Category Archives: Information Science and Management

The Florida Wildlife Magazine Digital Preservation Project

By Robin Grunwald

The Florida Wildlife Magazine was first published in 1947 by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFC) for educating the public in an entertaining format. With support from the legislature, the serial was created to convince the public hunters, anglers, and recreationalists of regulatory benefits and conservation. It is a collection of art and narratives by some of Florida’s most distinguished naturalists. The FWC Research Information Center (RIC) currently receives requests for FWM articles from scientists seeking earlier FGFC perspectives and regulations. A request for all the articles related to bears inspired a project idea to create an online collection of the magazine.

Access to information is a critical component of conservation education and effective research. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s (FWRI) focus on sharing knowledge for advancing science and improving connections to Florida’s environment recognizes this mission includes access to important historical narratives. With support from the FWRI, the RIC was awarded funding from the William H. Flowers, Jr. Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida to preserve and share a digital format of the Florida Wildlife Magazine collection in the agency’s publicly accessible repository- the FWC Digital Library. This open online access provides research opportunities to educators, scientists, and stakeholders.

Preserving the Florida Wildlife Magazine accounts of Florida’s hunting and fishing heritage is also important for establishing a permanent archive of Florida’s rich fishing and wildlife history. The RIC hired Kim Rousseau to learn digital imaging for preservation and create metadata on every article for the most obscure first 30 years of the serial. Every issue from 1947 through 1979 was digitized to Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines for archival preservation.

The Florida Wildlife Magazine Digital Preservation Project safeguards this Florida treasure and its significant record of progression to Florida’s current regulatory environment into perpetuity. The project also directly speaks to the current mantra of prominent research libraries by creating wider access to research via digital content. The FWCDL is currently the only option for online access to an archive collection of the early Florida Wildlife Magazine editions.

National Park Service Voucher Specimens to be Housed at SIS: the “Robblee Collection”

By Paul Larson

The culture of modern science is tending more and more toward open access to raw data. Just as it is good practice (and often required) to deposit DNA sequences in GenBank before publishing findings or to deposit phylogenetic results in TreeBASE, these studies and ecological studies that rely on species identification should be producing voucher specimens to be stored in collections like the one in Specimen Information Services here at FWRI. Through these collections, we may reinterpret or validate old results with modern methods, observe changes in species and populations through time, and leverage emerging technologies to extract new data from the past without the need for a time machine.

Through the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, several research projects conducted by Mike Robblee and colleagues in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks yielded tens of thousands of fish and decapod crustacean specimens, all of which were retained by the National Park Service South Florida Collections Management Center. These specimens had been stored in bags contained by approximately 230 3-gallon buckets. Former SIS curator Dr. Robert Lasley secured a $95,000 grant from the National Parks Service to properly curate and maintain a subset of these specimens in SIS to serve as vouchers for those projects and to provide training opportunities for employees, students, and recent graduates in all aspects of stewardship of natural history collections.

The project is a multi-step process. Currently, we have two part-time employees and a small army of interns producing an inventory of the bucket contents and re-housing the specimens in archival containers. Next, we will develop a retention plan to select a subset of the specimens to be maintained as vouchers indefinitely within the collections here at FWRI. This retention strategy will be guided by the goals of the NPS, SIS, and the original research and monitoring projects. Finally, we will catalog the retained specimens and determine a fate for those specimens not to be retained (discard, donation, etc.).

Upon completion, this accession will serve as a resource for future investigations and as an archived documentation of the data collected in the course of the projects which have yielded these samples.

 

The FWC Reporter: a Mobile App for Citizen Reporting to FWC

By: Richard Flamm & Lauren Partridge

Citizen reports of fish and wildlife observations are common to agencies like ours. Reports range across a variety of disciplines, including wildlife violations, injured animals, fish kills, exotic species and general species identification. These kinds of interactions with the public can be considered a form of social networking with smartphones as the primary networking tool. More people are now using smartphones than desktop or laptop computers and mobile apps more than fixed internet access web pages. Our agency’s citizen engagement strategy must adapt to this reality.

One step toward this reality is the FWC Reporter. This app provides a reporting platform for citizens committed to mobile communication devices. It accepts enhanced data functions from the user like images, video files, GPS, and date-time that can be sent as part of the reporting email. It can also integrate with and enhance FWC’s citizen science programs as well as partner with organizations inside and outside FWC. The FWC Reporter is the first comprehensive multi-species reporting app produced by any fish and wildlife agency in the U.S.

Before we could get started we needed to assess the mobile app marketplace and our app’s value proposition, understand the theory behind designing, building, and launching a successful mobile app, and build a team that includes the designer and programmer, FWC offices that receive reports, testers, and outreach and marketing specialists.

The marketplace is not about us. It is about our users, so the design of the FWC Reporter does not project what we as FWC employees think it should be, but what we understand our user base will accept and use. The FWC Reporter aims for the broadest user base possible. To achieve a broad user base, we applied the concepts below.

Value proposition (VP) is an understanding of the benefits received from a product when compared to its costs. An understanding of VP informs any app’s design and engagement strategy. Successful commercial mobile apps tend to provide users with a high VP through entertainment (games), utility (directions, prices, ratings, etc.), and social networking. The VP for the FWC Reporter is relatively low. The user receives some value such as participating in the rescue of injured wildlife or reporting a fish kill, but most of the value goes to the agency.

The low VP suggests that the design of the FWC Reporter should be simple and fast to use. We employed the heuristic concept of “fast and frugal” and applied inductive reasoning in the menu listings illustrated by having more specific items at the top of the list and more general at the bottom. We used plain language when possible and we also avoided dead ends – something the user wants to report, but no way to do so in the app.

The FWC Reporter works within FWC’s existing citizen engagement system. At its simplest, it is a telephone that people use to call the agency. It also allows the user to contact the agency via email, and automatically attaches GPS coordinates, a time-date stamp, the user’s email and a photo if they took one. Offices receiving emails may also receive a phone call if they choose. All methods for public interaction with any office was specified by that office.

FWC/FWRI Information Science and Management staff designed and programmed the app with input from OIT, offices that receive reports, their supervisors, and the public. Building the app within FWC has allowed us the necessary flexibility to change or add functionality on FWC’s schedule. The app is available on Android and Apple app stores at no charge.

The Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative

By Cherie Keller and Sarah Friedl

The Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PFLCC), one of 22 LCCs throughout North America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, is an applied conservation partnership with the goal of fostering landscape-scale conservation across man-made boundaries to sustain natural and cultural resources for the benefit of both people and wildlife. Although PFLCC’s focus is a single state, and provides funding to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) to conduct some of the program’s work.  Its missions and values are similar to those of Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative (FWLI), the PFLCC and FWC are working together and aligning many aspects of their respective programs. The alliance of FWC and PFLCC with its many governmental and non-governmental partners, provides opportunities to coordinate conservation designs, avoid duplicated effort, and leverage resources.

PFLCC uses an adaptive management framework of Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC), a science-based, transparent and accountable method for conservation planning, design and delivery (see SHC figure). The framework begins with a high degree of planning, but repeatedly cycles through delivery, re-evaluation, and revision. PFLCC’s Conservation Blueprint V 1.0 (see Conservation Blueprint figure) was adapted from the Florida Cooperative Land Cover amp and further refined by the top two priority levels of the Critical Lands and Waters Identification Project (CLIP), a collaborative, natural resource prioritization model. The PFLCC’s Priority Resources are the biological, ecological and cultural features and ecological processes that are identified as most important, and are the core of PFLCC’s planning. The current Blueprint displays Terrestrial and Freshwater PRs (see PFLCC’s website below). Future versions will include Estuarine and Marine PRs that are currently in development.

The condition of each PR will be measured through Conservation Targets (CTs), or ‘biological indicators’ relating to important attributes of the PR. Effective CTs are informative, responsive to the environment and management, and have monitoring data available. We enlisted stakeholders to generate lists of potential CTs (e.g., important attributes of a PR) and their potential measurements through brainstorming workshops. Before each workshop adjourned, stakeholders prioritized each list of potential CTs for further evaluation.

Each suggested CT and potential metrics must be vetted for potential selection as a final CT. First, there must be data. At a minimum, data must be readily available for a large portion of the PR, and be updated relatively frequently. Numerous entities collect conservation data in Florida, but not always in a consistent manner statewide nor stored in a collective repository. More often, data are collected in a localized area for a focused purpose, and are not part of a coordinated, statewide effort. Fortunately, there are data that meet our criteria for many CTs and the vetting process forges on.

Once an initial set of CTs are selected (always an ongoing process), we will establish a ‘numerical target,’ or benchmark, for each CT. Targets will be adopted from current management plans when they exist, and determined by partner consensus when they don’t. CTs, along with their metrics and numerical targets, provide the means to evaluate PR condition and offer guidance as to which CTs and PRs are in greater need of attention and resources. CTs also provide the means to communicate PR condition, using simple data visualizations, to decision-makers and the public well beyond our immediate conservation community.

Workshops for the Estuarine and Marine PRs/CT identification wrapped up in June. You still have a chance to contribute comments and suggestions in an online forum. As always, we welcome your input! The tough process of vetting these data has just begun but we will keep you posted along the way.

For more information about the PFLCC, our staff, or learn about upcoming events, please visit our website.

Navigating Your GIS Training

By Christopher Boland

As a fish and wildlife agency, about ninety percent of FWC’s data have some sort of spatial component. Whether the data represents  bear sighting locations, bass fishing tournament results, land development permit reviews, or species and habitat suitability models, you can almost always ask the question, “Where did that happen?”   ArcGIS software can help us answer this everyday question. ArcGIS is a geographic software platform that not only creates informative maps, but performs spatial analyses that uncover hidden relationships, publishes web mapping applications to inform stakeholders, and much more. With  ’s vast functionality, the software package can easily overwhelm.

Good news, we have a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Team for that! Don’t waste time searching through ArcGIS’s endless menus or fret over the high cost of formal ArcGIS training. The FWRI Center for Spatial Analysis (CSA) has developed the GIS Users’ Forum to get you the assistance that you need to complete your GIS tasks. The GIS Users’ Forum hosts a load of helpful GIS resources including FWC’s GIS Data Inventory, instructions on how to connect to other agencies’ data using ArcGIS Server endpoints, and tools and software that can aid you with your analysis.

I’m sure you’re still asking, “Ok…, but where do I get my training?” The GIS Users’ Forum contains a list of GIS trainings and resources available to you, most of which are free of charge. This list organizes trainings into general training source categories and then general topics, which we hope are easily  .

ESRI , the developer of ArcGIS, maintains a catalog of available resources, including Instructor-Led courses, e-Learning opportunities, teacher resources, books, and training documents. Some of the resources on ESRI’s Training Catalog are free for everyone; however, most of the paid content becomes free with the payment of FWRI’s annual software maintenance cost. To gain access to the larger library of ESRI GIS Trainings, simply email Kathleen O’Keife or Chris Boland and ask for access to the ESRI e-Learning Portal.

Are you looking for a more hands on or FWC specific training? CSA has produced an “Intro to FWC’s GIS Webinar Series,” which currently consists of sixteen hour long installments covering topics that range from introducing basic FWC GIS resources, demonstrating software core functions and analysis, and showcasing field data collection solutions. Are you struggling with how to complete the grant required metadata? Check out installment six, “Avoiding the Metadata Monotony.” How about a writing a grant proposal with a more modernized data collection methodology? Watch installments thirteen “Field Data Collection: ArcGIS Collector vs. Fulcrum” and sixteen “Field Data Collection with Survey 123.”

Still can’t find the answer to your question? You can use the GIS Users’ Forum “GIS Tech Support Request Form” to get in contact with the correct GIS team member. Once you submit a request, an email notification goes to our administrators, who will then assign your request to the correct GIS staff member. Or, you could always just stop in and say hi. CSA has offices in three locations around the state: Saint Petersburg, Tallahassee, and Gainesville. If we’re not near your office, we’re only a phone call or email away.

 

The Marine Biodiversity Observation Network Project

by Kathleen OKeife

The vision of this project is that the National Marine Sanctuaries should serve as sentinel sites for monitoring marine biodiversity of the nation’s coastal and shelf waters. With our partners, we are establishing a pilot Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) that supports the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the complex partnership of Federal and State agencies, including NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and State and Tribal entities that exercise overlapping jurisdictions in the National Marine Sanctuary system. The project engages several NOAA line offices, elements of the Integrated Ocean Observing System, and other government, academic, and private partners that can spin off the MBON strategies developed here to other sanctuaries, marine protected areas or other coastal, estuarine, and watershed management jurisdictions.

Among the most pressing issues identified as a threat common to all US. National Marine Sanctuaries is the loss of biodiversity and the unknown potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The challenge is to devise an MBON that effectively tracks the status and trends in biodiversity.

FWRI is engaged in several activities in support of this project, with our focus specifically on the FL Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). First, staff at the Center for Spatial Analysis in St. Petersburg support this project by providing a significant amount of the biological data available for the FKNMS; most of which resides on our GIS servers. Additionally, we have created a viewer to help stakeholders visualize these data.

Secondly, using the Ecopath with Ecosim and Ecospace (EwE) mass-balance model, we are evaluating indices of the biomass, structure, connectivity, and distribution of trophic groups throughout available habitat. EwE is the most widely used ecosystem model in the world and is traditionally used in fisheries management applications. However, researchers are increasingly interested in applying EwE in an ecosystem monitoring and management context. The vast amount of monitoring data in the Florida Keys makes the FKNMS the ideal case study location to evaluate EwE as an ecosystem monitoring tool, in addition to exploring fishing policy options.

We worked with the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center to segregate the Reef Visual Census (RVC) data into 37 ecologically relevant trophic groups for data ranging from 1994 to 2012. We estimated diet composition, biomass, fishing mortality, and other parameter estimates for each trophic group using FWC data and related Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico based ecosystem models. We are now in the position to examine how changes in functional connectivity and proposed changes in Marine Protected Areas designs (associated with the FKNMS rezoning effort) affect exploited trophic groups. This figure illustrates the relationship between functional habitat connectivity and changes in abundance and biomass using a graph theoretic approach.

Finally, while we know that primary producers are diverse and dynamic in space and time, links to biodiversity across trophic levels are likely to be complex and are often poorly understood. We are working with a number of partners to collect environmental DNA, or eDNA, samples for targeted molecular biology studies. By concentrating the material in 1-liter of seawater, we are able to examine the biodiversity across different trophic levels by targeting different genes and using high-throughput sequencing technology. Recent investigations in marine habitats have successfully shown the application of eDNA and targeted sequencing to detect a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate taxa, as well as bacteria, archaea, phytoplankton, and fungi. This effort is being conducted by our Ecosystem and Restoration scientists, in collaboration with USF and other MBON team members as part of the FKNMS study.

With our partners, we are endeavoring to build an MBON application that links existing programs in each region, that is scalable and transferable, and that can therefore be used to understand basic ecosystem services, sensitivity to impacts, and that supports management decisions by these agencies.

 

Climate Adapting

by Beth Stys

Projected shifts in Florida’s climate will impact both natural and anthropogenic systems across the state, causing potentially negative and some positive consequences for terrestrial, freshwater and marine/coastal systems.

Managing the environment and protecting natural resources from climate change is at a critical juncture and is a need that will become more important with time.  The FWC has recently completed the “Guide to Climate Change Adaptation for Conservation” to provide resources to learn about modeled climate impacts to Florida, ecological consequences to species and habitats, vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies.

The guide is designed to provide natural resource managers the tools for developing adaptation strategies and actions using robust science. The adaptation guide is designed as a resource for cover-pagedeveloping and implementing climate change adaptation strategies for the species, communities and managed lands of Florida. It is a toolkit designed to aid with the management of climate adaptation, rather than a handbook with step-by step instructions of specific actions. The document will be a living document with adaptation strategies being added as new strategies are developed.

For more information on FWC’s “Adapting to Climate Change” visit the Adaptation Guide.

Detecting Isolated Wetlands in the Blackwater River State Forest Region of Florida

by Jennifer Bock

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Sinks located in HUC 03140104

Wetlands provide significant environmental services, including pollutant assimilation, flood water storage, carbon sequestration and fish and wildlife habitat. Geographically isolated wetlands, also called ephemeral wetlands, perform many of these services, and support remarkably diverse communities.  The periodic drying of small isolated wetlands excludes predatory fish populations, making them especially valuable breeding habitat for amphibians and invertebrates. In Florida, 14 species of amphibians breed exclusively in isolated wetlands. It is often difficult to map isolated wetlands because they are relatively small, often occur under tree canopy and may remain dry for extended periods.

A predictive algorithm (maximum entropy using a program called Maxent) was applied to environmental variables derived from multispectral remotely sensed data and GIS data to approach the problem of detecting wetland areas absent from the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) layer in the watershed that contains the bulk of the Blackwater River State Forest.

An elevation map created from Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging – a tool using a laser to collect extremely detailed elevation data), was used to identify low areas (sinks) in which water is likely to collect.  Several Maxent modelling runs were performed in order to identify the combination of environmental variables with the least correlation that would result in the simplest model while preserving a high information content. Because Maxent produces a continuous probability distribution, a binary threshold was produced to conduct an accuracy assessment. The threshold was applied at 0.3517, derived from the mean of all sinks falling within known wetlands.

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Left: Final Maxent model probability distribution. Right: Distribution of predicted wetland areas after applying the threshold

Twenty percent (2278 of 11389) of the sinks that fell outside of known wetlands were randomly selected for accuracy assessment via current and historic (to 1994) Google Earth aerial photographs. Based on model evaluation methods, the final Maxent model was considered an “excellent” model fit. At the selected threshold, 120.5 km2 of 1848.4 km2 were predicted to be wetland areas. The accuracy assessment yielded an overall accuracy of 0.90, with 1257 points being wetlands, 142 points falling outside of wetlands and 881 points impossible to classify from the photographs.

Prioritizing Coral Restoration Sites 

by Luke McEachron and Kate Wirth 

Restoration efforts are necessary to aid coral reef survival and resilience. To this end, performing coral restoration research and filling information gaps are the Legacy Initiative’s primary marine goals for the next four years. A team of internal and external experts established research into and identification of potentially more resilient areas of coral reef habitat as a priority need in addressing coral reef restoration.

Over the past year and a half, IS&M research scientists have worked with non-profit, academic, federal, and state partners in south Florida to define reef resiliency, identify restoration sites and to gather expert advice on restoration for listed coral species. We quickly learned that coral restoration means many different things to different people. For example, restoration can mean outplanting acroporid corals originating from a nursery or simply protecting species-rich reefs from harmful activities. Despite the disagreement over definitions, there is somewhat close agreement between scientists on the environmental conditions associated with coral reef decline and improvement.

diagram of workflow
Click on diagram to view larger image

To accommodate the best available science on coral survival and different definitions of restoration, we decided to create a dynamic mapping tool that allows users to prioritize restoration sites for multiple user defined restoration activities. The tool is based on the Zonation conservation prioritization software, but incorporates several layers of statistical models built in R that incorporate the best available science on coral survival and distribution (i.e., literature information, stakeholder databases, in situ databases, etc.). For example, sea bottom temperature models feed into Acropora cervicornis distribution models, which in turn can overlap with an anthropogenic stress model in Zonation if a user is interested in examining the spatial relationships between Acropora cervicornis occurrence and anthropogenic stress. There are countless more sub-model combinations that allow users to explore different restoration scenarios. We are currently in the process of validating all of the sub-models that feed into the site prioritization model, but we expect the tool will be fully implemented by the end of June this year.

Modernizing the FWRI Network Infrastructure  

by René Baumstark

Behind the scenes at FWRI, our office of information technology staff are working hard to ensure that our networks are safe, efficient and leveraging the best available technology. Over the past years, our network servers have been migrated from physical machines to virtual machines. Virtual machines allow IT staff to dynamically adjust hardware resources to meet changing needs, creating a cost effective and efficient way to maximize the use of available resources. With a geographically dispersed framework of FWRI field stations and offices, our IT staff are constantly engaged with network hardware upgrades. Along with Network software and hardware upgrades, backup routines are constantly running behind the scenes to ensure that your network stored data is safe, no matter where you are. Our IT staff are here to ensure you have the network resources you need to do your jobs.

For assistance, contact any of our IT staff members: Frank Bucci, Justin Hooper, Larry Smith