Staff Spotlight

This issue, Ron Bielefeld from Avian Research out of Sebastian, took some time to answer some of our questions. Thank you, Ron!

What is your professional experience?

27 years with GFC (East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture) and FWC

What are you working on now?

I am working on a major Florida sandhill crane radio telemetry project as co-PI with Tim Dellinger.  The objectives are to gain understanding of the habitat use, movement, survival, and reproductive patterns of cranes using both conservation lands and urban/suburban areas.  I am also working on finishing a manuscript for publication on the status of the genetic integrity of the Florida mottled duck.

How is this information beneficial? 

Florida has and continues to experience massive growth and development. Rural habitats are disappearing at a rapid rate.  The information we are gathering on Florida sandhill cranes will help managers understand and possibly predict what effects continued urbanization will have on the crane population.  With regards to mottled ducks, this same urbanization is the main mechanism that caused the mallard hybridization problem Florida mottled ducks now face.  As areas are developed, people buy mallards to put on retention ponds and other bodies of water, and these birds become feral. They then encounter our mottled duck.  The result is hybridization and ultimately genetic introgression.  This introgression, if left unchecked, will likely lead to the loss of the mottled duck as a distinct genetic entity.  The mottled duck population assessment project and the manuscript coming from it lays out this risk and suggests actions to help minimize it moving forward.

What has your typical work day like?

I would say I do not have a typical day, which is awesome. Every day is different.  Some days are spent mostly in the field collecting data for a research project, while other days are spent mostly in the office doing analyses or writing, for example.  Some days are a combination of both. 

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

I have been lucky to work with and under some great people while with GFC/FWC.  This may sound like a copout, but my favorite mentor or role model has been the people I have worked with all these years.  The biologists and managers of this agency work extremely hard and are so passionate about conserving the natural systems of this state and the world.  Their work ethic and passion have fueled my efforts for 27 years.  I have tried to keep up, and many times I have failed, but I have always benefited from working with and around these awesome people. 

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

My biggest challenge has been staying positive about the future of the natural world. I am not a pessimist, but a realist, and the reality is there is so much happening in the world that is detrimental, even catastrophic, to wildlife. So much so, that I often think what I am doing means nothing in the long run.  I have often told people that we, as conservationists, are like a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.  However, like I stated, I see the passionate efforts of others trying to make a difference for wildlife, and that has kept me going trying to do the same.

What do you like most about your career?

I love birds, and my career has revolved around bird management and research.  I love that I have been able to work with these wonderful creatures all my career.  However, what I like most about my career is all the awesome and supremely dedicated people I have met and worked with.  I do not believe there exists a more dedicated group of people.

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

Yes.  And I feel fortunate to have been able to pursue my passion for my entire career.

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

I would be a full-time wildlife photographer.  In fact, I plan on pursuing this line of work after I retire.

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

One of my best memories is working with the team of people I had a hand in putting together to complete two of the major research projects I lead while with GFC/FWC.  One was the team that completed the mottled duck telemetry project in south Florida and the other was the team that resulted in the development of the plumage key to ID mottled ducks.  For me these were big undertakings, and thinking about them now, as I approach retirement, I am proud of those efforts.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time, now that’ll you have more of it?
I will be doing a lot more wildlife photography.  I love wildlife and spending time outdoors observing and photographing it in action.  Images move people like data often cannot.  I hope to inspire others with my imagery to do more to conserve the wildlife we have left on this planet.

After a career in the sciences and conservation, what sage advice can you offer us?

I don’t know about sage advice, but I will state this, don’t ever give up.  Like I mentioned, it can be depressing to think about and dwell on all the negative things that are happening to our wild world.  But, what you are doing matters.  Without folks like you doing the work you do and getting the data out there so people can understand what is happening, wildlife would not stand any chance at all.  So, keep it up, you inspire me and you inspire many others outside our field to work for the conservation of our natural world.

What book or piece of literature would you recommend currently?

I am a dog lover and if you are a dog lover too, I would highly recommend the book entitled Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote.


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