Authors: Stephanie Koontz and Becky Windsor
On Thursday, December 12th, 2019 Archbold staff, collaborators, and visitors gathered for the 4th Annual Archbold Research Symposium to learn what Archbold Biological Station scientists were up to the past year. A crowd of nearly 60 people listened to talks and viewed posters from scientific programs such as Avian Ecology, Plant Ecology, Herpetology, Restoration Ecology, Agro Ecology, and Invertebrate Ecology, but also heard from the Education, Archives, and Land Management Programs. “The diversity of topics in this year’s research symposium were great,” said Dr. Angela Tringali of the Avian Ecology Program. “We jumped all around Archbold, from birds, to summer campers, to plants, to history, to cattle ranches. There is just so much going on and it’s incredible to hear about it all at once.”
This year’s program included a total of 13 presentations and 9 posters, and had a recurring theme of transcending scientific borders, such as nature’s ability to adapt and survive intertwined within the human modified landscape. The symposium opened with an in-house collaboration with Dr. Betsie Rothermel from the Restoration Ecology Program and Dr. Gregory Sonnier from Buck Island Ranch sharing the results of restoration efforts on the Archbold Reserve. “Even decades after ditches had been dug and non-native pasture grasses planted, we found native wetland plants were returning when hydrology was restored,” explained Sonnier. Rebecca Windsor of the Avian Ecology Program told the crowd about the highly imperiled Florida grasshopper sparrow and how it has been living under the radar in the pastures of private ranches in suboptimal habitats. “We didn’t think they could live here,” exclaimed Windsor, “but they were there and thriving!” Elizabeth White-Rose, a graduate student at the University of Florida told a similar story about Burrowing owls that were able to successfully nest and forage in low-density housing developments and prairie habitats. “Gopher tortoises on Archbold’s Red Hill were able to survive decades of fire suppression, utilizing open human altered habitat as nesting and foraging space,” explained Rothermel, also a herpetologist at Archbold. “Nature can be more resilient than we expect. But that is why it can be dangerous to push it too far.”
Archbold’s scientists also transcended borders through collaborations with several scientists from around the country, many of which contributed posters and presentations at this year’s symposium, highlighting the wide breadth of Archbold’s contributions to science, even beyond central Florida. Scientists from the University of Miami have been collaborating with the Plant Ecology Program and presented their soil microbial work and its associations with plant growth and fire. Dr. Rosie Stanbrook, a post-doctoral associate from the University of Central Florida, collaborated with the Argo-ecology Program at Buck Island Ranch and displayed her poster on dung beetles and their importance in breaking down dung at the ranch. “I had no idea such a small beetle could have such an astounding effect on a large cattle ranch. However, they are important and provide a valuable ecological service needed at Buck Island Ranch. In addition, they do it free! Archbold does a wonderful job in highlighting exactly what nature does for us,” said research intern Angela Soto of the Plant Ecology Program. Another result of a large collaboration came from the Plant Ecology Program, where program director Dr. Eric Menges has collaborated with colleagues from other universities to build models to understand plant-resprouting properties. “What we found is that the resprouting shrubs of the Florida scrub have a massive underground reserve, allowing the plant to grow back under repeated natural disturbances,” explained Menges.
Lastly, one important topic that came out of this year’s symposium is that Archbold is beyond just science. “We educate, we archive for the future, and we explore new technologies,” proclaims station director Dr. Hilary Swain. “These programs help our mission of ‘preserve, conserve, and educate’ to be more well-rounded and suited for a variety of people.” Education coordinator Dustin Angell captured the audience with his adorable photos of summer campers exploring nature and aspiring to be scientists themselves. Archives director Joe Gentili brought us into his daily work archiving the immense number of artifacts and history Archbold has obtained over the years. “The artifacts I deal with on a daily basis are like windows into the past and how the world used to work,” explains Gentili. Kevin Main and Paul Ruben from the Land Management Program wowed the audience as they shared their vision for drone technologies in the future. The symposium closed with Dr. Mark Deyrup of the Invertebrate Ecology Program, who reminded us that our jobs are never done. “I described three new beetle species this morning alone,” he told listeners at the symposium last Thursday. “And we have only scratched the surface of those that remain unknown.”
Archbold continued to reach across scientific borders with its diverse audience, including staff, students, research interns, colleagues from universities, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies, as well as several local members of the community. The symposium was also broadcast live online so that friends, colleagues, and other curious listeners could attend remotely. “There was definitely a topic for everyone at this year’s symposium,” proclaimed Swain, “and we hope to see returning and new faces for next year’s 5th Archbold Research Symposium.” Mark your calendars for the 5th Annual Archbold Research symposium in fall 2020, which promises to educate and inform attendees on all of the year’s exciting advancements and discoveries!