Hi everyone, my name is Adia Sovie, and I am a PhD candidate from the University of Florida.

My MS research was on the impact of Burmese pythons on mammals in the Everglades.

The focus of my PhD research at UF was the ecology and distribution of grey and fox squirrels.

I have worked around the world (in Antarctica for example!), and my interests include invasion ecology, predator conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and the Red Sox!

I also like to curl up and read with my cat, Kidiri (Swahili for squirrel!).

I am doing this as part of an AMA series with the University of Florida/IFAS Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

My previous AMA


Comments: 56 • Responses: 17  • Date: 

eldjnd4 karma

Does the research really support pythons getting larger in size over the past 10 years or so within the Everglades?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

Hi and thanks for the question!

The record for largest snake captured in the Everglades was broken this April. That girl was 17 ft long and 140lbs! However, the majority of snakes captured are 2-3m in length (6-9ft).

To my knowledge there are no published studies looking at changes in body condition, although that would tell us a lot about how they are doing in the wild. As scientists we actually expect the snakes to get smaller as their population grows and competition for food gets tougher. There is evidence that the line of pythons that invaded the Everglades interbreed with Indian pythons (P. molurus) while in captivity. This may result in the snakes in the Everglades growing to a larger size than their native wild relatives.

Xxmlg420swegxx4 karma

If you had the infinity gauntlet, would you snap your fingers with it? What would be your wish?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs14 karma

I think it's pretty clear that Thanos was not an ecologist.

Most of the problems I work on can't be solved with a single snap. Cats -I'd undo the domestication of cats....

iammaxhailme4 karma

What's an under-represented ecological challenge (I.e. one that people dont talk about much)?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs11 karma

The focus of my PhD is on a problem called biotic-homogenization. I think this is a neglected problem in conservation. As humans we change our environments in fairly predictable and repetitive ways. We build roads, create lawns and golf courses, we suppress fire, we introduce dogs and cats, we create water sources, we plant tress that remind us of home, ect., ect. These changes often result in a limited number of species (or species that share the same trait) coming along with us for the ride. These species can then effect wildlife that live outside of our human footprint. I study how the gray squirrel (the ubiquitous resident of city trees all over) move in and take over from fox squirrels once humans start to change the structures of forests. So while the forest still has the same number of species (1 squirrel replaces another) we are in truth poorer because we are replacing specialists with generalists that do well near us.

iammaxhailme4 karma

survival of the cutest, I guess

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

In my opinion fox squirrels are much cuter

eldiabloconqueso3 karma

I've read recently about an infection bats can get that makes their nose white. I think it was caused by a fungus? Have you encountered this in your studies and is there any known cause or treatment?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs4 karma

White-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans or Pd for short. The fungus was brought here from Europe sometime before 2006. Pd loves cold wet caves and can disrupt bat hibernation. If bats are woken up from hibernation they use up precious energy and often die because they cannot find food in the winter. Pd has caused the deaths of millions of bats over the last 10 years.

I have never seen Pd myself. However, I work very hard to keep myself from spreading the fungus. I bleach all of my equipment after entering a cave or touching a bat. I also never transport gear I use in "infected" zones to "clean" zones. Luckily there are promising advances in trying to fight the disease including sanitizing caves.

littlereptile3 karma

What was your path to your Master's and then PhD?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs5 karma

Hi and thanks for the question!

I had a long road, mostly because I got distracted along the way. I got my BS at UMass Amherst in Environmental Science. While there I did a semester abroad in Kenya and really feel in love with wildlife conservation. I was a senior at the time and rather than switching majors my adviser suggested I volunteer on field projects and then apply to grad schools (in a year or two). He set me up with an internship with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and from there I was off.
I took field job after field job and had a blast doing it so it took me about seven years to get around to the second bit of advise my adviser gave me (go to grad school). I applied to masters positions that were fully funded and included field work with large predators. These positions are highly competitive so it took me a few years to get in and I ended up in the McCleery lab at the University of Florida.

I worked insanely hard on my masters, I spent 14 months in the Everglades chasing down rabbits. When I got back to UF I got to work publishing my research and had three papers published when I started to think about what was next. I decided that I loved what I was doing - getting paid to learn - so I decided to stay on for a PhD. I landed a fellowship that allowed me to do my own research and ask my own questions about the human-wildlife interface and conservation. Now that I am finishing my PhD I am looking for a University to call home and build my own lab in.

littlereptile2 karma

What do you think is the most effective method of python removal fro. the Glades, and do you think we could at some point remove them all?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs5 karma

There are a lot of very smart people looking into python removal and control. We have/are developed(ing) cool ways to capture them including judas snakes; pheromone traps;modified tomahawk traps; toxicant drops; and dogs.

I believe we can make portions of the Everglades snake free and reestablish native wildlife. However, I think total eradication is unlikely.

shrike19782 karma

What are the native numbers looking like currently? I've read numbers as high as 90% reduction in native wildlife in some areas.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs2 karma

It is pretty dire for some critters in areas of south Florida. We monitor mammal populations using game cameras and scat counts (yes - poop). Using that information we know that marsh rabbits are extirpated in the heart of the invasion area. However, not all species respond the same, while species like rabbits, raccoons, and skunks are hard hit, coyotes and cotton rats seem to not be affected as dramatically.

lancehol2 karma

Something I've been very curious about because of the invasive species problem with the pythons have there been any known populations of dangerous species e.g. cobras, mambas, etc. I'm curious due to the number of escaped cobras that have happened around the country with as far as I know all being found. What concerns me is with the ease of acquiring these highly venomous species and knowing how things work there are without a doubt a lot of underground collectors who operate without the proper licensing I have no doubt that there have been escapes that have gone unreported. What is your thought on this?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs5 karma

Luckily there is a concept in ecology called "propagule pressure". This means that you need A LOT of individuals introduced for one to actually survive and take hold. At the time of their introduction Burmese pythons were one of the most popular imported reptiles with almost 99,000 individuals imported between 1999 - 2006. Exotic venomous snakes are far less popular. Also, snakes (even exotic ones) do not pose a danger to people. There are no documented incidents of pythons biting a "civilian" and most bites from non-native venomous snakes are suffered by people improperly handling the animal

littlereptile1 karma

What's your favorite meme?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs5 karma

StealthyMage1 karma

Do you have any suggestions on how to get involved with this type of work? I live in South Florida tucked right up next to the Everglades and the local wildlife is a source of peace and inspiration for me. I'm leaving behind the IT industry, with a bachelor's in computer information systems nonetheless, because I can't work shut up in a building without windows for 8 hours a day and sit in a cubicle. That said, I have no professional experience in your field other than my own hobbies of amateur nature photography and wildlife video creation. Do you have any advice for someone who would be entering your field at the entry level?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs2 karma

There are a lot of opportunities to get involved in south Florida. Check out Everglades National Parks volunteer program

FloxxiTheCat1 karma

I'm in the ecology/evolutionary biology undergrad program at CU-Boulder, starting in August. Any general advice for an incoming student? (ex: things to prepare for or things to avoid)

I've always been intrigued by reptiles, especially crocodilians. I read that several Nile crocodiles were found in the Everglades. Is there any risk that they could become an invasive species?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs2 karma

My advise to students is to take advantage of the resources available to you. There are amazing graduate students and professors who work at universities but maybe don't teach lower level courses. Find them, ask how to get involved in their labs - even if it is cleaning out fish tanks (I did this in a lab at UMass). Also, make connections with your teachers and TAs - you will need them to help you make connects and get jobs one day (also, they are cool and interesting to talk to). Finally, enjoy Boulder! Don't let school and pressure keep you inside all the time - float the creek, hike the flat irons, run the Boulder Boulder!

Djentarlong1 karma

How does someone from an undergraduate degree in management make his way into the field of conservation?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

Having a degree in management might be a big help if you want to get into wildlife! So much of wildlife conservation and research is managing people - working with stake holders, getting everyone to agree on a plan, managing money, ect. Use that to your advantage!

The best way to get your foot in the door in conservation is to get involved! Volunteering or getting a seasonal job for the summer can really give you a boost to getting a job. For those jobs all you need is a good attitude, a willingness to get dirty, and a pair of boots. Check out The Texas A & M job board for opportunities.

CynicalMuse-131 karma

Have you done any research on the Marianas fruit bat?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs1 karma

Unfortunately, no. Would love to tho!

sko721901 karma

When you got your master’s, did you know what you wanted to study?? I have my bachelor’s in ecology but I don’t know where to go from here! How did you decide what you wanted to specialize in? Any advice for people who want to be an ecologist but aren’t quite there yet?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

When I got my masters I knew I wanted to study mammal conservation. The exact topic (invasive pythons and native mammals) was something I hit upon by accident. The USGS and NPS wanted someone to study the problem so they provided funding to my adviser to recruit a masters student. In my field a masters degree is also like a job, I got paid to conduct the research the park wanted. As a PhD student, I applied for and won a fellowship so the University pays me and I can study whatever I want. I am glad I did it both ways, as a masters student it would have been very overwhelming to come up with my own specialization and as a PhD student I am much more confident in my interests.

My advice to aspiring ecologists is to go out there and get dirty, it will require taking some risks and not making a lot of money at first but it pays off eventually. The best way to get your foot in the door in conservation is to get involved! Volunteering or getting a seasonal job for the summer can really give you a boost to getting a job. For those jobs all you need is a good attitude, a willingness to get dirty, and a pair of boots. Check out The Texas A & M job board for opportunities.

mattluttrell1 karma

This is fascinating topic for me. Thanks!

What other invasive species are on the brink of becoming a real issue in Florida? Can the python issue be resolved? Are they affecting other species such as Eastern Diamondback?

I'm visiting Orlando/Daytona in a week. What are would you recommend for a day trip hike to see native animals?

Edit: I see you mention eradication is unlikely.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

It's really hard to predict what species will turn out to be a problem where! There are a few new species might turn out to be big problems, they include cane toads and black & white tegus

It is incredibly hard to study competitive interactions between invasive species and native predators. It is unclear what (if any) effect pythons are having on native snakes. Pythons (and other imported reptiles) may bring novel disease that can harm native snakes and herps.

IckySweet0 karma

I assume the invasive species Burmese pythons are here to stay. No way to remove them all without destroying the everglades. They must pretty much eat any creature they can catch & hold. Do you think the largest could be able to catch a person someday?

How fast is the species spreading across the USA? Have they spread father north to the keys and close island countries? How about northern Florida and the closer warmer states? I assume the salt water seas are somewhat a barrier, but creatures could always be spread by storm debris or transportation hidden in cargo.

What about an industry to 'harvest' these snakes? The skins have a value and even the meat is said to be 'similar' to chicken in mildness. perhaps as pet food? what do you think?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs1 karma

The exact extent of the potential spread of pythons is highly controversial. Some papers that incorporate climate change suggest that they may spread up to Washington, DC while other studies that use different metrics suggest that python habitat is limited to south Florida and parts of Texas.

We do know that pythons are limited by cold and need refugia to survive harsher winters north of Florida. However, we also know that pythons are capable of using burrows for refuge during cold snaps are are highly adaptable. This leads me to believe that pythons could expand into the Southeast, Texas and California. Also, they don't mind salt water