas and will track large-scale movement of adults throughout the state. Continued research is needed to assess the long-term recovery and maintenance of the population as well as to learn how Florida sawfish associate with those in other areas such as the Bahamas. The results of the study will contribute directly to the success of the Recovery Plan for the endangered sawfish and may influence resource management policies in areas where the species lives.
12 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
trappers tested different configurations to determine which modifications reduce trap movement. That study has shown that in general, the more wire a wooden trap contains, the less it will move. Trappers are field-testing four new designs and comparing their lobster catch and the unintended catch of other marine life with what they catch in standard wooden traps. Researchers hope that these new designs will allow trappers to reduce their environmental impact while keeping their catch at current levels. In the southern Gulf of Mexico north of the lower Keys, biologists are working with commercial divers to evaluate the effects of casitas on the hard-bottom environment there. Casitas are artificial shelters specifically designed to attract spiny lobsters for a diver to harvest. Although casitas are currently not an authorized fishing method, many divers contend that if properly designed and regulated, casitas could be an
Spiny Lobster Fishing and the Florida Keys Environment
Lobsters are a popular delicacy the world over, which has placed them in great demand. In the Florida Keys, the spiny lobster commercial fishery is a vitally important component of the economy. Also significant is the tourism industry, depending heavily on coral-reef and hard-bottom habitats that Keys lobsters share with their many underwater neighbors. Fishing for spiny lobster can affect those essential habitats, so Marine Fisheries Research biologists, in partnership with local stakeholder organizations, are exploring ways to reduce the environmental footprint of those methods. Most commercial lobster fishers place traps on the sea floor for later harvest. These traps can drag across the ocean floor when the weather gets rough. Biologists working together with commercial trappers are designing traps that move less during storms and winter cold fronts. Researchers and
Caribbean spiny lobster
appropriate means of harvesting lobsters in that particular region. Fishery and ecosystem managers have encouraged FWRI researchers to conduct this study as one step in the process of evaluating whether legal, regulated casitas might be managed as part of the spiny lobster fishery. To that end, biologists compare the hard-bottom and fish communities on and near casitas with communities at nearby control areas where casitas are not present. The next research steps are to examine the spiny lobster population in the region (starting with tagging lobsters to monitor their movement) and determine whether the casitas have any effects on the spiny lobsters themselves.
Marine Fisheries researCh 13
Anglers fishing for black crappie on Lake Dora give researchers valuable information. To assess the health of a lake and make informed decisions, managers must know how many people are fishing on a lake and how many fish they are catching and removing.
Fr es h wa ter Fi s h er i es res earc h
Jim Estes, Program Administrator Jim.estes@MyFWC.com
Florida’s many freshwater bodies are a proven draw for recreational anglers. More than a quarter-million tourists, many of whom come to Florida specifically to fish, enjoy its lakes and rivers each year. Freshwater fishing trips in the state contribute $2.4 billion annually to Florida’s economy. Healthy ecosystems for freshwater fish and wildlife are key to the species’ survival and to maintaining Florida’s place as a destination for freshwater anglers. To help sustain these freshwater resources for long-term enjoyment, managers must have a strong understanding of Florida’s fish species as well as their habitats.
Program Budget: $3,545,894 Staff: 63
FgtF (38.54%) sgtF (53.76%)
sgtF/ grants (7.62%)
Workers replant native aquatic plants in Lake Yale to restore habitat that grass carp destroyed. The fish were placed in the lake to control hydrilla but eventually ate many of the native plants too.
FreshWater Fisheries researCh 15
This page Left: Largemouth bass produced at the Florida Bass Conservation Center are stocked into Lake Griffin. Young bass larger than the native fish are released to give them a head start; a genetic marker allows biologists to distinguish them from wild fish and assess their survival. Right: A researcher sorts and measures bass for a project that compares methods of training hatchery-reared fish to accept live food and avoid predators. Opposite page A biologist collects a sample of water from Lost Creek near Crawfordsville in north Florida. This project examined the relationships between stream water chemistry and mercury accumulation in fish to assess ecological and human health threats.
The Freshwater Fisheries Research section of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) collects and objectively analyzes data on freshwater fisheries, invertebrates, and habitats. The results are provided to FWC managers, to the public, and to federal, state, county, and local agencies to help them develop resource policies and regulations. The section is composed of two complementary subsections: Freshwater Fisheries Biology and Freshwater Fisheries Resource Assessment. Freshwater Fisheries Biology Researchers study the life histories, ecology, and population changes of important Florida sport fish species, providing data that biologists need for population studies and assessments.
Freshwater Fisheries Resource Assessment Researchers combine the data gathered by Freshwater Fisheries Biology researchers with data from studies of habitats and human impacts on freshwater fish species to provide assessments to resource managers.
lake County Water authority south Florida Water Management district southwest Florida Water Management district st. Johns river Water Management district u.s. department of the interior
16 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Though they reproduce at sea, American eels spend their days in freshwater or brackish environments and so are classified as freshwater fish. Research in Florida takes place mainly at the Guana River Dam in Ponte Vedra Beach. Monitoring methods depend on the age of the eel. To sample glass eels, a dip net is used, typically four nights a week during January and February. Researchers record how many dips occurred and the number of eels collected, weighing and measuring some, while also recording water conditions. To track adult eels, the study relies on help from monthly surveys of commercial fishers. Researchers look at harvest numbers, the number of pots deployed, the percentages of eels sold for food and for bait, and who purchased the eels. The first decade of research has revealed a parasite infesting some eels’ swim bladders (an internal organ that helps the eel maintain flotation). Until
Monitoring the American Eel
Studies of the American eel in Florida are few, but an ongoing project by Freshwater Fisheries researchers is providing a new perspective. In a program that began in 2001, biologists monitor the migration of glass (young) eels into state waters each winter and track the commercial harvest of yellow and silver (adult) eels in state waters year-round. The monitoring helps Florida comply with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eel, developed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The Plan, involving 15 states, is meant to protect and enhance the population of the American eel in the Atlantic states while providing for a sustainable harvest. American eels are considered an interbreeding stock, meaning that regardless of their home area (from Canada to Mexico), they descend on the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic to reproduce. Thus, it is vital to monitor their full population (in all locations) at the same time with the same methods.
Glass (young) American eel
now, this parasite had not been noted in Florida, but it had shown up in strong numbers among American eels in other areas. One-third of 117 eels harvested from the middle St. Johns River showed signs of infestation, and 11% of 79 from the upper St. Johns showed the same signs. The parasite was not identified, but it may be a species recently documented in other Atlantic coast states. Monitoring will continue, and the results will probably influence future eel management. Set for completion this year is an assessment of eel populations, including an estimate of their numbers, along the entire U.S. Atlantic coast.
18 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
in areas where they reproduce. Using electrofishing, which stuns a fish before it is caught and causes no permanent damage, researchers sample along 10 randomly selected lines once every two weeks from January to April. The researchers record the size and sex of the fish and the number caught, using those findings to make determinations about the overall population. Juveniles are monitored from March to September. To collect them, a small-mesh net on a rigid frame is lowered from the boat and towed below the water’s surface. Researchers have found that the number of juveniles varies greatly from year to year and that environmental factors, such as a March 2009 storm that caused a sharp decline in the juvenile population, are a likely influence. Among adults, abundance has failed to improve in spite of diminishing threats. A constitutional ban on entanglement gears essentially ended commercial fishing for American shad in Florida.
Fishing for American Shad
American shad hatch in fresh water, but they live a salty life. The fish – a member of the herring family – lives out its adult years at sea before returning to its freshwater birthplace to reproduce. In Florida, the principal location for such activity is the St. Johns River. That’s where Freshwater Fisheries Research biologists are monitoring the numbers of this once-abundant fish, which have been in decline for decades. The American shad was historically an important commercial fishery along the Eastern seaboard as far north as Maine. A drop in population has led to an interstate management plan overseen by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The current St. Johns River monitoring project, which began in 2006, keeps Florida in compliance with the plan. The goal of the project is to provide data on long-term population trends that can be used to guide management decisions conducive to increasing the shad population. Adult American shad are sampled
Sampling American shad with the use of an electrofishing boat.
Biologists have been puzzled by the lack of population improvement since the ban, especially because recreational fishing seems to have a minimal effect on shad abundance. The public’s help adds another layer to the study. Researchers are surveying anglers after their fishing trips from January to April 2011, asking about their trip length, target species, catch, and harvest. Project scientists will use the survey results to aid in comparing catch rates to those of past years and estimating the overall effort, catch, and harvest among anglers. If the numbers of American shad in Florida fail to improve, hatchery fish may be used as a supplement to help rejuvenate the population.
FreshWater Fisheries researCh 19
Wil d life res earc h
Tim O’Meara, Program Administrator tim.oMeara@MyFWC.com
Florida is rich in wildlife species, both terrestrial (land-based) and aquatic. Many of these provide economic benefits through viewing opportunities, such as the state’s many unique birds, or hunting opportunities, such as Florida’s white-tailed deer. Some of these species are endangered, including two identified closely with the state of Florida, the manatee and the panther.
Program Budget: $9,815,401 Staff: 111
CarltF (0.10%) gdtF sgtF/ (0.26%) grants (0.11%) sgtF (8.91%) PrtF (1.91%)
FgtF (11.25%) MrCtF (27.35%)
MrCtF/ grants (13.33%) ngWtF (14.51%)
Left: Biologists radio-collar a Florida panther captured in South Florida’s Big Cypress region and collect biological samples to monitor its health. Research on genetics, movement patterns, health, and reproduction permit the FWC to manage the endangered cats and guide their continued recovery.
A small skin sample collected from a Florida manatee provides genetic information that will help researchers identify and track the animal.
WildliFe researCh 21
This page Left: A loggerhead hatchling is measured as part of a study to monitor newborn turtles in the open sea. Right: Researchers are tagging red knots, a migratory species that stops to refuel on Florida Gulf coast beaches, in an effort to determine how abundance of horseshoe crab eggs influences the birds’ habitat use and body condition. Opposite page Researchers free an endangered North Atlantic right whale tangled in ropes. Each calving season, researchers participate with other agencies in similar rescues throughout the Southeast.
Wildlife managers require detailed scientific information about each species to make informed decisions that benefit these animals’ survival. The Wildlife Research section of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) acquires and distributes that needed information to managers at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as to the public. Researchers focus on the biology and ecology of wildlife species and the effects of human activities on wildlife and their habitats. The data they gather informs not only wildlife management but also conservation, restoration, and wise use of Florida’s wildlife resources.
To cover Florida’s vast array of species, the Wildlife Research section is split into five subsections: Avian Research, Marine Mammal Research, Marine Turtle Research, Reptile and Amphibian Research, and Terrestrial Mammal Research. Avian Research Researchers provide data on the life history, population biology, and ecology of Florida’s bird species to aid managers in developing conservation plans and to assist recovery efforts. Marine Mammal Research Researchers study various topics surrounding manatee and right whale populations – from life histories to migration patterns – to address species recovery planning.
22 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Caribbean Conservation Corporation disney Wildlife Conservation Fund ducks unlimited, inc. FWC Office of Boating and Waterways John h. Prescott Marine Mammal rescue assistance national oceanic and atmospheric administration st. Johns river Water Management district tampa electric Company u.s. department of agriculture u.s. Fish and Wildlife service u.s. Forest service u.s. geological survey university of Florida Wildlife Conservation society Wildlife Foundation of Florida
WildliFe researCh 23
Marine Turtle Research Researchers help address species recovery plans by studying the life history, population biology, ecology, behavior, and migrations of sea turtles. Reptile and Amphibian Research Researchers study a broad variety of topics related to amphibians and reptiles other than sea turtles, monitor species populations, and support conservation efforts. Terrestrial Mammal Research Researchers investigate the natural history, population biology, ecology, and behavior of land-based mammals, providing current ecological information necessary for maintaining viable populations of Florida’s native mammals.
them from their relatives on the surface, it is difficult to spot differences between cave crayfish species because they share adaptations to their dark, underground environments. To clarify the relationships and species boundaries among Florida’s cave crayfish, Wildlife Research biologists in 2007 began a genetic study. In addition to verifying the existence of the 14 recognized species in the state, FWRI biologists – in partnership with researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah – set out to investigate the possible existence of unrecorded species that appear identical but are genetically distinct, called cryptic species. Project biologists also aimed to compile records that better defined the population distribution of cave crayfish, and they visited caves and springs throughout the state to collect samples. Researchers then conducted genetic analysis of the samples to assess
Investigating Cave Crayfish
Freshwater crayfish, also called crawfish or crawdads, resemble small lobsters. Perhaps best known for their place in Cajun culture, they are also commonly found in Florida. The crayfish many people recognize make their homes in lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, and ponds. Several rarely seen species also dwell in fresh water, but only in the aquifer beneath the earth’s surface. More species of cave crayfish live in Florida than in any other state; currently, 14 species have been found in the state’s subterranean areas. Crayfish that live in the depths of the Sunshine State’s caves have some key differences from those that live in surface waters. For example, unlike surface-dwelling crayfish, cave crayfish lack pigment. Cave crayfish are troglobitic, meaning they can survive only in a cave environment. Their adaptations include heightened senses of hearing, smell, and touch, but most lack eyesight. Though it is easy to distinguish
relationships among the species. The research will increase understanding of cave crayfish, boosting knowledge about the number of species and where each species lives. That knowledge is essential when it comes time to evaluate each species’ conservation status and population management needs. The project is part of a broader genetic assessment of all crayfish in Florida, cave and otherwise. The overarching study is set for completion by May 2012.
24 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
believe that the cold temperatures were a contributing factor in many of an additional 280 deaths for which the cause could not be determined. The death toll caused by low water temperatures was unprecedented. Examinations of the deceased manatees revealed that cold-related fatalities fell into two categories: acute exposure to cold; and chronic cold stress, a more complex disease process. Biologists have long known that manatees are adversely affected by cold water, but they are still learning just how much time in the frigid water constitutes lethal exposure and how this varies with animal size and other factors. FWC biologists are concerned about the high number of manatee deaths, as well as their geographic extent. The cold-relateddeath totals in 2010 were exceptionally high in all parts of the state except the northwestern region. TemperatureA researcher prepares to necropsy a manatee killed by the cold weather.
A Cold Year for Manatees
Much of Florida’s wildlife population thrives in the Sunshine State because of its subtropical to tropical climate and mild winter weather. When temperatures drop and remain below normal for an extended period, many species are in danger. One of the state’s best-known wildlife residents, the endangered Florida manatee, has a particularly hard time with frigid conditions, and the cold winter months of 2010 claimed numerous victims. Wildlife Research biologists were among the first responders when the extreme cold struck, attempting to rescue distressed manatees, recover the carcasses of those that succumbed, and determine the causes of death when possible. For the year, a record 767 manatees were found dead, more than double the five-year average; 280 of those fatalities were due to cold stress. Cold stress also contributed to the deaths of 21 of the 96 manatees that were classified as “perinatal” or “newborn.” Biologists
related deaths were documented even as far south as the Florida Keys, where waters are normally quite warm. Though the concerns are real, researchers recognize that the cold weather that caused the spike in manatee deaths is part of natural variation. An important factor in the manatee’s longterm survival is effective management of warm-water habitats throughout Florida. To better understand the future implications of the 2010 cold-related deaths, researchers are incorporating into mathematical models the information they have gathered throughout the year.
WildliFe researCh 25
the wild. FWRI staff, with partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and three Florida zoos, fitted some of the captive mice with radio collars, released them, and tracked their movements and survival during their first month. To monitor other mice and where they spend their time, researchers use track tubes: closed-off pipes that require a mouse to cross an ink pad to reach food placed inside, recording its tracks on paper. Additional mice are trapped alive in small box traps, tagged, and released after tissue samples have been collected for genetic analysis. The initial release took place in March 2010. At regular intervals over the next 24 weeks, the mice were trapped to check their status, and future follow-up assessments were planned. The captive beach mouse reintroduction is going well so far. Researchers have determined that zoo-
The Beach Mouse of Perdido Key
A tiny member of the beach community has seen its population diminish, and in some locations disappear. The Perdido Key beach mouse has fought for survival in recent decades. Added to the endangered species list in 1985, the mouse is vulnerable to local extinction through a variety of factors. Major threats to the population include heavy storms, native predators, development, and the house cats that come with an increased human presence. When Hurricane Ivan threatened their habitat in 2004, some mice were moved to zoos for breeding in captivity. To help restore and maintain the beach mouse population of Perdido Key near Pensacola, Wildlife Research biologists in 2010 began a program that reintroduces the captive-born mice to their natural habitat. Another goal of the project is to learn whether mice born and raised in captivity can survive and reproduce in
Perdido Key beach mouse with an ear tag.
born mice can survive and reproduce in the wild, and therefore can be used to repopulate areas where the natural population has disappeared. Continuing studies will include genetic analysis of tissue samples and observing which methods of raising captive mice lead to the most successful reintroduction to the wild. Biologists plan to continue monitoring the Perdido Key beach mouse even after the reintroduction program wraps up in 2011. They expect that the results of this study can be used to manage beach mice in other locations as well and could apply to managing other small mammal populations.
26 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
The rescue efforts consisted of FWCtrained teams of three to five people searching for oiled sea turtles throughout the many miles of spill area. Biologists charted a course using satellite data on sea-surface temperature, oil projection, water color, and chlorophyll; these data were supplemented by aerial surveys done in conjunction with each search. The area spanned federal waters between Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta and Apalachicola, in northwest Florida. Crews were based in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. Once at sea, rescuers charted the locations of the turtles they found and used dip nets to capture those affected by the oil. The sea turtles were then swabbed for samples, initially cleaned, photographed, measured, and taken to the nearest rehabilitation facility. These searches took place each day of suitable weather between May and September.
The mouth of a young Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is examined for evidence of oil or tar.
Saving Oiled Sea Turtles
Millions were captivated by the news images of fish and wildlife covered in oil following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Marine life was placed in immediate danger by the flowing underwater well, including four species of sea turtles. Just weeks after oil began pouring into the water in April, Wildlife Research biologists and others from partner agencies were among those who sprang into action. They asked whether large numbers of sea turtles were affected by the spill and whether rescue was possible. After both those questions were answered yes, they set out to capture the oiled turtles and take them to rehabilitation facilities. Using GPS to track their search routes, researchers recorded the numbers of affected sea turtles recovered and where they were located. This method allowed researchers to project the numbers of turtles they did not find and estimate the impact of the spill on their full populations.
Now that initial rescue efforts are complete, biologists are assessing just how much exposure and injury the sea turtles received in the oil spill. The vast majority of rescued oiled turtles have survived the ordeal, and although some remain in rehabilitation, most have been released. Rescue-program data have confirmed findings in a previous FWC study: that small juvenile turtles would be particularly vulnerable to spilled oil. Final numbers relating to the oil spill’s effects on the sea turtle population are coming soon. Those numbers will aid managers in making decisions for restoring the sea turtle populations and their habitat.
WildliFe researCh 27
to June 2010. Some of these “newtists” are employees of government and nongovernment agencies, and some are volunteers, including many college students. The researchers look at digital maps to identify potential habitat for newts by geographical characteristics. Striped newts tend to reside in high, dry habitats when not breeding. They breed in isolated, temporary ponds free of predatory fish. The “newtists” use dip nets in these breeding ponds to catch adult or larval newts. The surveys are most productive between February and June, when larvae are present, though newts may be found year-round in some ponds. Striped newt tissue samples are sent to a scientist who studies the genetic diversity of the species’ populations throughout its range. Since 2005, researchers have surveyed 840 ponds on 43 public conservation lands
Surveying for Striped Newt
A tiny Florida salamander’s population is shrinking. Wildlife Research biologists are studying just how much trouble the striped newt is in. In 2005, concerns regarding the status of the striped newt in Florida led researchers to initiate a statewide survey to determine how many populations remain and to try to find new ones. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using information from this project as they consider whether to add the striped newt to the federal list of threatened species. To identify the factors that have affected striped newt populations, researchers are visiting areas where striped newts have historically been found and are analyzing characteristics of the areas where they currently live. Striped newts were once widespread in suitable habitat north of Orlando and east of Tallahassee. In these and other locations, about 100 people took part in striped newt surveys from July 2009 and have found striped newts in 60 ponds, 39 of which had not been known to have newts. More than half of the 840 ponds were surveyed from July 2009 through June 2010; that survey found striped newts in 18 ponds, seven of them for the first time. However, these discoveries do not indicate that the striped newt’s range has expanded, because most of the new ponds are within known population centers. Researchers are surveying more locations and checking already-sampled ponds to get the most recent information. The statewide survey has confirmed that the species’ range has shrunk: since 1990, striped newts have been found in only 11 of 18 counties where they were credibly documented in the past. Findings from this study will provide more definitive information about striped newt population status and distribution.
28 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
owned Longino Ranch in Sarasota County, biologists tracked the turkeys by radio. From January to mid-March, they set up baited areas, captured the turkeys in rocket nets (netting propelled by metal capsules filled with packets of black powder and detonated by a small electric current), and fitted each bird with a small radio-transmitter backpack and a leg band. Researchers monitored each bird’s radio signal at least three times a week from mid-March to midJuly. Project scientists also measured vegetation at the nesting locations, monitored nesting attempts, and tracked the surviving young for the first month after hatching. These data will be used to project how large an area the turkeys inhabit, how they use the area, and how it is affected by management activities such as burning and clearing brush. Researchers believe that land restoration efforts will benefit wild turkeys by increasing and improving
Tracking the Wild Turkey
The wild turkey is hardly an unknown species in the U.S. In fact, legend has it that founding father Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the country’s national bird. Turkeys are a prime target in the spring and fall hunting seasons, and they are on many a menu during the holidays and beyond. The main subspecies found in Florida is the Osceola wild turkey, and Wildlife Research biologists set out in 2007 to learn how its habitat could be enhanced. They wondered whether habitat restoration efforts used for bobwhite quail might also benefit turkeys during nesting season. Biologists studied the characteristics of sites where turkeys reproduce and raise young to determine what type of environment and management is ideal. Researchers let those responsible for nesting—female turkeys—provide them with the necessary information. At the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Osceola County and the privately
A biologist administers a vitamin E shot to offset the effects of capture-related stress
their nesting and brood-rearing habitat. The study results will guide recommendations on how to manage wildlife restoration efforts to the birds’ maximum benefit and could lead to expanded restoration efforts on public and private lands. The results may apply to other southeastern states’ restoration efforts as well. Field work on the study, which is the most detailed examination of Osceola wild turkey habitat use in Florida to date, wrapped up in 2010. The final report will be distributed in 2011, and the study results, along with other useful information about the wild turkey, will be posted on the FWRI Web site.
WildliFe researCh 29
ec os y s te m as s es s m en t an d res to ra ti o n
Leanne Flewelling, Program Administrator leanne.Flewelling@MyFWC.com Amber Whittle, Program Administrator amber.Whittle@MyFWC.com
Program Budget: $8,778,874 Staff: 79
Florida encompasses an incredible variety of habitats—the subtropical coral reefs of the Keys, the springs, rivers, and lakes of the central and northern peninsula, and the native grasslands and pine flatwoods that cover much of the state. For Florida’s equally diverse fish and wildlife, these habitats are home. For the state’s residents and its many visitors, these habitats are the setting for an array of recreational and commercial activities, including diving, hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, and nature-viewing. If not properly managed, changes in the quality and quantity of natural habitats can lead to declines in fish and wildlife populations.
MrCtF/ grants (10.54%) CarltF (1.84%)
sgtF sgtF/ (2.22%) grants (0.43%)
Left: Water samples are collected on a red tide research cruise. The sampling device captures water at different depths, providing information on the entire water column.
A researcher examines slides of tissues from red drum reared at the FWC’s saltwater hatchery in Manatee County to ensure that a batch of fish soon to be released is healthy.
eCosysteM assessMent and restoration 31
This page Left: Examining the carcass of a goliath grouper killed by cold weather provides insights about parasites and other pathogens affecting an important species. Right: As part of a Law Enforcement investigation, veterinarians work to determine the trajectory of a bullet during a forensic necropsy on a black bear. Opposite page Top: Sea fans are surveyed at Mayer’s Peak in the Dry Tortugas National Park. Researchers annually inventory these and other soft corals, called gorgonians, within permanent stations of the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project to determine species richness and density. Bottom: Plants are identified and counted on a donor site at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. This area supplies seed to another site as part of a native ground cover restoration project.
Decreasing or degraded habitat is just one of many threats to fish and wildlife populations. When diseases strike aquatic or land-based Florida species, it is important to understand why they occur and to manage their impacts. Harmful algal blooms such as Florida red tide are threats that can cause humanhealth and economic problems by contaminating seafood, disturbing freshwater and marine environments, and causing mass die-offs of fish and aquatic wildlife species. Projects within the Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration section of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) evaluate the status of Florida’s habitats to effectively manage them while also monitoring harmful algal blooms and the health of the state’s fish and wildlife. The results of this monitoring, along with the section’s research
32 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
projects, inform diverse management decisions. This section is composed of three subsections: Fish and Wildlife Health, Habitat Research, and Harmful Algal Blooms. Fish and Wildlife Health Researchers monitor, investigate the causes of, and assist in the management of fish and wildlife diseases and die-offs. Staff members also conduct fish and wildlife forensics and wildlife veterinary research. Habitat Research Biologists collect and analyze freshwater, marine, and upland habitat and species data to aid in effective preservation, management, and restoration decision-making.
ecosystem Management and restoration trust Fund Florida department of environmental Protection Florida department of health Florida Coastal Management Program FWC Florida Wildlife legacy initiative FWC habitat and species Conservation (hsC) aquatic habitat restoration and enhancement FWC hsC terrestrial habitat Conservation and restoration gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council gulf of Mexico Program indian river lagoon national estuary Program Marine Fisheries Conservation trust Fund Mote Marine laboratory national aeronautics and space administration national Fish and Wildlife Foundation national oceanic and atmospheric administration national Park service/everglades national Park south atlantic Fishery Management Council south Florida Water Management district st. Johns river Water Management district state Wildlife grants Program suwannee river Water Management district tampa Bay estuary Program u.s. department of agriculture, aPhis-Veterinary services u.s. department of the interior u.s. environmental Protection agency u.s. Fish and Wildlife service u.s. geological survey university of Florida university of north Carolina at Wilmington
eCosysteM assessMent and restoration 33
Harmful Algal Blooms Researchers in this group study Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms, monitoring blooms that adversely affect natural resources or present a human-health risk.
Marine Laboratory, University of Miami, Old Dominion University, University of Maryland, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science) are using a multifaceted approach to answer their questions. They are analyzing data from a severe 2001 bloom (the first in which extensive nutrient data was collected), examining the organism’s responses to different nutrient forms and sources in laboratory studies, and collecting samples and taking measurements in the field. Researchers have examined three different red tides in the same general area of southwestern Florida: a bloom in the initial stage of forming, a nearshore bloom with high cell concentrations, and an older bloom. In 2010, the lack of a red tide in southwestern Florida provided a unique opportunity for sampling and analysis. The research has shown that many different nutrient sources contribute to red tides, ranging from natural and man-made nearshore nutrient sources to those derived from recycled sources and the ocean floor. No single nutrient source alone will support large Florida red tide blooms. Karenia brevis is extremely flexible in the nutrient forms it can use, which include simple nutrients such as phosphate, nitrate, and ammonia and more complex organic nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. This flexibility, along with an abundance of nutrient sources and local wind and current conditions, facilitates Karenia brevis blooms in southwestern Florida. Nutrients in fertilizer run-off were not observed to trigger red tide blooms, although they may contribute to their persistence in certain areas. Researchers have found that urea – a nutrient potentially associated with runoff – supported blooms of nontoxic algae rather than red tide. Researchers documented the wind patterns and currents favoring the transport of these blooms from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. This information has enabled federal and state managers to better predict when conditions favor the movement of these blooms to new areas, thus alerting coastal communities to possible risks. Upon study completion, researchers will distribute their findings to environmental managers and the public.
What Fuels Florida Red Tide?
Florida’s red tide blooms predate its European settlement. Researchers have traced the appearance of the toxic algae back nearly 500 years. Florida red tide blooms can kill massive quantities of fish and other coastal species. Humans can become ill after eating tainted shellfish and can experience respiratory irritation after breathing sea spray during a red tide. Harmful Algal Bloom group biologists with FWRI’s Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration section are studying what offshore and inshore nutrients fuel these red tide blooms and whether the blooms are enhanced by coastal nutrient sources. Red tide nutrient studies date back to 1948, when the Florida red tide organism – known since 2000 as Karenia brevis – was originally named. In a current FWRI study, ongoing since 2006 with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, FWRI researchers and their collaborators at six institutions (University of South Florida, Mote
34 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
the scope of habitat monitoring and provides information that’s valuable not only to fish populations but also to wildlife residents. Researchers use these maps to track major changes that occur in habitats over time and detect any problems that may arise. Mapping projects have taken place in Alachua, Highlands, Orange, Osceola, and Polk counties. The primary study lakes are Lake Tohopekaliga (near Kissimmee) and Orange Lake (near Gainesville), each of which has been mapped twice. Professional mapping contractors – hired by FWC – use a high-resolution digital mapping camera to acquire and analyze color-infrared aerial photography for producing detailed maps of vegetation. FWC researchers use GIS analyses of the maps to distinguish classes of plants and define the locations and total area of plant communities. Project scientists conduct field surveys before, during, and after the mapping in order to verify the aerial analysis at ground level. Initial
An airboat and tablet PC are used to survey freshwater plants in East Lake Tohopekaliga.
Mapping Plant-Life at Florida Lakes
Florida’s lake-dwelling fish and wildlife share their territory—both underwater and onshore—with a very necessary ally: plants. Aquatic plant communities provide essential habitat for many waterdependent species and can indicate the health of a lake environment. To determine habitat conditions of lakes selected for study, Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration biologists began a project in 2005 to generate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps of lake vegetation. GIS is a computer-based system that links physical geographic data to an information database for mapping, analysis, and modeling. The maps help fish and wildlife managers evaluate the quality of the lake habitat and decide whether any action is needed to improve living conditions for species such as freshwater sport fish, alligators, waterfowl, and wading birds. In the past, management of lake environments focused only on fish. The addition of GIS mapping expands
surveys and photography take place between April and June; additional work is done throughout the year. Individual lakes are mapped every two to three years. Biologists plan to use the data gathered in this program to compare actual lake conditions with idealhabitat targets for fish and wildlife residents. This information will provide a science-based approach to guide future management – restoration, enhancement, or maintenance – of fish and wildlife habitats. Although the project is ongoing, research is already being incorporated into lake-management strategies, and researchers continuously gather more study information on the primary lakes. Once the study results are assessed, the project could be applied to other lakes throughout Florida, providing vital habitat-management information for more locations.
eCosysteM assessMent and restoration 35
Specimen Information Services staff and an intern sort invertebrates from baseline sampling performed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
informa t i on s c i en c e a n d M ana g em en t
Henry Norris, Program Administrator henry.norris@MyFWC.com
Program Budget: $4,771,147 Staff: 60
gr (2.67%) PrtF (0.04%)
sgtF (7.42%) ngWtF (8.07%)
Research tools and methods have evolved over the years, as have the ways researchers can demonstrate and communicate their findings. Research is the focus at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), and the Information Science and Management section supports those activities from the start of a project to its end. That support can include assisting with the design of a sampling strategy that ensures greater confidence in results, developing a portable mapping application to better capture information in the field, or developing graphics and charts that reduce complex results into easily understood information that managers can use to make better decisions. Section staff provide tools and techniques to improve the collection, analysis, delivery, and long-term storage of information to support better natural resource management.
MrCtF/ grants (14.83%)
A tablet PC is used to conduct a boat ramp survey as part of oil spill planning.
inForMation sCienCe and ManageMent 37
This page Left: Along the Chipola River, GPS locations of various bottom types-such as sand, gravel, mud, and limerock--are recorded electronically. Bottom type data can be used to delineate the habitat of fish, in this case the shoal bass. Right: FWRI’s large reprint collection provides historical information on Florida’s plants, fish, and other animals to scientists throughout the state. Opposite page Left: Remote sensing techniques and GIS are tools used to create a map for oil spill responders. Right: Data Access staff review recent modifications to the Collections database.
In addition to assisting other researchers with their projects, section staff also conduct their own research, usually in conjunction with others at FWRI or with sister agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This work results in products as diverse as fish and wildlife range maps, economic models assessing impacts of statewide recreational boating, and analyses of climate-change effects on habitats and wildlife populations. The Information Science and Management section has four subsections that cover a range of tasks: the Center for Biostatistics and Modeling, the Center for Spatial Analysis, Information Access, and Socioeconomic Assessment.
Center for Biostatistics and Modeling Researchers help to make scientific results more reliable and useful by providing statistical consulting support, developing study designs and statistical analysis plans, helping analyze scientific data, and producing user-friendly software tools for statistical analysis, modeling procedures, and information visualization. Center for Spatial Analysis Using computer mapping and geographic data analysis methods, researchers map habitats, model animal distributions, develop mapping applications, and produce digital and hardcopy maps and graphics for distribution to natural resource managers and the public.
38 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Coastal Protection trust Fund
Information Access Program staff design, develop, and manage databases; oversee digital and hard-copy publications in the science library; provide editing, illustration, graphics, and publications-production services; and maintain one of the largest collections of marine fish and invertebrate specimens in the southeastern U.S. Socioeconomic Assessment Staff conduct economic studies that provide information to support management decisions such as determining whether to purchase lands for protection, determining economic consequences of raising fees, and assessing the optimal location of a future boat ramp.
Florida department of environmental Protection national oceanic and atmospheric administration south atlantic Fishery Management Council south Carolina department of natural resources south Carolina sea grant south Florida Water Management district southeast Coastal ocean observing regional association state Wildlife grants Program u.s. Coast guard u.s. environmental Protection agency u.s. Fish and Wildlife service u.s. geological survey Wildlife Foundation of Florida
inForMation sCienCe and ManageMent 39
on objective information beyond the influence of outside forces. Statisticians with the Center provide a central location offering researchers expert statistical knowledge on study design, sample size, analysis, interpretation, and reporting. Data managers help scientists track their study results and produce user-friendly software tools that aid in statistical analysis and modeling. The assistance from the statisticians and data managers extends from the planning phase through project completion, including reviewing the results and publishing them for the public. Center experts have provided support for well over 100 projects in 2010 alone, working especially closely with the alligator, bald eagle, freshwater fisheries, mollusc, marine mammal, and terrestrial (land-based) wildlife research programs. The Center collaborates with researchers throughout FWC; for example, assisting in projects within the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation and the Division of Hunting and Game Management. The Center also provides training to FWRI researchers, who gain a better understanding of the best statistical methods for their projects and the need to use the right methods for authoritative published research. The results of the Center’s collaborations with project scientists appear in many of the studies published by the FWRI each year.
Center for Biostatistics and Modeling
Alligators, manatees, panthers, and sea turtles are among the more highprofile animals that call Florida home. They all have another thing in common: biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute study each species – and hundreds more that dwell on land or underwater – as well as their various habitats. Whether one of the headlinemakers or a less talked-about species is the topic of study, FWRI researchers can always turn to the Information Science and Management section’s Center for Biostatistics and Modeling for assistance. The Gainesville-based Center provides guidance and support for project scientists to ensure that their study designs and statistical analysis plans are scientifically valid and efficient. Biostatistics is the application of statistics to biological subjects. Systematic data collection, under appropriate study designs, allows biologists to make decisions based
40 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
The mandate requires the Center to be ready at all times. Select staff members typically spend much of their work time focused on preparation for oil spill response. They participate in spill drills at least twice a year, maintain the Florida Marine Spill Analysis System (map-based spillresponse software), develop digital Area Contingency Plans for responding to spills, and maintain the statewide Environmental Sensitivity Index maps and databases – part of a national system. Center staff develop and maintain strong relationships with other agencies with spill-response capabilities, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Center’s extensive planning efforts proved invaluable when oil began flowing into the Gulf. Staff members and equipment were immediately deployed to support response efforts and provided on-scene support throughout the spill in several Gulf-coast cities across three states. The focus was twofold: bringing targeted scientific resources to support response operations and providing extensive computer-mapping support. Even after the oil spill left the regular news cycle and the heaviest response period had passed, many agencies continued to deal with the spill’s aftermath. Duties for Center staff members well after the initial impact have included providing coordination and support as well as a targeted Internet Mapping System for the Incident Management Team in New Orleans. To improve future operations, the Center has conducted a structured evaluation of its own response efforts. The staff was able to react well and provide support on a number of levels, but the scale of the Deepwater Horizon spill was beyond anything previously anticipated. Center managers will adjust the response processes and improve mapping and support based on the evaluation results.
inForMation sCienCe and ManageMent 41
Responding to an Oil Spill
It is one thing to plan for a catastrophic event, preparing for the worst while hoping such an incident never occurs. It’s quite another to stare the disaster in the face as a responder. That’s just what people across a wide range of agencies spanning multiple states were forced to do when April 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill threatened lives and livelihoods throughout the Gulf states. The FWRI was heavily involved in response efforts from the outset, when team members from its six sections were called into service. One subsection in particular had been readying for the task for nearly two decades. The Center for Spatial Analysis – part of the Information Science and Management section – was given a mandate by the Florida legislature in 1992 to provide scientific and technical support to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Emergency Response in the event of a spill. That support would come in the form of computerized spill-response maps and scientific support coordination.
At the Stock Enhancement Research station, students participating in MarineQuest School Daze learn about the tags used on fish reared at FWRI’s hatchery in Manatee County.
office of t h e directo r
Gil McRae, FWRI Director gil.Mcrae@MyFWC.com
The Office of the Director is responsible for managing a budget of over $49,000,000 and all programs and operations of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), which is made up of 331 full-time employees and approximately 306 OPS part-time and temporary staff. FWRI’s headquarters are located in downtown St. Petersburg adjacent to the Bayboro campus of the University of South Florida. Field stations are in Pensacola, Holt, Panama City, Eastpoint (Apalachicola), Quincy, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Cedar Key, Ocala, DeLeon Springs, Eustis, Melbourne, Lakeland, St. Petersburg, Port Manatee, Port Charlotte, Tequesta, Boca Raton, Naples, Long Key, and Marathon.
Program Budget: $5,433,751 Staff: 49 sgtF/
grants (0.42%) ngWtF (3.92%) stMtF (4.22%) sgtF (6.82%) CarltF (0.07%) PrtF (0.42%)
MrCtF/ grants (25.89%)
Keys Marine Laboratory, located in Long Key. FWRI field offices are located statewide, on both coasts, from the Panhandle down through the Florida Keys.
oFFiCe oF the direCtor 43
This page A small grants office provides support and coordination for securing the resources that fund much of FWRI’s research. Opposite page Visitors to MarineQuest explore a touch tank containing critters collected from Tampa Bay waters. Every spring, FWRI holds MarineQuest, a three-day open house, at its St. Petersburg headquarters.
The Director of FWRI leads the major science sections: Marine Fisheries Research, Freshwater Fisheries Research, Wildlife Research, Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration, and Information Science and Management. The Office of the Director also oversees Institute-wide functions such as Outreach Coordination and Research Operations. Outreach Coordination staff members make the latest FWRI research results available to the public in userfriendly formats, develop outreach programs and publications, and provide them to civic organizations, classrooms, and appropriate public venues. By ensuring that this information is available throughout the state, FWRI hopes to promote
responsible use and preservation of Florida’s fish and wildlife resources. The Research Operations Section supports the scientific activities of the FWRI and consists of work groups such as Computer and Network Support, the Budget Office, and Facilities Management. The Budget Office includes a small Grants Office that provides central-division coordination and support for securing grant-funded resources. Much of FWRI’s research activity is financially supported by grants.
44 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
infrastructure and support for other projects as well, including those of FWRI Freshwater Fisheries researchers. In 1976, researchers set up the Lab in conjunction with the start of the North Florida Streams Research Project, which investigates the fisheries and ecology of the Blackwater, Choctawhatchee, Escambia, and Yellow rivers in the region. Researchers are examining changes in the population composition over time, the biology of stream and river fish species, and the species’ interactions with their habitats. One method scientists use to capture fish for study purposes is electrofishing, which stuns a fish – allowing it to be measured – but does no permanent harm. Because the nearby waters boast the highest diversity of fish species in Florida, Blackwater’s biologists also conduct research on nongame fish. Studying nongame fish helps researchers determine environmental health, as
Watching Streams and River Fish at Blackwater
Throughout Florida, FWRI researchers keep a close eye on the state’s many fish and wildlife species. Some conduct the majority of their research indoors, whereas others spend much of their time out in the field. Those field biologists benefit from living and working close to their study subjects, and the FWRI has field laboratories throughout the state for that very purpose. One such facility is the Blackwater Freshwater Fisheries Field Laboratory. The Lab is housed in the FWC Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management’s Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center, located in northwestern Florida. The Center – which shares its name with the nearby river – dates back to 1938, when it was originally constructed as a fish hatchery. That function continues to be a focus to this day. From 2000 to 2007, the facility produced over six million fish of various species for stocking in public waters. The facility provides
Biologists from the Blackwater fisheries field lab use a barge-mounted electrofishing unit to sample fish from small creeks and tributaries.
these species are an important part of a properly functioning ecosystem. Although the main focus of researchers at the Lab has always been stream and river fisheries, the biologists have investigated a wide array of topics. Those studies have included investigating methods for producing single-sex populations of female largemouth bass, modeling and evaluating the effects of length limits on the largemouth, and determining the population distribution of sport fish in area rivers.
46 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
section. The majority of the employees under that banner at the facility are part of the Fisheries Independent Monitoring subsection. Biologists from the group monitor a 282-square-mile area surrounding Cedar Key, catching a variety of species and recording their sizes as well as the water quality and other habitat information at the time of the catch. Each year, approximately 125,000 fish of about 150 species, along with select invertebrates, are handled by Lab researchers. Their published research has included studies on the age, growth, population, and habitat of the sand seatrout and a study of seagrass habitats in the area. Currently, researchers are involved in a project to compare and evaluate the efficiency of commercial and recreational gear to capture and monitor reef fish. The Cedar Key facility honors with its name a lawmaker who supported
FIM researchers deploy a 21.3-meter seine net used to catch juvenile fish in the shallow nearshore waters off Cedar Key.
A Cedar Key Landmark
FWRI’s headquarters are in St. Petersburg, but only about half of its more than 600 employees work at the main facility. The rest are based in FWRI’s 26 other offices that are spread across the Sunshine State. In some cases, these facilities are local landmarks, and each has a story. That is certainly true of the Senator George G. Kirkpatrick Marine Laboratory in Cedar Key, about 150 miles north of FWRI headquarters. The blue, two-story building on stilts opened in 1997. It is often the first stop for visitors to the small west-coast Florida community, as it is located on State Road 24, the only road into town. Staff members at the Lab provide facility tours and information about Cedar Key, and the building hosts meetings and educational activities for kids and adults. As for its research mission, most of the Lab’s 14 FWC staff work with FWRI’s Marine Fisheries Research
fisheries throughout his 20 years in state government. The building was dedicated the Senator George G. Kirkpatrick Marine Laboratory in 2004. Kirkpatrick – an avid fisherman and conservationist – supported programs in the ‘90s that led to clam farming in the Cedar Key region, now a multi-million dollar industry. Kirkpatrick long envisioned a facility like the one that bears his name that would help to make a difference. The Lab has certainly done that through its research on subjects from stone crabs to sport fish restoration, as well as its community outreach. One of those activities is the Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival, at which staff members display a touch tank with local marine life, reaching thousands of visitors each year.
oFFiCe oF the direCtor 47
Holt Quincy Tallahassee 2 Pensacola Panama City 2 Eastpoint Cedar Key Eustis DeLeon Springs Gainesville Jacksonville
3 Melbourne St. Petersburg Port Manatee 2 Lakeland Fellsmere
One FWRI location in this city 2 Multiple FWRI locations in this city
(number of locations indicated on dot)
Tequesta Boca Raton Naples
Long Key Marathon
48 PrograMs oF the Fish and WildliFe researCh institute 2010—2011
Boca Raton Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory 801 NW 40th Street Boca Raton, FL 33431 Cedar Key Senator George G. Kirkpatrick Marine Laboratory 11350 SW 153rd Court Cedar Key, FL 32625 DeLeon Springs 5450 US Highway 17 DeLeon Springs, FL 32130 Eastpoint Apalachicola Estuarine Research Reserve 350 Carroll Street Eastpoint, FL 32328 Eustis 601 West Woodward Avenue Eustis, FL 32726 Fellsmere TM Goodwin Waterfowl Area 3200 TM Goodwin Road Fellsmere, FL 32948 Gainesville Gainesville Freshwater Fisheries Field Office 7922 NW 71st Street Gainesville, FL 32653 Gainesville Wildlife Research Laboratory 1105 SW Williston Road Gainesville, FL 32601 Holt Blackwater Fisheries Lab 8384 Fish Hatchery Road Holt, FL 32564
Jacksonville Marine Fisheries Alumni River House 2800 University Boulevard North Jacksonville, FL 32211 Jacksonville Zoo Field Lab 370 Zoo Parkway Jacksonville, FL 32218 Lakeland FWC Southwest Regional Office 3900 Drane Field Road Lakeland, FL 33811 Long Key Keys Marine Lab PO Box 968 Mile Market 68 ½, US Highway 1 Long Key, FL 33001 Marathon South Florida Regional Laboratory 2796 Overseas Highway, Suite 119 Marathon, FL 33050 Melbourne Indian River Field Laboratory 1220 Prospect Avenue, Suite 285 Melbourne, FL 32901 Melbourne Beach Field Laboratory Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area 9700 South A1A Highway Melbourne, FL 32951 Melbourne Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory 2595 McGraw Avenue Melbourne, FL 32934 Naples Big Cypress Field Office 566 Commercial Boulevard Naples, FL 34104
Panama City FWC Northwest Regional Office 3911 Highway 2321 Panama City, FL 32409 Pensacola Northwest DEP District Office 1101 East Gregory Street Pensacola, FL 32502 Port Charlotte 585 Prineville Street Port Charlotte, FL 33954 Port Manatee Stock Enhancement Research Facility 14495 Harlee Road Port Manatee, FL 34221 Quincy Joe Budd Field Office 5300 High Bridge Road Quincy, FL 32351 St. Petersburg Headquarters 100 Eighth Avenue SE St. Petersburg, FL 33701 Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory 3700 54th Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33711 Tallahassee Bryant and Bloxham Buildings 620 South Meridian Street Tallahassee, FL 32399 Tequesta 19100 SE Federal Highway Tequesta, FL 33469
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OUR MISSION Through effective research and technical knowledge, we provide timely information and guidance to protect, conserve, and manage Florida’s fish and wildlife resources.
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