Group Title: Explore: research at the University of Florida
Title: Explore
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 Material Information
Title: Explore research at the University of Florida
Uniform Title: Explore (Gainesville, Fla.)
Alternate Title: Explore magazine
Physical Description: v. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Office of Research and Graduate Programs
University of Florida -- Office of Research, Technology & Graduate Education
Publisher: Office of Research, Technology & Graduate Education
Place of Publication: Gainesville, FL
Publication Date: Fall 2008
Copyright Date: 2008
Frequency: semiannual
Subject: Research -- Periodicals -- Florida -- Gainesville   ( lcsh )
Genre: periodical   ( marcgt )
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, no. 1 (spring 1996)-
General Note: Title from cover.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00072619
Volume ID: VID00031
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 34667699
lccn - sn 96026776

Full Text

Gag pack into reef cubes when disturbed.


m q BF

kI r-

V7r7.. -.

n\ bodv who's ever wrestled with a grouper on the end of their line knows
chdee monsters don't take well to having a hook in their mouth. But the
S ie\ ard for a half hour of fighting that will leave your arms sore for a
c\eek can be a fish that offers some of the best eating in the ocean.
Unfortunately, the growing demand for grouper sandwiches and
improved technology like GPS that can put a charter captain right on
\ top of his favorite grouper spots every time have led to concerns this
S' ,pecies is being overfished.

Zy Biesinger, a UF
'. .-. candidate,
a submersible,

S ..0' ,

S .r .." r

Explore 13



T Si~ i



Bill L. ,lbe g (left) and Doug Marcinek, research coordinator, rig for research diving.

The gag grouper's growth and maturation rates, penchant
to congregate around easily identified seafloor outcroppings
and unusual biology all grouper start life as females and
only a fraction change to reproductive males only adds to
the risk that fishing will outstrip their ability to reproduce.
So Bill Lindberg, a UF professor of fisheries and aquatic sci-
ences, and his team are working to give gag a fighting chance
by creating more of the habitat they love. The artificial reefs
they've created by dropping nearly 3,000 concrete cubes in the
waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Florida's Big Bend coast over
the past 15 years are meant to ease overcrowding around natu-
ral reefs that limits their ability to grow and reproduce.
Gag grouper are born at sea, then carried on the current
into the coastal sea grasses, where they spend their first year
growing in relative safety. But as young adults, they must
make a precarious journey across the mostly flat ocean floor
to reach their spawning grounds. It is during this journey that
Lindberg theorizes competition for the limited amount of
rocky habitat they prefer causes an ecological "bottleneck" in
their ability to reproduce.
"Gag place such a premium on finding and staying on
habitat that provides shelter from mortality that their densi-
ties can cause lower growth rates, which affects subsequent
reproductive potential," Lindberg says.
In other words, the more fish crammed onto a reef, the
greater the competition for food and the less they will grow.
And the less they grow, the fewer babies they will have.
"For grouper, size matters a great deal," Lindberg says. "The
number of babies they have is directly proportional to their
So the artificial reefs provide a way station, primarily for
young females who meet the minimum catch limits, but have
not yet reproduced.

"The reef system is intended to enable them to occupy
quality shelter at lower densities so they can maximize their
growth rates and reproductive potential," Lindberg says.
The reefs also serve as natural laboratories for studying the
grouper life cycle and the impact of reef habitats on grouper
populations, data that is vital to determining just how many
grouper can be fished out of the Gulf of Mexico without caus-
ing the species to collapse.
"Artificial reefs have long been popular among recreational
fishermen because they increase their catch and create reef
fishing sites where there had just been sand bottom," Lindberg
says. "But if artificial reefs simply attract fish from elsewhere,
making them easier to catch, they don't benefit the grouper
Lindberg says this "attraction-production" question has
been debated in fisheries management for decades, but became
even more important after Congress passed the Sustainable
Fisheries Act of 1996, which required the identification and
management of essential fish habitat for all federally managed
Like so many other fish, demand for grouper has exploded
in the last two decades, especially along Florida's west coast. In
2004, west Florida fishers hauled in 7.5 million pounds of gag
grouper, up from less than 2 million pounds in 1987.
Historically, fisheries assessments have been based on actual
catch as reported by commercial and charter captains, but
Lindberg says those numbers can be deceiving.
This so-called "fisheries dependent" data doesn't neces-
sarily take into account what's happening within the grouper
population. Only recently, at the urging of scientists like
Lindberg, have regulators demanded more "fisheries indepen-
dent" data of the kind the UF team is gathering.

14 Fall 2008






Lindberg says plugging this data into computer simulations
has produced some "pretty scary" scenarios for the grouper
fisheries, reminiscent of the collapse of the cod fisheries off
New England in the early 1990s.
"Even though the general population may be going down,
fishermen can find new spots and maintain their catch," Lind-
berg says. "As the simulated fishing fleet becomes more precise,
the catch rate actually goes up as the population is falling off a
cliff. That's a really spooky outcome. The implication is that a
grouper fishery such as gag may be vulnerable to the same out-
comes cod experienced. Figuring out whether or not that's the
reality requires us to have information at a much finer scale of

Lindberg has been focusing in on the grouper picture his
entire career, using new technologies and techniques to get a
better understanding of how fish live and how fishing affects
their populations.
"I've been scaling-up research projects my whole career,"
says Lindberg of the research he began as a doctoral student at
Florida State University in the late 1970s. "My dissertation at
FSU looked at these questions in a small, model system. But
there's always a question of how such model systems translate
to the much broader natural scale. Relevance of ecology on the
small scale to management on the large scale requires someone
to work in the gaps."
Since the early 1990s, Lindberg and his team have been
filling those gaps by using artificial reefs as experimental treat-
ments to turn the ocean into a natural laboratory.

Zy Biesinger (left) and Doug Marcinek weigh
a gag collectedfor tagging and release.

Between 1991-93 the team constructed the Suwannee
Regional Reef System, placing 1,350 one-ton concrete cubes on
the ocean floor in a 26-mile-long strip about 20 miles off the
coast of Florida's Levy and Dixie counties.
In the second phase started in 2005 the Steinhatchee
Fisheries Management Area the researchers placed 1,600
cubes in groups of four as a line of standardized reefs that
brackets the Big Bend region of Florida. These are sites for
fisheries independent monitoring to aid gag stock assess-
ments, and to evaluate the output of "conservation" reefs to
be built in a 100-square-mile triangle about 18 miles west of
Steinhatchee, Fla.
Florida has more artificial reefs off of its coast than any
other state, but Lindberg says the Steinhatchee reefs are

Explore 15


examples of a new approach for Florida's artificial reef pro-
gram. In the past, the stated goal of artificial reefs was to
enhance fishing success. While that's still true, the Artificial
Reef Strategic Plan adopted by the state in 2003 also includes
an explicit goal of using artificial reefs as a component of
ecosystems management.
"Previously, the coordinates of every permitted artificial reef
had to be advertised for easy access by fishers," he says. "Now,
if a project's objective is fisheries conservation rather than pub-
lic fishing, such advertisement is not necessary."

Gag lined up in the shelter of a reefdesigned for research
and fisheries conservation.

The specially designed concrete blocks Lindberg's team uses
have holes in them where the grouper can sit to await their
prey without having to worry about becoming prey themselves.
Fisheries management is a complex and often contentious
process in which federal and state regulators try to balance
short- and long-term economic and ecological concerns. Often
these regulations result in fewer opportunities to catch less
fish, and that invariably leaves people unhappy.
For example, the most recent rules approved by the Gulf
of Mexico Fishery Management Council in August prohibit
gag grouper fishing during February and March, doubling
the current one-month spawning season closure. Recreational
anglers can keep only two gag grouper a day, down from five.
And commercial fishers face a gag grouper quota, which will
be 1.32 million pounds in 2009. The quota on red grouper was
increased from 5.31 million pounds to 5.75, but if commercial
fishers exceed either quota, all grouper fishing must stop for
the year because it's impossible to catch one species without
catching the other.

"Conducting fish conservation research is like tracking
butterflies under 80 feet of water," Lindberg says. "It may be
straightforward in concept, but difficult to pull off."
But researchers are able to do things today they couldn't have
imagined 20 years ago thanks to technologies like GPS and
sonar. These new technologies have enabled researchers to moni-
tor grouper faster, more accurately and more economically.
In an environment where all the landmarks are hidden
beneath the waves, Global Positioning System, or GPS, technol-
ogy has been one of the biggest breakthroughs, Lindberg says.
"In the past we would get in the vicinity of a marker we
had put on the seafloor, then do circle searches until we found
it," Lindberg says. "Now, with GPS, we can land right on the
stake every time. GPS gives us the ability to do more precise
positioning of our sampling and mapping of the habitat."
Another new tool is side-scan sonar.
"We don't have the advantage of having aerial photography
and satellite imagery like terrestrial ecologists to see the land-
scape characteristics of the seafloor," Lindberg says. "Twenty
years ago we were putting divers in the water to do manual
mapping on a very small scale; now we're using hi-resolution,
side-scan sonar to collect
large amounts of data over IINH \ I F[-E.,E-
a broad area. We're begin- NI N T /,/E IN
ning to develop better
capabilities for mapping
the seafloor in order to get
at the questions we need
Lindberg says research- I
ers can "mow the lawn"
in 150-meter-wide swaths
with the sonar.
"In the past, all we
would have is a chart that Steinhatchee Fisheries
would show the depth; I I Management Area (SFMA)
now we have an actual O SFMA Evaluation Reefs
picture of what the bot-
Suwannee I IReefs
tom looks like."
In addition to map-
ping the habitat, new
tools allows the research-
ers to actually track fish as they go about their daily business.
Graduate student Zy Biesinger is using state-of-the-art
hydroacoustic telemetry to map how individual fish move
about their home range. Receivers placed in the water record
data every two seconds from transmitters implanted in fish.

I6 Fall 2008

Bill L. idbe g records data
between research dives.




Every few weeks the
researchers retrieve the
receivers, bring them
back to the laboratory
T and download data that
maps all of the fish's
movements during that
I''' period.
Because virtually all of
the grouper researchers'
work involves repeated
Suwannee dives to depths from
50 to 80 feet, UF has
become one of the few
S universities in the coun-
try to use sophisticated
rebreathing technology
instead of SCUBA gear.
"For safety, logistical
and scientific reasons,
we decided to move from traditional SCUBA to closed-circuit
rebreathers," Lindberg says.
Rebreathers essentially act as second lungs, capturing a div-
er's exhaled air, scrubbing out the carbon dioxide and replen-
ishing the spent oxygen. Because gas is not expelled, there are

far fewer fish-scaring bubbles. And, modern systems optimize
the breathing gas mix to minimize decompression concerns.
"One day I did 11 dives to 65 feet," Lindberg says. "That
kind of up-and-down diving adds a risk factor, but by going
to closed-circuit rebreathers, we're actually diving a physiologi-
cally safer profile."
And logistically, closed-circuit rebreathers require far less
oxygen to be filled and carried on the boat.
"We couldn't carry enough regular SCUBA bottles to sup-
ply our whole team on a typical day," Lindberg says. "With
the rebreathers, we need just a few small tanks. It saves money,
time and wear and tear on the crew. The equipment was
expensive, but in all respects it was a justifiable investment."
"We have lots of questions we want to answer, but if you
don't have the logistical and technical skills to extract the data,
the questions sit on the shelf," Lindberg says. "In recent years
we've been able to integrate technologies into our field opera-
tions that were unavailable a decade ago, so we are now able to
address some questions that we posed a decade ago but didn't
have the technology to address." 0

William J. Lindberg
Associate Professor,
Program in Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences,
School of Forest Resources and Conservation
(352) 392-9617

Explore 17

P.',...-.._ ; ':, by Nigel Smith


r -

Nuts of macambo, a relative of cacao, roasting in a street market
in Iquitos, Peru. Roasted macambo nuts may one day be found
on supermarket shelves next to peanuts, cashews and macadamia
(they taste like a blend of all three).


n the rain forests of Peru's remote Pacaya-Samiria
National Reserve, mothers don't make kids eat their
carrots. Instead, kids munch on aguaje a crisp,
neon-yellow palm fruit covered in maroon scales. It
tastes a bit like a carrot, but packs three times the vita-
min A punch.
Aguaje is just one of more than a hundred wild and domes-
ticated fruits available to people each year in this 8,000-square-
mile chunk of protected Amazon wetland at the confluence of
two rivers in northeastern Peru.
And with so much variety and abundance, it's not surpris-
ing that these fruits form the centerpiece of the local diet. The
reserve's 100,000 residents depend on them for many nutrients
like vitamins, protein and oils that the rest of us nor-
mally get from a variety of other foods, including vegetables
and nuts.
Fruits also serve as an important source of income for the
residents especially aguaje. It generates $4.6 million every
year in the markets of Iquitos, the nearest city more than
any other indigenous fruit from the Peruvian Amazon.
While U.S. farmers markets might sell a dozen or two dif-
ferent kinds of fruit in any given week, the Iquitos market
boasts nearly 200, with varied tastes, colors, shapes and tex-
tures: spiky yellow rinds, crunchy seeds and orange pulp.

18 Fall 2008

rella Fruits




I A x

0'r .0

i It


Afax'palmftuits a" rich in

antioxidants and theftuitpul
p now

flavors drinks and ice creams the

world over. Many other Amazonian

fruits a" waiting their turn in the

global marketplace.

Yumanasa fruits are a welcome treat
along rivers in the Amazon.

But outside the Amazon region, their popularity is limited.
Although the Amazon has occasionally yielded commercially
valuable fruits such as the antioxidant-rich again added to
gourmet juices and the caffeine-charged guarana used in energy
drinks international markets have yet to plumb most of the
bounty of indigenous fruits growing in lush forests along rivers.
Beyond Peru and parts of Brazil, the aguaje's supercarrot
possibilities remain largely unknown.
Could that change? One expert thinks it's possible. Out-
side the Amazon, few know more about this region's wild and
cultivated fruits than Nigel Smith. The Venezuelan-born geog-
rapher, a professor at the University of Florida, has devoted
much of his four-decade career to the Amazon region.
In recent years he's examined just about every aspect of
the obscure fruits that blanket Peru's rich floodplain forests:
how, where and why they're grown; who consumes them; their
nutritional and cultural value; and, of course, how they taste.
(The sweet, "sublime" pulp of wild macambillo, a dull orange
fruit, is his favorite.)
Whether it's the aguaje or a tangy-sweet relative of the
cacao called the cupuacu or macambo seeds a crunchy
new alternative to peanuts Smith has studied them all
with an eye toward promoting conservation, boosting sus-
tainable farming in a threatened region and supporting local
residents' livelihoods.
The past three decades have seen unprecedented human
migration into the Pacaya-Samiria reserve, part of an area
Smith calls the "epicenter of wild-fruit consumption in the
Other pressures, like hunting, logging and unsustainable
fishing, are on the rise as well. As these pressures grow, Smith
believes small farmers hold a key to managing and protecting
the region.
With support from the National Geographic Society's
Committee for Research and Exploration, the MacArthur
Foundation and the Moore Foundation, he and his team,
including Peruvian botanist Rodolfo Vazquez, spent six
months in Pacaya-Samiria over several years documenting 148
different fruit species.







They studied how small landowners in a dozen communi-
ties use and depend on these fruits, many of which large-scale
farmers ignore.
"I'm interested in landscapes where individual landowners
are in control," Smith says. "I think that's the great frontier for
Amazon conservation."
Over the years, he notes, small-scale farmers have helped
shape the forests where they pick and cultivate fruits by "rear-
ranging the biological furniture" in ways that encourage biodi-
These farmers "have retained a biologically diverse land-
scape that benefits not only wildlife but also their own liveli-
hoods," Smith adds.

Explore 21

Nigel Smith whose research has been supported by the
National Geographic Society, the MacArthur Foundation and
the Moore Foundation heads down the Beni River in the
Bolivian Amazon in search of new fruits.

One way Pacaya-Samiria residents have accomplished that is
by domesticating potentially valuable wild fruit species, includ-
ing macambo seeds and vitamin A-rich sapote.
They often plant and grow several at once in diverse forest-
ed plots, a strategy known as agroforestry. The combination of
crops, both annual and perennial, helps the farmers avert risk.
Should one crop succumb to inclement weather, disease or
a pest outbreak, the other crops would likely survive, ensuring
that the farmers have both food and income.
But Amazon experts agree that more needs to be done.
So far the Peruvian Amazon has been spared much of the
deforestation caused by the timber trade and cattle ranching
in Brazil, yet Smith warns that the "floodplains are going to
come under increasing development pressure in the next few

O-',,,_rl..i", ,_,r i in i i..nir, '. ...rllr r! r,_ Lr,_n rr,_,_, A n. !rd i n _
I 1 1,' l'l,,!'!lr i.I i-,,!' h- !' !'i i r r 'i. ,i r r I. r i i 1 i L ,11 i -._ i, 1
. ,, I .I_'! l C E )l!,, 1 i ,.,p .i r ,.,. .n -, i,, ,-, I-, r ,- *i ir r l-ik
New York Botanical Garden.
That's one reason Smith's work is important. "If we can
educate people about the wealth of diversity, as opposed to just
the wealth of timber, we can change things," Daly says.
This is where native fruits may come in to play. Some of the
Amazon's little-known produce has flavor, nutrition or novelty
to tempt commercial producers abroad, and Smith hopes that
growing international awareness of the dietary importance of
fruit could help create a new hit.
His knowledge is helping at least one entrepreneur take
steps to market bottled water flavored with Amazon fruits. Jeff
Moats, CEO of the Equa Water Corporation in Naples, Fla.,
plans to begin building a factory next year in Brazil's Amazon
region to process fruits local residents can grow sustainably
within forests.
But competition from carbonated soft drinks, a $40-bil-
lion industry in the U.S. alone, presents a formidable obstacle
to anyone wanting to sell Amazon fruit juices. Entrepreneurs
"cannot match the marketing muscle and advertising dollars of
the major soda producers," Smith says.

22 Fall 2008







Peruvian Forester

Beyond this, fruit supplies can be erratic, and the
Amazon region is still struggling with the basic issues
of hygiene, infrastructure and quality control.
So what are the chances you'll someday see vita-
min-rich aguaje in your supermarket's produce section
alongside carrots, tomatoes and apples?
It's hard to predict, but Smith is encouraged by the
example of the once obscure again, which was enjoyed in
Brazil long before becoming a hit in eco- and nutrition-
savvy foreign markets.
He also notes the success in Japan of the camu
camu, a sour maroon berry with 30 times the vitamin
C of oranges. The aguaje might become what he calls
a "Cinderella fruit" because it fits some of the criteria
that have made these other two fruits successful: It's
already popular and abundant locally, easily incorpo-
rated into products like juice and relatively simple to
"The production of fruit is vital to the life of an
Amazonian person and is of enormous nutritional
importance," emphasizes Walter Wust, a Peruvian for-
ester and environmental journalist who helped Smith
document the Pacaya-Samiria fruits.
If Smith has his way, more of that bounty will
someday nourish the rest of the world as well. O
This story appeared online in National
Geographic News (news.nationalgeographic. com)

Nigel Smith
Professor, Department of Geography
(352) 392-0494

Explore 23


[lie lakes. and condo%
co\ei [hlie land \clIomcU
tco FloIu da cuca 20018,
populaI0n IS million.
BuT. Il[ ca.l [ olt [ie ,mall noich
Flo:ida [o:,\ln ot N llcho a di[ ioad lead
co a difttclcn Flol da. [cie one [thaC c\ icd in
[de call pai of [ic e 2(1 )h CCItnI \.
Foi iecaichi ac [lie Uni ciin[ ot Flou da, '3,1((I-
acic i d\ a\-', \, ihlci Bioh .. icaIl _a ion hIcic me ...

Expl..-. 25

"Fire is very natural and needed here.

The disturbance would be if we took

fire out of the system."

Stephen Coates
I .-

... more than 50 lakes and ponds greened only with paspalum
grass, bladderwort and other native plants; old pine forests
with trees whose gnarly trunks still bear the "cat face" scars of
1930s-era turpentine gatherers; 140 bird, 35 mammal and 26
fish species, including the pearlescent indigo snake and gopher
frog; two Native American burial grounds; and the decaying
estate of the cigar magnate who fortuitously amassed the land
beginning more than 70 years ago as his private fishing and
hunting reserve.
Since 1980, the University of Florida has managed Ordway-
Swisher as a field research station to be used by scientists
studying the flora, fauna and ecosystems of original Florida.
But Ordway-Swisher is due for a major change. As part of
a National Science Foundation-sponsored initiative, it will be
one of 20 sites in the National Ecological Observatory Net-
work, or NEON. The goal: To put together what one scientist
termed a Hubble Space Telescope for the environment a
continental-scale observatory through which ecologists can
observe, from coast to coast and in real time, the impacts of
global warming, invading species, land development and so on.
Each of the 20 sites lie in different climates. With Ordway-
Swisher's hardwood hammocks, swamps and sand hills, its out-
of-the-way setting and lock-down protection, the station was a
shoe-in to epitomize the natural Southeast.

"We were looking for locations that are very representative
of their areas, and we had always been thinking about Ord-
way," says Hank Loescher, a staff scientist at NEON's home
base in Boulder, Colo.
Within the next few years, NEON workers at Ordway-
Swisher will build three tall observation towers equipped with a
gaggle of sensors and computers. Their purpose: To extend an
electronic finger to environmental winds, continuously monitor-
ing thousands of parameters of ecosystem health and quality.
For now, though, Ordway-Swisher remains little changed
from when Jacksonville's Carl Swisher, owner of Swisher
Cigars, began buying the pieces of land in the 1930s that make
up the station.
Swisher, an avid fisherman and outdoorsman, eventually
amassed 25,000 acres. He built a weekend home and clay roads
to his favorite fishing lakes. Perched in his Cadillac, Swisher
wanted to pass through different scenery heading out and
returning from an expedition, so he built two roads to many
lakes. He employed a full-time caretaker, Truman Perry, whose
jobs included rowing Swisher to his favorite fishing hole in
each lake. Although he is retired, Perry still works at Ordway-
Swisher, just as he has since 1954.
After Carl Swisher died, his family gradually sold off pieces
of the land. But in 1979, the family's Swisher Foundation
donated 3,000 acres to The Nature Conservancy. A year later,
the private Goodhill Foundation gave a grant to UF to buy a
second, contiguous 6,000 acres from the Swisher Foundation.
That land was preserved in the name of Katherine Ordway, a

26 Fall 2008

3M Corporation heiress who bequeathed more than $40 million
through Goodhill to support efforts to protect biologically
diverse landscapes in the United States.
Although scientists and students have had access to both
parcels since 1980, the full station only became official in
August when The Nature Conservancy formally donated the
Carl Swisher Memorial Sanctuary to the university.
Real estate experts place the value of the 3,000-acre Swisher
tract at $11 million, but as UF President Bernie Machen said
at a ceremony marking the donation, Ordway-Swisher's "natu-
ral value is difficult to put a price on."
"The Conservancy's transfer of 3,000 acres to the Ordway-
Swisher Biological Station is an important milestone in the
ongoing work at this outstanding conservation site," says Jeff
Danter, Florida state director of The Nature Conservancy.
"Equally important to protecting this site is developing the
next generation of conservation scientists and managers who
will help make Florida and the world a more sustainable place
for us all."
Machen calls the station "a precious rarity that makes it the
perfect laboratory for measuring the effects of environmental
A ride around the property with Ordway-Swisher research
coordinator Stephen Coates in his green Ford pickup makes
that clear.
Heading into the station, the single-lane dirt roads passes
Ross Lake, one of the property's bigger lakes. Ross' tannin-
stained waters typify Ordway-Swisher's surface water-fed,

nutrient-rich lakes. Native plants green its shores and shallow
zones, and alligators, otters and largemouth bass abound.
Ross and Ordway-Swisher's other lakes owe their hydrilla- and
water-hyacinth-free waters to one of the station's many rules
of self-preservation: Only boats kept there permanently are
allowed in Ordway's waters.
From Ross Lake, the road climbs through hills inter-
spersed with longleaf pine from the grass stage to 80- to
100-year-old giants stretching high into the sky. Pale yel-
low wiregrass carpets the ground beneath them. Such land
is prized by developers because it is high, dry and easily
drained. As a result, although longleaf pine once blanketed
an estimated 90 million acres across the Southeast, fewer
than four million acres remain today.
"What you are seeing here," Coates says, "is old Florida.
This is what it looked like."
Threatened gopher tortoises and gopher frogs, which make
their homes in the tortoises' burrows, live in the longleaf for-
est. So do impressively large Sherman fox squirrels, uncom-
monly common at Ordway-Swisher, says Coates. Rafters
of notoriously shy wild turkeys stroll fearlessly through the
woods and white-tail deer are common sights.
Also common are reminders of the seasonal burns Coates
and his colleagues conduct, deliberately setting in motion a
natural process that keeps hardwood seedlings from maturing
and edging out the pine forest and its wildlife.
"Fire is very natural and needed here," he says. "The distur-
bance would be if we took fire out of the system."

Explore 27

"We want to enable ecological forecasting where infectious disease will

spread, or where invasive species will spread. We also want to project

regional water use, carbon balance and what may happen to species with a

changing environment across time and space scales."

- Hank Loescher

The road swings by a declivity where rains create a tempo-
rary pond, providing frogs and amphibians key breeding condi-
tions a wet spot with no fish to eat larvae or tadpoles, Coates
says. Eventually his truck finds its way to Lake Barco. Contrast-
ing Ross Lake, the nutrient-poor Barco is gin clear, with no sub-
merged plants or alligators and only the leanest of fish.
Ordway-Swisher contains other typical Southeastern habi-
tat as well. On its western side broods a large, dark cypress
swamp. There are hardwood hammocks, sandhill upland lakes
and a majestic Florida prairie.
The station's high state of ecological preservation is the main
draw for biologists, ecologists and others who spend anywhere
from an afternoon to weeks or months on projects there.
This past summer, one scientist studied the population
ecology of greater sirens and two-toed amphiumas, both large
aquatic salamanders. Another surveyed native bees. A third
examined sexual selection in large, colorful, but harmless,
golden orb spiders. All told, the station hosts on average 25
projects at any given time.
According to John Hayes, chair of UF's Department of
Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, 58 UF graduate proj-
ects 33 master's degree and 25 doctoral degree have
been conducted at the station since 1982. About 220 research
publications and reports have been generated from university,
state, federal and private research studies at the station. Hayes
describes Ordway's lakes as especially valuable for researchers.

"Ordway-Swisher is not pristine. Nothing in Florida is pris-
tine. But it is in very, very good ecological condition," he says.
"The lakes are exceptionally pristine and they really provide an
ecological baseline for aquatic systems in the state of Florida."
Hayes adds Ordway-Swisher is already on a path to becom-
ing a "globally significant research and education site." NEON
will only accelerate that transition.
Like other scientists, ecologists routinely work together, but
they have never collaborated on the scale of physicists, with
their mammoth particle accelerators; oceanographers, with
their ocean research vessels and deep-water submersibles; and
astronomers, with their multimillion-dollar telescopes, says
Loescher, the NEON staff scientist.
Aware of the gap, a group of ecologists began pursuing the
project that became NEON well over a decade ago, Loescher
says. The group submitted the most recent formal proposal to
the National Science Foundation in 2006. The federal govern-
ment allocated $25 million this year for planning and develop-
ment, he says.
Just as physicists turn to particle accelerators to study the
nature of matter, so NEON scientists have targets: "Continen-
tal scale" research transects where instruments will measure
how the environment is responding to climate change, land
development, forest management, the growing use of biofuels
and invasive species and infectious diseases.
Key to each are the automated observation towers.

28 Fall 2008

Loescher, who is in charge of NEON's instrumentation
efforts, says each site will likely have three towers equipped
with a vast array of sensors and monitors. The sites will
also have at least two aquatic arrays underwater "towers"
immersed in lakes or streams as well as several below-
ground soil monitors.
All told, Loescher says, the sensors and monitors will collect
terabytes of data from at least 2,000 sources. Some are as mun-
dane as temperature and humidity, others as exotic as real-time
stable isotopes, below-ground carbon dioxide and integrated
water vapor. NEON will also have portable towers that can be
relocated for special projects, such as gauging the environmen-
tal effects of hurricanes. Additionally, NEON scientists will
have access to airplanes and satellite sweeps.
Coates says Ordway-Swisher already has years of baseline
data garnered from throughout the property. Water levels and
water quality are checked monthly on all the lakes. An extensive
inventory of the flora and fauna has been maintained for years.
The information has been gathered by on-site biologists
like Coates and students in countless classes. In September, for
example, a mammalogy class spent several nights trapping and
recording critters in the forest. They camped at one of the sta-
tion's two campgrounds, equipped paradoxically with Wi-Fi.
And while that same connectivity will be a conduit for
some of the NEON data, project scientists will also rely on
"the sneaker net," in Loescher's words. To coordinate, NEON

will bring in several new full-time employees, including at least
two managers, an education and outreach coordinator and
technicians. Loescher says NEON expects to develop a first
test site near its Boulder headquarters in the next two years.
Starting in 2012, the organization will likely develop two sites
annually. None are scheduled yet, but Loescher suggested
Ordway-Swisher may well be one of the first.
"Your guys are ready to go. You understand what NEON
is," he says.
Whenever it occurs, NEON can hardly come too soon.
Loescher notes that the National Weather System decades
ago built a national system of identically calibrated ther-
mometers, barometers and anemometers so that it could
more accurately forecast the weather. Today, he says, climate
change is a gathering force, but scientists have no uniform
metric to compare the northward migration of animals and
plants, population die-offs or other changes or to predict
what might happen down the road.
"We want to enable ecological forecasting where infec-
tious disease will spread, or where invasive species will spread,"
he says. "We also want to project regional water use, carbon
balance and what may happen to species with a changing
environment across time and space scales." 0

Stephen Coates
Research Coordinator, Ordway-Swisher Biological Station
(352) 846-0576

Explore 29









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I f you grew up geeky in the 1980s, Rick Ferdig's
workplace may closely resemble your idea of heaven.
Here in the Educational Technology lab in the
basement of Norman Hall, you'll find rows of
Macintosh computers where, every summer, middle-
school kids design their own video games. A 4-foot-
tall stuffed Sonic the Hedgehog lounges on a well-worn sofa
near a rack filled with Wired, GamePro and other computer-
oriented magazines. In a side room, you'll find a row of Play-
Stations, set up for a Tecmo Bowl tournament. It's a Gen-Xer's
idea of an after-school paradise.
Your grandmother might not approve, but there is a meth-
od to all this computer madness. Ferdig, a 35-year-old associ-
ate professor in UF's College of Education, is at the vanguard
of a new generation of scholars who understand that video
games just might be good for you. Rather than rotting kids'
brains, those "wasted" hours in front of a glowing screen may
actually have helped build better problem-solving skills, or so
the new theory goes. And Ferdig is literally taking that idea

to school, exploring the ways video games real, fun video
games can help teachers get their ideas across.
"Computers have been in the classroom for a couple of
decades," he says. "But we're just now beginning to understand
how to really use them."
Ferdig is the editor of the Hadlbook of Research on Effective
Electronic Gaming in Education, the first-ever comprehensive
compilation of research on what has become a hot topic: the
educational benefits of video games. Drawing on research from
150 authors in 15 countries, the 1,759-page, three-volume col-
lection goes far beyond the old "skill-and-drill" approach that
characterized early efforts at educational computing efforts
like Oregon Trail and Reader Rabbit and asks deeper ques-
tions about the games people play. Why do some kids struggle
to learn their ABCs but have no problem memorizing the
names of characters in Pokemon? How can we make educa-
tional games with the appeal and addictive power of Super
Mario? Better yet, how can we turn existing games into teach-
ing tools?

Explore 3 I


"People are beginning to realize that when kids disappear
into an online world, they're learning at an amazing rate," he
says. "But most of us don't realize that they're also developing
self-confidence and identity, and maybe even trying a new job."
Ferdig has been conducting in-depth research on the psy-
chology of video gaming for most of his life, though for much
of that time he didn't know it was research. As a kid in Hol-
land, Mich., he whiled away the snow days in front of a video
console. As a graduate student at Michigan State University
and later as a visiting scholar at WSP Teacher Training College
in Krakow, Poland, he would study and teach educational psy-
chology by day, then spend his nights blasting his colleagues to
smithereens in networked games of Doom and Duke Nukem.
One of Ferdig's friends suggested his gaming might be,
well, unhealthy. It might have been meant as a warning, but
Ferdig and his gaming buddies took the question more philo-
"We started this in-depth conversation about what we were
accomplishing by doing this," Ferdig says.
For Ferdig, that conversation grew, and is still growing.
Applying his background in educational psychology to the
evolving Internet, Ferdig spent the next several years exploring
the implications the new online world held for teachers and

Pioneering though it is, gaming is not Ferdig's only avenue
of research, or even his best known. As the principal investiga-
tor on a $600,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation, Ferdig
is heading the first comprehensive assessment of practices in
the nation's growing number of virtual K-12 schools.
More than a decade has passed since states across the U.S.
began investing in "distance education" programs for K-12
students programs that would use the Internet to allow
students anywhere to take courses from teachers qualified
in hard-to-find subjects such as Latin, macroeconomics or
Advanced Placement physics. The boom in online learning has
opened new academic doors to home-schooled kids and stu-
dents in rural areas, but there is little data to show whether the
rising tide has lifted all boats.
"In most virtual schools, the final grades are sent to the
schools and are stored and tracked by the schools," Ferdig says.
"Most states haven't done a detailed analysis of which courses
are really effective in producing learning gains, or which tech-
niques are working."


I I I i* I l
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^M^^^^^^^^^^^ -AL^^x BROWN ^^

Ferdig isn't accusing the virtual schools of selling "silicon
snake oil." There's already research to show that, in general,
online students learn just as much or more than students in tra-
ditional classrooms. What's lacking in virtual high schools, how-
ever, is a detailed look at who is learning, how much, and why.
"Florida, for instance, may know that its online students
generally do well on standardized tests," Ferdig says. "But
does virtual schooling work as well for students in Miami as
it does for students in Gainesville? And if it doesn't, why not?
That's what teachers really want to know, and that's the kind
of data we're collecting."
The project reaches well beyond Florida, however. In all,
22 states are participating, offering Ferdig data on millions of
students. And Ferdig is looking at more than just grades and
lesson plans. The most important elements in online learners'
success, he says, may not be the things you see on the com-
puter screen.
"Learning online takes more than a teacher, a student and
a couple of computers," Ferdig says. "We're very interested in
the support the students receive. How much help do they get
from parents, and from mentor teachers in their schools? Do
administrators understand the role of virtual schooling, and
how does their understanding affect the results their students
have in online courses?"

Alex Brown, a 17-year-old senior at Santa Fe High School,
has taken two virtual classes and knows what is necessary to
succeed in them. Brown took Personal Fitness and Life Man-
agement Skills through Florida Virtual School, a 90-course
virtual school that served 60,000 K-12 students in the '07-'08
school year. She received an A in both classes.
"My teacher was really nice and helpful," Alex says. "It was
really easy to learn because I got to do it at my own pace. I
could work out on my treadmill, under the fan, with my music
Alex would study modules online and converse with fel-
low classmates in message boards. She also would speak to her
instructor on the phone to discuss that week's topic.
"I liked the setup a lot," she says. "It was easy to express
yourself and work on your own schedule."
That's an aspect Alex's mother, Chris Brown, liked as well.
"The teacher was available throughout the day," Brown
says. "I could talk to her about how Alex was doing whenever
I needed to."
Alex had to exercise regularly and record her activities in a
work log. Brown would then sign off that the log was accurate.

I 1
FiF*" i










Explore 33

It was never a problem making sure Alex did the work,
Chris Brown says.
"I think the flexibility was key. She would have had to drop
anatomy or art, which she really loved," if the classes hadn't
been available online.
Chris Brown acknowledged that engaged parents are essen-
tial to virtual schooling, though.
"A student without an involved parent could make the work
logs up."
While many virtual school teachers have successfully made
the transition from the classroom, as the program grows Ferdig
worries that there won't be enough technically savvy instruc-
tors. That's why Ferdig is working with colleagues at UF and
bucking tradition by piloting the nation's first online teaching
"The old adage was that you needed to have three to five
years of classroom experience in order to excel in an online
teaching environment," Ferdig says. "But it's really kind of
hard to see why that face-to-face teaching requirement is in
In the traditional classroom, Ferdig notes, an expert teacher
is one who can diagram sentences or do long division while
monitoring 15 to 30 kids in a single room. Anyone who has
tried that can tell you that it takes a special talent, and most
teachers look unfavorably on any teacher preparation program
that doesn't require its students to get some experience in the
Teaching online requires special talents, too, but not neces-
sarily the ones you need in a face-to-face classroom, Ferdig

"Online, I don't have to worry about whether Johnny is
throwing paper at Sarah, or Sarah is sticking gum under her
chair," Ferdig says. "But I do have to worry about a number of
other things like creating community among students who
can't see each other and moderating discussions online."
In cooperation with the Florida Virtual School (the nation's
largest virtual K-12 school), Ferdig recently supervised a group
of education majors in an on-the-job training experience that
had them looking over the shoulders of the state's best online
teachers, all without leaving Ferdig's lab in the basement of
historic Norman Hall.
The virtual internship may go against the grain of the
teaching profession, but it's just one example of Ferdig's
outside-the-box approach to education and technology. For
another, just follow Ferdig on one of his trips to Rwanda,
where he is helping school officials come up with ways to bring
21st-century educational technology to schools that sometimes
can't even afford pencils and paper.
"Rwanda is probably the last place most Americans would
expect kids to be using computers in schools," Ferdig says.
"After all, we're talking about a place where students some-
times have to practice writing in the dirt because they can't
afford school supplies. But they're ready."
Known to most of the world for the brutal civil war it
endured in the 1990s, Rwanda is looking for ways to start over,
rebuild and attract foreign investment. As in many African
countries, Rwanda's educators have big dreams for public edu-
cation, but they lack the infrastructure to make those dreams
a reality.




34 Fall 2008


But the Rwandans see their under-resourced schools as
clean slates, ready to be converted into 21st-century wired
classrooms. Provided, of course, that someone finds computers
they can afford.
Ferdig, whose travel was funded by UF's Center for African
Studies, has been looking for ways to use handheld comput-
ers to meet those needs. While people in the United States
use PDAs mostly as portable address books, the tiny devices
have far more computing power than the Apple IIe comput-
ers American schools were using in Ferdig's high school years.
PDAs are easily transported from school to school, and unlike
the famed "$100 laptop," they're readily available right now.
Ferdig is also looking for ways to introduce software that
meets the Rwandans where they live. Too often, when educa-
tional books or computer games make their way to crowded
African cities and remote rural villages, they're hand-me-
downs from the West, depicting suburban environments that
are alien to many Africans. Ferdig is looking for ways to Afri-
canize the content of the educational software the Rwandans
use in the future.
While Rwanda may seem worlds away from his lab in
Gainesville, Ferdig sees a common theme in all of his work
in educational technology. Whether you're bringing handheld -
computers to Africa or setting up a virtual high school in
the U.S., he says, educational computing is about more than
devices with bells and whistles. The computer works as an
educational tool because it gives kids a chance to use their
knowledge to create new things and the power to show
those creations to the public. R I H I C E
"If kids aren't creating something," he says. "They aren't R
learning." 0

Rick Ferdig
Associate Professor, School of Teaching and Learning
(352) 392-9191 x275

Explore 35

r $;e;T4~ii~




alf a millennium ago, a farmer in central Mexico
S was tending his crops when suddenly the summer
heat beating down on him lessened. He looked to
the sky, expecting storm clouds. But what he saw filled him
with fear and wonder. The sun's familiar disk was disfigured,
as if something was swallowing it.
Day gave way to night and a new light shone brightly -
Venus. The farmer's mind raced, confused. To his people,
Venus was an important god who traveled in a carefully mea-
sured way between the heavens and the underworld, and at
this time of day he was supposed to be in the underworld.
He dropped to his knees in awe. Venus resurrected from
the underworld was attacking the sun!
Ancient people all across central Mexico witnessed this
epic sky battle. In fact, the event made such a deep impression
that the Aztecs later told their Spanish conquerors it was the
single-most important eclipse event during their reign, which
spanned nearly 200 years from 1325 to 1519.
It was so important that the farmer's people recorded it for
posterity in an elaborate book. For centuries, that book -

known as the Codex Borgia has fascinated and frustrated
scholars like Susan Milbrath, a curator of Latin American art
and archaeology at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History.
A codex is a painted manuscript, made in pre-Conquest
Mexico of bark paper or plaster-coated deerskin with pages
that connect end-to-end, like a folding screen. Scholars say
that most codices are similar to farmer's almanacs, and were
likely used for tracking seasonal cycles, agricultural festivals
and religious rituals.
The Codex Borgia is unique because it is one of the few
codices from central Mexico known to have survived the Span-
iards' massive book burnings and destruction. But it is also
enigmatic. Though most of its 76 pages of pictographs and
glyphs have been decoded, the middle section from page 29
to page 46 has defied logical explanation ever since the codex
was rediscovered in Rome in 1805 among the possessions of
Roman Catholic Cardinal Stefano Borgia and acquired by the
"Everybody recognizes that it is a unique narrative sequence,"
Milbrath says, flipping through a life-size replica of the 11-inch-

Explore 37

by-11-inch codex. "That is why it has been difficult to interpret.
There is simply no other codex to compare it to."
But now Milbrath an archeoastronomer who studies
astronomical imagery embedded in archaeological artifacts -
thinks she has solved the riddle of the Codex Borgia.


At first glance, the Codex Borgia is a visual delight.
Reds, greens, blues and oranges leap off the centuries-old
pages. Beautiful and grotesque expressions adorn humans
and gods who appear to be characters in a narrated story.
Elaborate and colorful counting systems frame certain pages,
documenting time. Even the untrained eye can immediately
appreciate that only a sophisticated culture with a complex
belief system could have created such an inventive work. But

which culture and when?


Milbrath has been fasci-
nated with the Codex Borgia
for most of her professional
life. In 1989 she published
a chapter in an academic
book, "Imagination of Mat-
ter: Religion and Ecology in
Mesoamerican Traditions,"
suggesting that pages 29 to 46
documented real seasonal and
astronomical cycles within
their intricate imagery.
"At that time, I suggested
that we were looking at a year

...,~:~. ., IM .i-r uI- says, "and that Venus was very important
in the imagery, and that the people who created it were track-
ing a Venus cycle over the course of a solar year."
Milbrath sought to link that Venus imagery to the planet's
known astronomical cycles, but at the time she was missing
two key elements: the time frame the codex documented, and
which central Mexican culture had made it.
These pieces of the puzzle were necessary in order to search
data for what the night sky would have looked like at a certain
point in time, from a certain vantage point on Earth. Back
then, scholars disputed which central Mexican culture had
produced it. And though they knew it was created before the
Spanish Conquest, they weren't sure of the exact years it was
meant to represent.
In the intervening decades, new evidence has mostly
settled these questions. In 1991-1992, a team of archaeologists
working in Ocotelolco in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico -
uncovered murals containing artwork identical to the Codex

Borgia. Even better, they were dated to the same
pre-Conquest time period as the codex.
"I think the murals provide irrefutable evidence
that the Codex Borgia originated in Tlaxcala,"
Milbrath says. She visited the murals in 1993 and
said she was immediately convinced that the same
people who had produced them had also painted
the Codex Borgia. She said that most scholars
today agree on this point.
Historically, the Tlaxcala nation-state was
surrounded by the Aztec Empire. The Tlaxcala
endured periodic raids by Aztecs who captured
their warriors and dragged them to Mexico City
for ritual sacrifice, which they believed would
relieve famine. The Tlaxcala and Aztecs shared
the same nahuatl language and used similar
calendars for agricultural festivals and cycles of
religious rituals, but the neighboring groups held
starkly different beliefs, Milbrath says.
When the Spanish arrived, the Tlaxcalans
struck an alliance with the invading Europe-
ans. The Spanish burned and sacked the Aztec
empire, but left the Tlaxcala unmolested. It was
this alliance that ultimately led to the Codex
Borgia surviving the Spanish Conquest, whereas
Aztec codices did not.
While Tlaxcala gave Milbrath a place and a
cultural context for her theory, it wasn't until 1999
that a leading scholar identified the time frame
the Codex Borgia represented. Tony Aveni an
astronomer and anthropologist from Colgate
University who is considered a founder of Meso-
american archaeoastronomy determined that
the manuscript documented the 52 years between
1467 and 1519.
The new, widely accepted contextual infor-
mation a time frame and a location gave
Milbrath the missing data needed to revisit the
Borgia's cryptic meaning.
Careful examination of the glyphs and images
in the Codex Borgia and Milbrath's years of
work with Mayan codices led her to believe
each of the 18 pages in the narrative sequence
corresponded to one of the 18 festival periods the
Tlaxcalans and the Aztecs used to track their solar
years. These ancient cultures had an agricultural
calendar called the "xihuitl that was based on
18 "months" of 20 days, with each month corre-
sponding to a festival.

38 Fall 2008



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Venus is an easy target to spot. The planet shines so brightly
in the night sky that it is clearly visible to the naked eye. From
Earth, Venus seems to disappear from the sky when it passes
in front of or behind the sun, and these two phases of seeming
invisibility are known to modern astronomers as inferior and
superior conjunction. But the ancients would not have known
this. In their cosmology, Venus passed from the sky to the
underworld and back.
Venus was very important to the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans
alike, Milbrath says, and scholars know from multiple lines of
evidence that its astronomical cycle was often shown pictorially
as a male Venus god acting out different scenes.
When the ancient Tlaxcalan's depicted Venus's absence
from the sky, they showed him in a skeletal form, undergo-
ing death, and passing into an underworld. When Venus
reemerged in the morning or evening sky, the god emerged
from the underworld, refleshed and alive once again.
Using these accepted interpretations of the Venus cycle,
Milbrath carefully tracked the astronomical imagery on pages
29 through 46, mapping them under her hypothesis that each
page represented one "month" in the Tlaxcala solar calendar.
She was particularly intrigued by the imagery on page 40,
which depicted nine different incarnations of a Venus god
in the sky around a ray-studded disk cut by red wedges that
spurted blood. Milbrath remembered seeing a similar depiction
on a later Aztec codex showing a series of eclipses.
"There it was all this time, and we just didn't know what it
meant," Milbrath says. "No one had ever interpreted this page
as an eclipse event. But then it became quite clear ... they were
telling us that Venus became visible during the eclipse event,
during the day, at a time when ... Venus had already moved
into the darkness of the underworld."

Milbrath next designed a test for determining exactly which
year the 18-page sequence documented. She created a list of
six astronomical events she'd identified in the codex: the solar
eclipse and various transitions in Venus's cycle. She arranged
these in a rough chronology based on the premise that each
page in the sequence represented a month and then compared
this chronology of events against astronomical data spanning
from 1350 to 1521, but paying special attention to the years
within Aveni's 52-year time frame of 1467 to 1519. She needed
to find one year within this framework where the historical
astronomical data matched the rough chronology of astronom-
ical events she'd extracted from the Codex Borgia.
The Tlaxcalans started their calendars during the month of
the winter solstice, so Milbrath used this as a starting point to
test key years known to contain solar eclipses. Only one year
matched the eclipse event's chronology precisely. Beginning the
18-page calendrical sequence of the Borgia in the month of the
winter solstice of 1495 led the August 8th eclipse of 1496 to
land squarely on page 40, which contained the eclipse imagery
Milbrath had decoded. The intervals of the Venus cycle within
the year 1496 also matched the pictorial transformations of the
Venus god depicted in Borgia's chronological imagery.
Her results strongly suggest that the most cryptic section of
the Codex Borgia is a pre-Conquest month-by-month docu-
mentation of the year during which the most important solar
eclipse of the era is known to have occurred.

"It's an elegant solution because it's simply so logical," Mil-
brath says, reflecting on the strength of her findings. "Page 40
was the key. No one had previously interpreted it as an eclipse."
Only time will tell if scholars will embrace this newest
interpretation. But Aveni, the esteemed Mesoamerican
archaeoastronomer, has already given it his stamp of approval.
"I have great respect for Susan Milbrath's work," Aveni
said in an e-mail. "Her interpretation of B29-46 appeals
to me for two reasons. First it is a real-time study, which I
believe is the proper framework for many of the almanacs
and tables in the codices. Second, it works. The Venus/
eclipse references fit the iconographic/calendrical data. Will
it hold up? Who can really answer that one? I think it's solid
work. She has thought about, explored and expanded on it
for a long time. Presentations of it have generally been well
received. That's about all one can ask."
In modern times, it's difficult to conceive of living in such
intimate connection to the natural rhythms cycling around
us. Most people probably don't know the current moon phase,
much less when or where Venus will next rise. But to the
ancients, like the farmer in the field, such celestial details were
the marrow sustaining human and spiritual life. And they
painted it all in their marvelous, mysterious books. 0

Susan Milbrath
Curator, Florida Museum of Natural History
(3352) 392-1721



Origin of the
Codex Borgia

j. -

Expl. .r 41


Entomology doctoral student
Court Whalen holds up several
rows of butterfly pupae. These
soon-to-be butterflies were raised
at the Rearing Lab of the Butterfly
Rainforest at the Florida Museum
of Natural History. The species
shown are Blue Morphos and
Banded King Shoe Makers.

Doctoral Student Promotes

Nature Through Travel

hen Court Whelan finally made it to the Pacific
island village after two jostling hours in a tiny
airplane, one of the first things he saw was a pack
of crouching, creeping zombies.
He flicked on his high-definition video camera and start-
ed filming as they surrounded a hapless family. When the
family fled in terror, the creatures, shaking their massive
heads and clacking their long fingernails, started toward
Whelan and his group.
Whelan was thrilled.
The UF graduate student had just filmed a traditional
"mud men" dance of a tribe in Papua New Guinea. Leg-
end says the tribe had reclaimed its land after an attack
by painting their bodies white, wearing masks and
emerging from the cemeteries to terrify their captors.
"It left an impression on me that I will never
forget," he said.
TWhelan is a doctoral fellow in UF's entomology
program and the general manager for Expedition Travel,
an agency that organizes educational trips for the Florida
Museum of Natural History.
He is also the first graduate student in his specializa-
tion ecotourism entomology, which promotes the study
and conservation of insects through tourism. The program
was Whelan's idea, but it became a reality with the help of

entomology professors Tom Emmel, Jaret Daniels and John
Through Expedition Travel, Whelan organizes six to eight
trips a year to study wildlife around the world.
Whelan has led ecotourism trips to Belize, Mexico, Pana-
ma, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and Madagas-
car. When he's not taking classes or traveling, he makes films
and postcards from his footage.
In Mexico, he's filmed hundreds of millions of butterflies
blocking out the sun as they crowded into just a few acres of
land. The flit of their collective wings produced a powerful
whoosh, Whelan remembers.
"It's more moving than just about anything you can imag-
ine," he said.
Whelan said his two favorite places are Madagascar and
the Galapagos Islands. Many of the animals in these places are
found nowhere else on the planet.
On the Galapagos Islands, he was able to snorkel next to
Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas and sea lions that blew
bubbles underwater at him. Because the islands are home to
very few natural predators, the animals have almost no fear of
Whelan wants to make more moments like these, which
most people see only on the Discovery Channel, available to
"I'm just enthralled with the natural world," he said.
Lindsey Robinson

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