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Research Spotlight

FWRI Catalogs the Hutton Collection

By Paul Larson

In the early 1960s, Robert F. Hutton (1921-1994) and Franklin Sogandares-Bernal (1931-2016) published a series of papers on parasites from a wide variety of animals collected around Florida. From 1955 to 1962, Dr. Hutton was the head biologist and parasitologist for FWRI (then called the Florida State Board of Conservation Marine Laboratory) and from 1957-1958 Dr. Sogandares-Bernal worked with him as a marine parasitologist.

The host animals include various species of worms, oysters, birds, fish, crabs, shrimp, and mammals, while their parasites included nematodes, flatworms, arthropods, and even some non-animal groups like fungi and single-celled eukaryotes. While the disposition of the host animals is unknown, roughly 1100 prepared microscope slides of the parasites survived, having been in storage in the Florida Biodiversity Collections here at FWRI. Until now, these slides have been uncataloged, unsearchable, and completely invisible to the research community.

New labels are printed and pasted to the bottom of the slide. Old labels will be photographed because they contain additional markings and numbers that can’t be unambiguously placed into database fields.

With the help of volunteer Brooke Longval, who has spent hours examining the available data, correcting obvious errors, and formatting them for ingestion into the database, we have selected 667 slides with the highest quality data to be cataloged, labeled, and digitized. We prioritized specimens where the host species was recorded, the parasite was identified, and collecting locality information was preserved. Many of the remaining uncataloged slides are only missing one of these components and thus still have strong potential as research or reference material.

The next steps are in-progress and they include using archival glues and papers to attach new labels to the slides, photograph the slides to preserve original hand-written label data (which are deteriorating over time due to suboptimal materials), and to select representatives of the specimens themselves to be captured in photomicrographs that will be available online and associated with specimen records in the database. All newly assigned catalog numbers all start with the collection code FSBC, which identifies the collection to which they belong, and hearkens back to the earlier days of the agency when It was called the Florida State Board of Conservation.

A tray of slides with original labels. The cormorant host was collected right outside FWRI.

With so many parasites identified to genus and species by an expert in the field (Dr. Hutton has described many new species of parasite) these slides are a valuable reference source and a tool for investigating novel research questions. The host-parasite relationship is illustrative of the fact that specimens are much more than simply a time-and-place record for one species. Specimens contain a trove of ecological and environmental data that can be accessed for as long as the specimen exists, including the parasite load at the time of collection. Sometimes the parasites are obvious, as in the case of Bopyrid isopods under a crab carapace, but in the case of an Apicomplexan from the gut of a pink shrimp, one must dig a little deeper to find it.

Communications Corner

On Location

FWRI’s Communications staff has been busy in the field this last quarter, shooting video for a variety of research projects across the state. As many of you know, we produce our videos in-house with footage we shoot, both with 4k digital film cameras and DSLR still cameras. Keep an eye out for a video documenting Kevin Enge’s mark-recapture study of the Florida scrub lizard, which translocated scrub lizards from Seabranch Preserve State Park in Martin County to Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area in Palm Beach County.

We also recently completed filming at Ft. De Soto Park in Tampa Bay for Fisheries Independent Monitoring’s new training video. This was a large shoot, incorporating underwater GoPro footage as well as overhead drone footage to capture best training practices for setting a variety of different gears.

At the Research Institute, a shark ID workshop, led by Brent Winner, was also documented with photos and video.

The Communications staff extends a generous thank you to all FWC staff that assisted, explained, and generally put up with us and our cameras during field work. If you think you might have an idea for a video for your section, please let Communications know!

Carol Davis shooting video in Tampa Bay for FIM’s new training video.

Staff Spotlight

Dillon Day, FWRI’s new Safety Program Manager, donated some of his time this month to introduce himself. Thank you, Dillon, and welcome to FWC!

What are your degrees in?

  • (May 2014) B.S. Public Health, University of South Florida
  • (April 2017) MPH Environmental and Occupational Health, Florida International University

What has your professional experience been like?

  • I’ve volunteered with the department of health in both Dade and Manatee County. I conducted HIV testing and outreach in Dade County. While in Manatee county, I compiled many different environmental health assessments in different areas such as Migrant Housing, Public Swimming Facilities, Biomedical Waste, and Septic Installations.  I was previously employed as a Safety officer with Beall’s Retail Distribution. I was tasked with keeping the facility in compliance with OSHA and other regulatory agencies as well as handling Workers Compensation claims.

What are you working on now?

  • Many projects are currently underway. We are working on cleaning the 3rd floor cold room in the JU Building of FWRI-St. Pete, as well as adding some handrails to ramps in the F-Building and RMI Building in FWRI-St. Pete. One of my largest undertakings thus far is getting the facilities prepared for hurricane season.

How is this information beneficial?

  • Every project that I commence has the same basis, “How can I make FWRI safer for colleagues, guests, and the general public.” I love finding solutions and creating policies that help create a safer environment for everyone.

What is your typical work day like?

  • There is no typical day in the Safety field. This is a very dynamic position that keeps me on my toes. Some days I could be sitting at my desk writing policies and researching regulatory compliance. Other days I am conducting hazard assessments and environmental and occupational health testing’s around the facility.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

  • I am still relatively new to this career and still gaining valuable experience. Nevertheless, my greatest accomplishment thus far was to help my previous facility reach a milestone of over 3.2 million hours worked without a lost-time accident.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

  • The largest challenge to most safety professionals is employee complacency. Employees can get used to their daily routine and not be as open to change.  I have used this to guide my policies and programs to be as beneficial, adaptable, and easy to understand as possible for all employees. 

What do you like most about your career?

  • I love the daily challenge of not knowing what to expect. Every day is different, and you must remain dynamic. I love helping my fellow colleagues get home to their families every night. My goal is for everyone to get home in the same, if not better, condition that they arrived in.

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

  • I have always wanted to help people, so the safety field was a good way to go. My college course pushed me into this field and I decided to run with it! I have enjoyed every second of it so far!

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

  • I always thought I would make a good fishing boat captain or fire-fighter. Those were some of my childhood dream jobs, so if I wasn’t in the safety field I would most likely be out on a boat!

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

  • Continually educate yourself. The safety field changes all the time with new regulatory requirements. They only way to stay abreast of new situations is to continually educate yourself through classes and professional certifications.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

  • I am a very outdoorsy person. I like to hit the beach, go kayaking, and boating whenever I am given the opportunity. I like to try hole in the wall restaurants and explore different cuisines with my fabulous girlfriend, soon to be fiancé (don’t let her know!). I also spend a lot of time playing and taking care of our 1-year old Labradoodle, Daisy!

Director Message

The Case for Science Within Government

By Gil McRae, FWRI Director

“Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness…”
– George Washington, Inaugural State of the Union Address, January 8, 1790

Following the American Revolution, the founding fathers faced the daunting task of setting up a government.  The war, which had for all intents and purposes ended with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, was not officially over until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  At that time, the US was still a loose confederation of states with little to no central authority.  Nothing got done without the agreement of a majority (or in some cases the entirety) of the thirteen states.  That remained the situation until the US Constitution was ratified by a majority of the states.  The Constitution, which became effective in 1789, established the president as chief executive and one of the requirements was that the president shall “…from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union…”, which brings us to the above quote by George Washington.  The quote is from his (and our) inaugural state of the union address which was read to congress in New York City, the capital at that time.  Washington D.C. did not yet exist, and the area was literally a swamp. 

The fact that the first president of this new country would take the time to highlight the importance of an educated citizenry (unfortunately at the time, only white men) is very telling.  Among the various powers the Constitution assigned to Congress is the “promotion of science and the useful arts”.  The founders of our country realized that the idea of the United States was more important than the mechanics of government and that our fundamental principles – government based on consent of the governed, individual rights, freedom of speech and no state sponsorship of religion – needed to be widely taught for our system of government to endure.  Because the concept of the United States was not yet widely accepted the big concern was how to promote national awareness.  Along those lines, Washington and many other early leaders were extremely interested in establishing a national university.  Washington, who was the nation’s wealthiest president excluding (perhaps) the incumbent even provided for the national university in his will.  The idea of a national university did not pan out, mainly because the states developed their own universities to complement those that existed prior to independence.

In challenging times our nation has repeatedly turned to science to inform policy, although the pathway has not always been quick or straightforward.  The National Academy of Sciences was established by Abraham Lincoln in March 1863 in the midst of the Civil War.  Earlier that year, Lincoln had introduced the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in states that had seceded from the union.  One of the first tasks assigned to the newly established Academy was to figure out a way to stabilize compasses aboard the newly deployed ironclad ships, whose iron hulls interfered with the navigational tools.

In Florida with the establishment of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a constitutional agency, the inherent value of science within government is recognized.  Although the word science does not appear in Florida’s Constitution, the word research occurs 3 times: 1) in establishing the mission of the state university system, 2) in exemptions associated with the net limitation amendment, and 3) in defining the mission of FWC.  The three pillars of the FWC mission:  management, research and law enforcement are enshrined in perpetuity in the constitution.

Our FWC mission as laid out in the constitution seems straightforward and laudable but there are some realities relative to science that are not often understood.  While our Commission has a proven track record of basing natural resource decisions on sound science, they are not required to follow that approach.  Technically, our Commission is bound only by something known as the “rational basis test” which simply means that they must act rationally related to a “legitimate government interest”.  Former supreme court justice Thurgood Marshall once said, “The constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws”.  The same could be said for our state constitution and our Commission.  While we can all be proud of the scientific legacy we have built over more than six decades at the Institute (and the fact that our Commission has been committed to science-based management) it is important to realize that does not necessarily have to be the case.  The facts will usually win out, but it can take a very long time for that to happen – consider our ongoing struggles with racial and gender equality.

While it has taken a while to get there, policymakers are beginning to reach out to scientists on the biggest environmental challenge of our time, anthropogenic climate change.  The conditions that result in a warming and less stable climate and the acidification of our oceans have been with us for decades and the rate of accumulation of green house gases in our atmosphere is accelerating.  Florida’s fish and wildlife are and will continue to be impacted by climate change.  Governor DeSantis has introduced bold policy initiatives related to water quality and has hired the state’s first ever Chief Science Officer within DEP, Dr. Tom Frazer who is a longtime FWC partner and a great choice for the position.  As of this writing, the state is advertising for a Chief Resilience Officer to coordinate Florida’s preparations for “environmental, physical and economic impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise”.  While much more needs to be done at the national and international level to combat climate change, these are positive and encouraging steps at the state level.

Policies are not always required to be based on science, but the enduring ones almost always are.  It is our continuing challenge to build on our foundation of success and to be prepared as new opportunities arise.