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UF/IFAS research findings shed light on seagrass needs

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Pollution, Research

Tom Frazer seagrass 01 (4)

Cutline: Tom Frazer, professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment at UF/IFAS, collects seagrass off Florida’s Gulf Coast in this UF/IFAS file photo. Frazer helped supervise a UF/IFAS graduate student’s thesis that examined how much sunlight is needed to keep seagrass healthy off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

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UF’s Unmanned Aviation Systems featured at the 2014 SUN ’n FUN International Fly-In & Expo

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, Research
The University of Florida's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Program team launches its aircraft. It is used for recording imagery of natural resources-based subjects, including bird rookeries, alligator nests, manatee gatherings, crops, infrastructure and habitats.

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LAKELAND, Fla. – While most people think of unmanned aircraft solely as military drones, a group University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers know from more than a decade of experience that the small aircraft are used to further science and engineering.

Thanks to an invitation from the Federal Aviation Administration, the University of Florida’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Program will be at this week’s 40th annual SUN ’n FUN Fly-In in Lakeland, the nation’s second-largest airshow, to discuss the UF program, its history, and its interdisciplinary design and research, (more …)

UF/IFAS web tool successfully measures farms’ water footprint

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, New Technology

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida web-based tool worked well during its trial run to measure water consumption at farms in four Southern states, according to a study published this month.

The system measures the so-called “water footprint” of a farm. In the broader sense, water footprints account for the amount of water used to grow or create almost everything we eat, drink, wear or otherwise use.

Researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences introduced their WaterFootprint tool in the March issue of the journal Agricultural Systems, after using it to calculate water consumption at farms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas.

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New study finds Burmese pythons have homing sense

Topic(s): Invasive Species, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If you pick them up and drop them in a new location, most snakes will move rapidly but erratically, often traversing the same terrain before giving up and settling into their new digs.

Burmese pythons aren’t most snakes.

A team of researchers including scientists from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has discovered that the giant snakes – which have invaded and affected the food chain in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve – can find their way home even when moved more than 20 miles away.

The findings, to be published March 19 by the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, change how researchers understand pythons’ behaviors and intellect.

“This is way more sophisticated behavior than we’ve been attributing to them,” said Frank Mazzotti, a UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation professor based at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “It’s one of those things where nature makes us go ‘wow.’ That is truly the significance of this.”

In 2006 and 2007, researchers captured 12 pythons and surgically implanted radio transmitters that allowed them to track the snakes’ movements. As a control group, they returned six of the snakes to the spot of their capture and turned them loose.

The remaining six snakes were taken to spots ranging from 13 to 22 miles away from where they had been captured and turned loose. To the researchers’ surprise, the snakes oriented themselves toward “home” and maintained their bearings as they traveled.

And although it took between 94 and 296 days for five of the six snakes to get within three miles of home, partly due to it being the snakes’ dormant season, the reptiles kept that orientation – a clear signal to scientists that the snakes have both “map” and “compass” senses.

The relocated snakes appeared to use local cues at the release site to understand their position relative to home (the map sense), and appeared to use cues along the way (their compass sense) to ensure that they remained on track, although the researchers don’t yet know what those cues are: smell, perhaps the stars, light or some kind of magnetic force.

Mazzotti said it’s helpful for researchers to know that the snakes move purposefully through their environment, but in reality, it’s not that much help.

“It amps up a little bit our concern about the snakes, but given all the other things we know about pythons, the amount of increasing concern is minor,” he said.

The Burmese python has been an invasive species in South Florida since about 2000 likely stemming from accidental or purposeful releases by former pet owners. The largest python found in the Everglades area had grown to more than 18 feet.

The snakes suffocate and eat even large animals, such as deer and alligators, and in 2012, a research team that included Mazzotti found severe declines in sightings in python-heavy areas of native animals including raccoons, opossum, bobcats and rabbits.

In 2012, the federal government banned the import and interstate trade of four exotic snake species: the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and North and South African python.

Besides Mazzotti, the team of authors behind the Biology Letters paper include lead author Shannon Pittman, a doctoral candidate at University of Missouri-Columbia; Kristen Hart, a United States Geological Survey researcher, Michael Cherkiss, a USGS senior wildlife biologist; Skip Snow, a United States National Park Service biologist, Ikuko Fujisaki, a quantitative ecologist with the Fort Lauderdale REC, Brian Smith, a USGS biologist and Michael Dorcas, a Davidson College biology professor.

A link to frequently asked questions:

http://www.usgs.gov/faq/categories/10721/4751

Contacts

Writer: Mickie Anderson, 352-273-3566, mickiea@ufl.edu

Source: Frank Mazzotti, 954-577-6338, fjma@ufl.edu

Photo caption: A snake handler displays a Burmese python for onlookers at the 2013 Python Challenge event at the Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, Florida. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Water management district, UF/IFAS and UF Water Institute team up to examine springs

Topic(s): Announcements, Aquaculture, Environment, IFAS, Pollution
The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the St. Johns River Water Management District, along with UF's Water Institute, are teaming up under a $3 million grant from the state to examine the deteriorating health of Florida's springs.

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March 18, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is joining forces with two entities as part of a $3 million, three-year contract to provide scientific data to help protect and restore the state’s springs system. UF/IFAS’ partners in the effort are the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is funding the project, and UF’s Water Institute. (more …)

To the root of the matter – keeping nitrogen out of small streams

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Conservation, IFAS, Pollution, Research

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Feb. 25, 2014

GAINESVLLE, Fla. – For years, scientists tried to find out why some small streams carry only minute concentrations of nitrogen.

Now Stefan Gerber, a University of Florida researcher with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Jack Brookshire, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry from Montana State University, believe they have solved the mystery. (more …)

UF/IFAS study: Computer model can help coastal managers with nourishment decisions

Topic(s): Agriculture, Disaster Preparedness, Environment, Research

beach erosion

Cutline: UF/IFAS researchers say a new computer model can help coastal managers make better beach nourishment decisions and possibly save millions of dollars. Above, the beach is shown with a fence at St. Augustine Beach, Fla.

UF/IFAS file photo

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A computer model developed, in part, by University of Florida researchers can help coastal managers better understand the long-term effects of major storms, sea-level rise and beach restoration activities and possibly save millions of dollars.

Researchers used erosion data following tropical storms and hurricanes that hit Santa Rosa Island, off Florida’s Panhandle, and sea-level rise projections to predict beach habitat changes over the next 90 years. But they say their model can be used to inform nourishment decisions at any beach.

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PIE Center survey: Floridians value water, but not ‘all in’ on conservation

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Research, Uncategorized

Lake Okeechobee.  Florida lakes, freshwater.  2010 Annual Research Report Photo.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians value water, almost as much as they value money and their health — just don’t ask them to time themselves in the shower.

An online survey of 516 Floridians found that interest in water ranked third in a list of public issues, just behind the economy and health care, but ahead of taxes and public education. Eighty-three percent of respondents considered water a highly or extremely important issue.

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UF Water Institute to host symposium featuring state, national experts

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Environment, Green Living

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida Water Institute will host its fourth symposium, “Sustainable Water Resources, Complex Challenges, Integrated Solutions,” Feb. 11-12 at the J. Wayne Reitz Union.

This year’s conference focuses on what organizers call “Water Supply Planning in a Non-Stationary World.” The forum is meant to bring many professional perspectives together to focus on science, technology, management, policy and public action.

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UF/IFAS study shows captive breeding no help to endangered woodrat

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Forestry

key largo woodrat

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Captive breeding of the endangered Key Largo woodrat may not be the best solution to preserve the ecologically important rodent, an animal driven to near extinction by development, a new University of Florida study shows.

Using a computer model, scientists developed a captive breeding-and-release program to see if adding captive-reared animals outweighed the loss of rats from the wild. But it did not, the study said.

Robert McCleery, UF assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation and co-author of the study, estimated that fewer than 500 of the woodrats remain. That’s down from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates of about 6,000 in 1984.

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