From late 2010 until mid-2019, I was based in South Florida, where I worked in various capacities on large reptiles in the Everglades, especially the invasive Burmese python.
I worked as a technician for UF's Croc Docs, then as a contractor for USGS. I did my Master's research on Burmese pythons at UF under the advisement of Dr. Christina Romagosa from 2014 – 2016. I finished my time as a Scientist III, again contracted to USGS, where my responsibilities were mostly data analysis and management.
Burmese pythons have likely been established in the Everglades since at least the mid-1980s, and they have been widely recognized as a problem since around 2000. I began working as a research technician on the problem at the end of 2010, first with the University of Florida Croc Docs, and then with the Kristen Hart lab at USGS.
I returned to school and began taking courses for my Master's degree in Fall 2014. My research focused on the spatial ecology of Burmese pythons. I am interested in environmental factors that are predictive of python activity, and also in GPS biologging technology.
My Master's thesis research at UF focused on python spatial ecology. I had three main objectives:
First, I wanted to evaluate the use of GPS technology to study large snakes.
GPS technology has proven extremely useful in studying other taxa, but GPS often relies on having a clear view of the sky. Miniature tags, implanted under a python's skin, might not perform well when pythons select for dense vegetation cover (Smith et al., 2018).
Second, I wanted to understand fine-scale movements of pythons in relation to environmental conditions.
The crux of the whole python problem is simply that pythons are extremely hard to find. They are most detectable when they are out moving, therefore understanding their movement patterns is crucial for developing control techniques. I'm interested in how habitat, weather, and biological rhythms interact to influence python movement patterns, and ultimately, in predicting them.
Third, I wanted to understand how python resource use changed across the vast landscape of southern Florida.
Pythons have had extreme impacts in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, most notably by devastating mesomammal populations. Previous work has looked at python gut contents, but I wanted to get a complementary picture of how pythons consume resources, so I turned to stable isotope analysis, in collaboration with Dr. Amanda Demopoulos.
OTHER PYTHON WORK
I also worked on many other aspects of invasive python science with UF and USGS. I have worked extensively on python spatial ecology using traditional VHF radio telemetry, including using the "Judas" technique as a potential control tool, and python translocation. I have worked on developing eDNA for detection of large constrictors in the Everglades, on projects assessing python impacts to native mammal and snake communities, and on construction and development of a python research facility in Davie, FL.
The majority of my non-python work was with sea turtles. I worked on USGS sea turtle projects annually since 2011. Our field sites included Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida), Buck Island Reef National Monument (St. Croix, USVI), and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (Alabama).
Other smaller projects that I contributed to included diamonback terrapins, American alligators, and American crocodiles.