Upland Pine, Blackwater River State Forest. Photo by Gary Knight

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gary Knight Retires as FNAI Director

Please join our staff in extending warm wishes to Gary Knight, who retired from FNAI last month.  Gary joined FNAI in 1990 as staff botanist, and served as Director from 1995 to the present.  Under Gary’s steady leadership, FNAI has continued to grow and thrive as one of the premier heritage programs in the NatureServe international heritage network.  Gary forged strong partnerships with key state and federal agencies and NGOs, and expanded FNAI’s role in several important conservation efforts around the state, including scientific evaluation of Florida Forever land acquisition proposals, mapping and monitoring of 2.6 million acres of natural communities on conservation lands, and creation of an invasive species database for Florida.  During Gary’s tenure FNAI scientists have added or updated approximately 21,000 documented occurrences of rare species and natural communities to our element occurrence database, for a current total of more than 35,500 occurrences across the state.  Gary was the driving force behind three major FNAI publications:  field guides to the rare plants and animals of Florida, and the Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage.  Through it all Gary fostered a supportive, team-oriented, and fun work environment for the many staff who have been part of FNAI over the past twenty years.  We will miss his leadership but wish him the best in a well-deserved retirement.

Gary will be succeeded as FNAI Director by Dan Hipes.  Dan started work with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory in 1993 as a field biologist.  He was promoted to Senior Zoologist in 1995 and has served as the Chief Scientist and primary assistant to Gary since 2001.  Dan’s experience provides for a seamless transition and continued growth in FNAI’s partnerships and influence in Florida conservation.

Silene polypetala.  Photo by Gary Knight.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Update from the Field: Gearing Up for Another Busy Fall Field Season!

FNAI staff are in the field year-round, but fall and spring are especially busy times.  That looks to be especially true this year, with FNAI biologists working in at least 27 different sites across 24 counties over the next few months!

This fall's fieldwork includes ecological sampling to inform land management, natural community mapping to reflect restoration efforts, rare plant surveys and monitoring, invasive plants surveys, and surveys for reptiles and amphibians.  

Our partners for these projects include the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy, among others.

FNAI has recently hired three skilled field biologists to support these efforts.  Data from these projects informs the efforts of conservation land managers around the state, and helps build our Element Occurrence database of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.

When it comes to science to inform conservation, FNAI has the state of Florida covered!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Online Form Available to Submit Rare Species Observations to FNAI

This week FNAI finalized a new online data submission form (accessible from any device here) that allows users to submit their observations of rare plants and animals that FNAI tracks.  Observations will be reviewed by FNAI scientists and then imported into our Biotics database of rare species occurrences (what we call element occurrences or EOs) where they will be made available to natural resource managers to support conservation efforts.  Your data may be used to create a new EO record or it may be included as an update of an existing record if the species has already been documented in the vicinity. 

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Photo by Dan Hipes.
FNAI’s element occurrence data set (FLEO) serves as the best single source of rare species occurrence locations in the Florida and is used to inform the work of resource managers, non-profits, planners, and consultants statewide.  Ensuring that your observations are incorporated into FLEO is the best step you can take to make sure that they are used to support conservation. You can find the form by following the “Submit Data” link on our website, or by just clicking here.  If you have any question comments or suggestions get in touch with Frank Price, FNAI data manager.

If you have more than a dozen or so observations to submit you’ll also want to contact Frank, and he can work with you to get you data incorporated into our database as efficiently as possible.   For incidental observations, or small data sets, the new form should work great! 

On a mobile device the form will look like this. Just fill it out and Submit Entry!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Florida Nature Almanac: An Anadromous Migration

Illustration by Duane Raver.

In February, Alabama Shad (Alosa alabamae) began their migration of over 100 miles, from the Gulf of Mexico up the Apalachicola River to the Chattahoochee area, where they will spawn.  Shad are an anadromous species.  This means that, like northern salmon, spawning occurs in freshwater rivers but adults spend most of their lives in the salt waters of the Gulf.

FNAI scientists monitor research on the status and trends in the Florida population.  Historically, shad spawned in rivers across the northern Gulf Coast from the Mississippi to the Suwannee and were abundant enough to support a commercial fishery for them in Apalachicola.  In recent years, spawning in Florida has been limited to the Apalachicola River system.  The Florida population is ranked S2, meaning that shad are rare and vulnerable to extinction in the state.  Scientists believe declines in shad abundance are mainly due to dams which block the upstream migration of spawning fish.  
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists capture, tag, and release adult Alabama Shad to monitor movement and aid in the development of accurate population estimates.  Once a portion of the shad population is tagged and released, biologists can later catch more fish and use the percentage of fish that are caught with tags to estimate the size of the entire shad population.  Photo by Rick Long, FWC.

The Nature Conservancy has a great post on efforts to operate the Jim Woodruff dam on the Apalachicola River in a way that should help to increase spawning success:  Conservation Locking at Jim Woodruff Dam.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Butterfly Conservation in North America

Dukes' Skipper                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Dean Jue

A recent book, Butterfly Conservation in North America: Efforts to help save our charismatic microfauna, edited by Dr. Jaret Daniels of the University of Florida, is unique in its geographic and species focus-- butterfly conservation in North America-- and  emphasis on efforts to protect all North American butterfly species rather than just a few bellwether species such as the monarch.  A recent review in the Journal of Insect Conservation states that the new book delivers practical advice on butterfly conservation while being informative and free of jargon.  One of its nine chapters highlights FNAI’s recent development of a rare butterfly database.  Written by Dean Jue, staff scientist with FNAI and the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center (FREAC), the chapter includes a detailed discussion of the challenges and problems encountered in developing such a database and possible ways to resolve those issues.
Dean Jue and citizen scientists surveying for rare butterflies at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Sally Jue 

In the mid-2000s, FNAI took action to expand its rare species database to include more comprehensive data on invertebrates, and hired a full-time invertebrate biologist to help accomplish this goal.  In addition, Dean Jue obtained six years of state wildlife grant (SWG) funding from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to survey Florida conservation lands specifically for rare butterflies.   With volunteer time providing the required SWG match, FNAI staff developed a state-wide, coordinated survey methodology utilizing citizen scientists to accomplish this task.  Over one hundred citizen scientists participated in this project.  As a result of their efforts, the number of FNAI database records for rare Florida butterflies increased from fewer than two dozen in 2006 to more than 400 records in 2015.