Scientists in the Field

Kathleen Smith with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is the lead wildlife biologist for the CREW WEA.

by Allison Vincent

CREW Trust Communications Director & Volunteer Coordinator

There is a lot of science that happens at CREW. Did you know that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) employs two full time wildlife biologists to perform wildlife monitoring throughout the CREW project? Their research combines in-depth field work, data collection and long-term trend analysis to detect changes over time in animal and plant species because of land management activities.

Photo-monitoring, established at CREW in 2005 with additional sites added since then, is just one of many fascinating projects that take place in the interior lands of CREW. Stationary photo points are in three units of CREW where the Majority of the land management activities take place: Corkscrew Marsh, Cypress Dome Trails, and Flint Pen Strand.

FWC wildlife biologists Kathleen Smith and Lauren Plussa navigate the fire-breaker roads developed by the South Florida Water Management District through CREW Flint Pen Strand.

FWC biologists use a standardized data collection method at each photo point throughout the process. Starting with a map of the photo points, they embark early in the morning to beat the heat and the summer storms. On the route through north Flint Pen Strand, a swamp buggy is needed to reach interior photo points and a pole saw is required to clear and navigate the thick midstory of fast growing Florida foliage.

Lauren Plussa clears the overgrown path for our buggy to pass and for hunt permit holders that may use the same trail during the upcoming hunt season.

There is a lot that goes into photo-monitoring. The most important component involves photographing the vegetation in the exact same spot, twice a year (wet season and dry season) over an extended period of time. For each photo, biologists place the camera on a platform at a fixed height, and then using a 16.5-foot rope, biologists walk a field helper to the end of the rope, placing that helper at the same fixed distance away from the camera in each photo. This field helper holds a sign with the number and cardinal direction of each photo, as well as a vegetation measuring stick that measures the height of the surrounding vegetation. These photos serve as representative snapshots of vegetative changes on the CREW lands over time.

Biologists also use a densiometer which looks like a concave-shaped mirror that reflects the canopy cover above them to determine the density of tree canopy and mark changes in canopy density over time.

After collecting the data they return to the comfort of the office field station to compile the results and compare this year with previously collected data. The post-field work analyses is the more complex and time-consuming part of field work, but it provides a complete picture of the vegetative changes over time on the CREW Management Area

Not a wildlife biologist, but want to make a difference in the conservation? You can collaborate on an array of citizen science projects that contribute invaluable data to our understanding of the world. Here’s a curated list of organizations requesting your help:

  1. SciStarter provides a database of more than 3,000 vetted, searchable projects and events.
  2. NASA’s citizen science projects are collaborations between scientists and interested members of the public.
  3. Citizen Science at NOAA– There are dozens of citizen science projects within NOAA that provide opportunities for people to engage in scientific investigation.
  4. Join in the Smithsonian Research Mission– Depending on your interests, you can help sustain species around the globe and even solve mysteries of the planets and stars!
  5. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission– Citizen science is a smart, collaborative strategy that enhances the FWC’s ability to conserve Florida’s diversity of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.
  6. Nature’s Notebook – Nature’s Notebook is an off-the-shelf program appropriate for scientists and non-scientists alike, engaging observers across the nation to collect phenology observations on both plants and animals.
  7. Globe at Night – Globe at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure & submit their night sky brightness observations.
  8. Collect Weather Data – CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.
  9. BioBlitz – A BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. 
  10. Christmas Bird Count (CBC) – participate in the largest and longest citizen science count of birds in the world. 
  11. iNaturalist – Love learning about the outdoor world? Let iNaturalist help you identify species while also contributing to a worldwide collection of scientific observations.
  12. IveGot1 – Help FWC track and manage the populations of nonnative and invasive species by reporting sightings with photos via app, phone call, or online report.

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