Zoo Miami

Mentors: Steven Whitfield and Frank Ridgely, Zoo Miami

Seed dispersal in tortoises

Tortoises are a highly threatened group of vertebrates around the world, and as tortoises disappear around the world, the ecological role they fill in habitats may be lost. Tortoises are herbivores, and in some habitats consume large numbers of seeds - dispersing seeds and inhibiting or facilitating germination. Zoo Miami is home to gopher tortoises living in pine rocklands surrounding the zoo, as well as a dozen species of captive tortoises from around the world. In this study, students could examine at germination rates of wild gopher tortoises or across a range of tortoise species at the zoo. By clarifying the ecosystem role of tortoises, this study should help understand ecosystem-level effects of tortoise extinction, and help provide justification for tortoise conservation programs.

Mapping Plants in Zoo Miami’s Botanical Collection

Within Zoo Miami’s public areas is a vast diversity of ornamental plant species, many of which are of botanical interest to guests. However, there is not currently a well-organized map of landscaping trees with a link to taxonomic information of the plants. A student could identify trees within zoo grounds, and map them using GPS units and GIS systems. This information could be used to produce an educational botanical guide to the zoo - a resource for zoo visitors.

Coastal Habitat Host Plant Assessment for Federally Listed Butterfly Species

The existing coastal habitats on the mainland of Miami-Dade County are in the historic home range for the imperiled Schaus’ Swallowtail and Miami Blue butterflies. Although monitoring of these species and captive rearing programs have existed over the years in their core areas to aid in their recovery, no habitat assessment has been made to the suitability of parts of their former range for reintroduction. Conducting survey transects and mapping of existing host plant occurrence and density along the mainland coast protected areas is required to guide future management decisions for these species.

Monitoring Florida Bonneted Bats

Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces needs presence, absence, and habitat usage information of county owned and managed properties for the federally endangered Florida bonneted bat through acoustic surveys. This would require the student to go to several parks across the county and move the recording equipment and then analyze the data using software in the Conservation and Research Department. Results will be used to advise land managers and guide future use of parks and preserves within the county system. This could also include real time monitoring of the residential areas to identify roosts that are vital to understanding how these bats are adapting to the urban environment.

Duskywing Butterfly Life History

The Florida Duskywing Butterfly is an imperiled butterfly restricted to Florida’s Pine Rocklands habitat, yet poor information on the life history of the butterfly prevent evidence-based habitat management. In this project, a student could document life history of the duskywing - measuring length of the larval period, number of instars, and survival to metamorphosis. Students could also compare the growth rates and survival on two separate host plants for duskywings - the native Locustberry and the introduced ornamental plant Barbados Cherry.

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