Staff Spotlight

This issue, Lisa Smith from Wildlife Research out of Gainesville, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about herself and her work. Thank you, Lisa!

What is your professional experience:

I have been working with mammals at FWC since 2013. Before moving to Florida, I worked with a variety of species including everything from wading birds, songbirds, and ducks to butterflies, turtles, and salamanders. I have my Bachelors in Animal Science from University of Maryland and my Masters in Applied Ecology and Conservation Biology from Frostburg State University.

What are you working on now?

I spend most of my time working on cave bats and white-nose syndrome research, another big chunk of my time on musteloids (long-tailed weasel, spotted skunk, and mink) research, and all the remaining time on a few other small projects with other Florida mammals. Luckily, I work with some amazing people that make it possible for me to work on so many things!

How is this information beneficial?

White-nose syndrome has caused dramatic declines in the bats of North America and occurs as far south as Georgia and Alabama, putting Florida on the leading edge of the disease. Discovering all we can about Florida’s cave bats will allow us to enact appropriate conservation actions and mitigate the impacts of the disease to keep Florida’s bats healthy. Developing a better understanding of the status and ecology of the tricolored bat is especially important as it is a candidate for Federal listing that has experienced dramatic declines throughout its range. Florida’s bats are crucial to the environment and provide valuable ecosystem services for all Floridians.

Musteloids have also been declining dramatically throughout much of their range. Long-tailed weasel, spotted skunks, and mink are rare, exist in low densities, and are extremely difficult to detect. Because of these challenges, there is a lot we don’t know about their status, distribution, and ecology. We are working with Cowboy the Detection Dog to help answer some of the questions surrounding these species so we can better monitor and conserve these species.

What has your typical work day like?

I don’t think I have a typical workday. I could be out in the woods with Cowboy, rappelling into caves for bats, air boating in search of mink, or in the office writing reports, analyzing data, and working on manuscripts.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

Cowboy the Detection Dog. I think we can all learn something from his incredible passion for the job, nonstop determination in the face of adversity, and contagious enthusiasm.

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

1.) Time. Florida has so many interesting species I’d love to work with, but there’s just not enough time to study everything! 2.) Ticks. 3.) Purchasing.

What do you like most about your career?

No day is ever boring. I don’t think I ever expected to have a career where I got paid to spend time outdoors driving outboards, ATVs, airboats, and swamp buggies, playing with a dog, writing code, using fancy mapping software, writing manuscripts, and collaborating with other amazing people with similar passions. Things aren’t always easy or straightforward and this field challenges you to come up with new methods and techniques to answer a larger question, and I love a good challenge.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

No wildlife wasn’t my original career interest, but that was probably only because I did not realize I could get paid to learn more about animals, explore the great outdoors, and contribute to the conservation of our native wildlife.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I can’t imagine not working in science, but if I wasn’t involved in science, I think I’d like to be the host of one of those shows that just travels around to other countries and eats the local cuisine.  

What’s been one of your best memories during your career at FWRI?

There have been so many great memories at FWRI. We’ve had plenty of good times exploring caves, and the best memories tend to be the ones where things didn’t go quite right, like climbing up guano mountains and sliding back down before reaching the top (repeatedly), getting stuck in a bat poop lagoon and having to be rescued with a rotten log to crawl out over, or when cockroaches are dropping off the walls on people or climbing on people’s respirators. I think that last one is funny at least…. Other (less disgusting) memories include live trapping my first salt marsh mink, helping ultrasound pregnant bonneted bats, rewarding and playing with Cowboy after his first successful detection in the field, and rappelling down the side of Florida’s largest waterfall.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Well for the past year and a half or so I have been riding horses, running, and working out nonstop in preparation for the World’s longest, toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby. In August, I will be racing with 45 other international riders for 1000 km across the Mongolian steppe on semi-wild Mongolian ponies. Interestingly, one of the reasons I was accepted out of thousands of applicants is because I’m a scientist, and the people reviewing applications thought that was cool. After that, I will have to find a new challenge to consume my life.

What book or piece of literature would you recommend currently?

Walking the Gobi. A true story of the adventure of a lifetime, complete with stories of the nomadic culture, near death experiences, and cool wildlife sightings.