Biological Scientist: Freshwater Fisheries Research
Degrees / Certifications
B.S., Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida (1997)
M.S., Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida (1999)
Education / Experience
My professional experience began working for the Florida LAKEWATCH program during the summers of 1996 and 1997, during which my tasks were to collect fish, vegetation, and water chemistry samples for the purpose of long-term monitoring and trend analysis. Immediately following my graduate work under the direction of Dr. Dan Canfield, I began working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under a grant to digitize all paper data of freshwater fishes located at fisheries offices throughout the state into electronic form, with the objective of avoiding historical data loss, and creating a searchable Florida Freshwater Fishes Database. In the year 2000, I was hired as a Biological Scientist II with the FWC at the Gainesville Fisheries Office and shortly after became the project leader. Since then, our project has focused on freshwater fisheries monitoring in lakes and rivers, and researching fish and habitat associations throughout Florida streams.
What are you working on now?
The staff members at our office are currently working on four research projects.
One study titled "River Monitoring" is designed to develop a protocol to monitor the current status and future trends of sport fisheries and associated fish communities in Florida streams.
A second project titled "Gum Slough Flow Diversion Experiment" is designed to examine the habitat availability for fishes and then use a habitat-based model to predict the effects that water flow reductions have on those fish populations. Once the predictions are made, the actual effects to fish populations will be observed by manipulating the stream flow.
A third project is designed to evaluate the distribution, abundance and genetics of southern tessellated darters (Etheostoma olmstedi maculaticeps) in Florida streams.
The final project is designed to evaluate the limitations of habitat data currently collected by freshwater fisheries staff during standardized electrofishing samples.
How is this information beneficial?
Obviously all life is dependent on water, and it is not an infinite resource. As the human population in Florida continues to grow, so does the demand for water. One of the challenges water management and fish and wildlife agencies face is balancing human water needs with those of the environment to ensure that ecological processes are not irreversibly harmed. While all water bodies can be impacted by hydrological change, the fish and wildlife they support are often considered to be most sensitive to changes. Consequently, researching and monitoring fish populations and habitat in streams allows us to identify potential harm and inform water management agencies of the hydrological needs of fish and wildlife. The southern tessellated darter is just one example of a fish species that can be irreversibly harmed if the life history, habitat associations and populations threats are not better examined and understood.
Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
No, I originally went to college for environmental engineering, but during my junior year I realized that it wasn't for me. I knew that I liked to fish, hunt, and be in the outdoors in general, and the courses I was taking didn't necessary support those interests. So I regrouped and searched for a fisheries major except for one problem…there was no undergraduate fisheries program at the University of Florida, and changing schools wasn't an option. After all, I'm a Gator. The closest track that resembled my interests was Wildlife Ecology, and after taking the only fisheries course offered at the time, I was sold. So I spoke to that professor and he encouraged me to speak with him about a graduate degree when I was through. I did just that and the rest is history.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
I think my biggest accomplishment is graduating college and finding a job that I'm truly glad to get up in the morning for. I don't think I've made that big impact in science yet that many of us pursue, but I believe those types of accomplishments are ahead of me.
What do you like most about your career?
What I like most is the variety in the research topics and locations where we work, which helps minimize the monotony that I think is encountered in many careers. The biggest pleasure with what I do is working within the resources where I would normally spend my free time, all while spending it with colleagues that challenge me and that are close friends. I get great satisfaction knowing that our products are ultimately done for the greater good and love of Florida resources.
What do you like least about your career?
Vehicle logs, purchase entries, and timesheet entries among other forms of paperwork. These are necessary evils of almost any career, but it's time taken away from squeezing a fish and writing about what I learned.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge is keeping up with pace of science. There are many journals that publish articles pertaining to fisheries research and management, each containing innovations or improvements in fisheries techniques and analyses. Being aware and understanding the contemporary literature is essential to improving my science, so that our products remain current and relevant.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
First and foremost, you have to love it, because you don't get into this field for the money. Second, try it out for a test drive. Pursue seasonal jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities whenever you can with a variety of different offices. While you're there, ask questions. This will expose you to the different types of things we do and help you identify your interests. Finally, pursue a Master of Science degree. Learning the scientific method and understanding how to use it is almost a must now in this field. Consider going beyond the traditional curriculum and enroll in more focused statistical and spatial analysis courses.