Tag Archives: feature-2020

featured articles for 2020

Research Spotlight

Survivorship and Productivity of Florida Sandhill Cranes on Conservation Lands and Suburban Areas in Florida

The Florida sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis pratensis) is a familiar sight for residents and visitors alike to areas of Florida, but unfortunately, they are becoming less familiar. Faced with substantial population decline due to habitat loss, Florida sandhill cranes have also experienced long periods of drought and degradation of remaining habitat, which has all contributed to their decline. This study will compare adult crane habitat use, survival, and reproduction between suburban and conservation areas, with an emphasis on identifying specific causes of mortality. Additionally, researchers will also determine vegetation associations used by cranes in suburban habitats and conservation areas from movement data.

Non-migratory sandhill cranes were once widely distributed across the southeast and into the Caribbean, however, the species was extirpated from most of its natural range by the early 1900s. Conversion of prairie to agriculture or development, draining of wetlands, and overhunting were and are the main factors threatening sandhill cranes. Spatial models suggest the total available Florida sandhill crane habitat declined 42% between 1974 and 2003. The Florida sandhill crane is currently listed as State Threatened and as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan.

Florida sandhill cranes inhabit open areas, typically prairie and pastureland in the uplands and shallow marshes with emergent vegetation in wetland areas. Most preferred Florida sandhill crane habitat is privately owned and can be lost through development at any time. As the amount of preferred habitat has declined, an increasing number of Florida sandhill cranes have inhabited suburban and urban areas, such as airports, residential subdivisions and golf courses. Cranes in these areas may face additional challenges compared to birds in natural areas. For example, cranes require water levels sufficient to protect nests and themselves from terrestrial predators but low enough to prevent nests and roosts from flooding. In suburban areas, cranes often use man-made ponds or water retention areas that can receive large amounts of water run-off from developed sites (e.g., highways, lawns, golf courses and buildings) resulting in rapid increases in water levels that cause nest failure or leave the areas too deep to be utilized. Other threats to suburban cranes include domestic pets, automobile traffic, fences, human disturbance and environmental contaminants. This project was developed to assess threats to the survival and productivity of Florida sandhill cranes in suburban areas compared to the same parameters for conservation areas.

Researchers capturing a suburban Florida sandhill crane with a pneumatic net launcher in Lake County.

To capture cranes, FWRI researchers survey areas for cranes then learn their routine or bait the area if necessary. Researchers then capture the cranes using a hand-held net gun, ground snares or by simple hand grabbing. After capture, cranes are radio-tagged and color-banded, which is helpful for researchers for visual and radio monitoring after release. Cranes are captured and marked from April through October, before the arrival of migratory sandhill cranes that overwinter in Florida. Currently, FWRI has cranes marked from Marion County in the north to Highlands County in the south, Pasco County in the west and to Indian River County in the east.

This project seeks to fill important gaps in our understanding of Florida sandhill crane ecology identified in the Florida Sandhill Crane Species Action Plan. Causes of population decline are not well understood, so this project will benefit cranes by providing habitat use, survival, and productivity data for unstudied habitats (e.g., conservation areas and urban/suburban habitats) needed for development and implementation of management and conservation recommendations.

About halfway complete, this project has radio-tagged their target sample size (n=17) of suburban cranes, and 15 of 17 conservation land birds. Researchers have color-banded 49 cranes, out of a goal of 100+ before the project ends, which is set for June 30, 2021. Data generated from this project will be used to develop conservation recommendations and initiate plans to conserve Florida sandhill cranes. Future research may involve tagging young-of-the-year cranes in suburban and conservation areas to compare survival and movements of these birds to those from past studies of similar aged cranes on improved pastureland.

Key partners for this project include the State Wildlife Grants, the Bernard Lewis Charitable Foundation, Florida State Forest Service, Florida State Parks, Lake County Parks and Trails, Orlando Wetlands Park and St. John’s River Water Management District. FWRI researchers could not have initiated, nor can they complete this project, without the assistance of these partners.

Agency News

FWC Commission Meeting to be Held Online

The FWC Commission Meeting will be held online May 14, beginning at 9 am. The meeting originally scheduled to be held in Miami will now be held online due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) social distancing guidelines. This meeting is being held by communications media technology, specifically using Adobe Connect with a telephone conference line for accepting public comment during the meeting. The Florida Channel will be broadcasting live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org and participants watching from the Florida channel can utilize the telephone conference line to call in for public comment.

The FWC is committed to providing opportunity for public input. The Commission welcomes public input regarding agenda items requiring action. To accommodate as much input as possible from those attending, the Chairman reserves the right to designate the amount of time given to a topic or speaker, including time donation to other speakers. Because this meeting is being held by video conference and a telephone conference line, the Commission is presenting a reduced agenda and is limiting public comment to one hour per agenda item. Public comment will be taken by telephone conference line on a first call/first serve basis. 

The Commission is also offering the opportunity for stakeholders to provide their comments regarding the agenda item topics in advance. Advanced comments should be submitted no later than Friday, May 1. Those comments can be submitted via email to Commissioners@MyFWC.com. If you would like to provide written comments, you can mail those comments to:

FWC Commissioners
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399 

For the full May 14 agenda, links to background reports, and ways to participate, go to MyFWC.com/about/commission/commission-meetings, or MyFWC.com/About and click on “The Commission” and “Commission Meetings.”

Staff Spotlight

This issue David Steen of Wildlife Research was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions for the Staff Spotlight. Thank you, David!

FWRI Section and Location

Wildlife Research / Reptiles and Amphibians / Gainesville


BS – University of New Hampshire, MS – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Ph.D. – Auburn University, Postdoc – Virginia Tech.

Lead Research Technician – Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center

Assistant Research Professor – Auburn University

Executive Director – The Alongside Wildlife Foundation

Board of Directors – The Wildlands Network

Research Ecologist – Georgia Sea Turtle Center

What are you working on now?

I see my job as an opportunity to help ensure things are running as smoothly as possible for the folks in my subsection while they work on important projects to understand the imperiled amphibians and reptiles of Florida. Our projects include restoring ephemeral wetlands for rare amphibians in the panhandle, assessing the status and distribution of Diamond-backed Terrapins along the coast, evaluating behavioral shifts of American Crocodiles following translocation in south Florida, and figuring out if Carpenter Frogs are still hanging on in the state, for just a few examples.

How is this information beneficial?

Instead of listing all the usual reasons why it is important to protect and conserve biodiversity, I’ll say that Florida’s wildlife isn’t just a part of our natural heritage, it’s part of our culture too. Florida is changing; to keep our species around today and into the future, we need to understand where these animals are and how they are impacted by our actions. The data we collect feeds directly into management actions and policy recommendations, and we want both to be fully informed by the latest science.

What is your typical workday like?

Most of the responsibilities associated with my position require time in the office, things like brainstorming research plans, checking budget numbers and revising scientific manuscripts, although I’m lucky in that I often have the opportunity to visit the other folks in the subsection as they get dirty outside and do the real work to find and understand Florida’s amphibians and reptiles.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

I feel as though my greatest career accomplishment is that I’m still here. After a long winding road that almost took a turn right out of science, I have somehow found myself with a job I find rewarding, helping out on projects I feel are important and fulfilling, and surrounded by bright and passionate people working hard to conserve the wildlife of Florida, ground zero for amphibians and reptiles in North America.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

There are so many species that we need to understand better and so many conservation questions that need to be resolved sooner rather than later, it can be a challenge to decide where to focus my efforts.

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

I’m lucky in that I’ve always been interested in wildlife, amphibians and reptiles in particular, and have been working toward this career ever since I understood what that means.

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

If I wasn’t directly involved in science, I would probably pursue science-adjacent writing opportunities (check out Secrets of Snakes, published by Texas A&M University Press late last year) and bartend.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Recognize that there is no One True Path to obtaining satisfaction and security in this field. Work hard, keep your eyes open for unusual or serendipitous opportunities, and don’t compromise your mental and physical health now because you hope it will pay dividends later.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I like to take it easy with a slow coffee in the morning; I also like movies and doing nothing in particular. Kayaking and hiking are very satisfying, as is spending time around my property thinking about how to restore and maintain it in a way that is beneficial to local wildlife.

Director Message


By Gil McRae, FWRI Director

As I write this our personal and professional lives have been upended by the COVID-19 virus.  We have never seen a pandemic on this scale and response to the virus has challenged our health, economic and social support systems far beyond what they were built to handle.  While it is difficult to speculate at this point, my hope is that we emerge on the other side of this pandemic as a stronger, more peaceful global society focused on proactively addressing health and environmental issues that affect us all.

I want to commend the members of your Institute Leadership Team who have been instrumental in helping us organize ourselves so that we can keep working productively and collaboratively in this new mode.  Harry Norris has done an exceptional job helping us manage data and information while maintaining a personal connection to people and programs that has made a real difference.  I believe our early push to get as many staff teleworking as possible, combined with actions taken at the agency and state level has helped keep our workforce healthy.  As of this writing about 90 % of FWRI staff are teleworking to some extent and close to 80 % are teleworking full time. 

There have been many policy changes associated with this event and I know it can be confusing at times.  The most notable new policy involves the availability of emergency sick leave and emergency family medical leave to all staff.  As I write this, we are still in the discovery mode regarding these policies and our fantastic HR team of Jodi Harner and Betty Heath with the support of Laura Tennant and Rae Ann Hill are simultaneously fielding your questions and working with their HR counterparts in other Divisions and the Office of Executive Director to develop guidance on these policies.  No doubt you will have that guidance by the time you read this, if not you know how to find us, and we are here to help.

Many of you have read about the challenges facing our reemployment assistance program in the state.  With many of our friends and family out of work, this issue hits home hard.  When the call went out for volunteers to assist the state in dealing with the backlog of applications, dozens of you stepped up to assist without knowing what you were getting into.  Our potential role has now been refined somewhat to focus on entry of data received via hardcopy applications and we expect there will be more of you willing to assist.  If so, your ILT member is the point person for getting the information to Harry Norris who is coordinating our volunteer efforts.

In these uncertain times we quickly move to the things that matter most.  As impersonal as things can sometimes seem in a large organization like ours, I am proud of the staff-centric culture we have built over many decades.  I know that some of you have gone through some very difficult, even heartbreaking experiences, and my hope is that you are able to draw some strength from the knowledge that you have a workplace and co-workers that care about you and your family’s well-being.  Collectively, we are the very definition of resilient.  Stay healthy and stay connected.