Ireland in 1916: the Rising, the War and controversial commemorations

May 2, 2016
Jessica Harland-Jacobs

History professor Jessica Harland-Jacobs comments for The Conversation on how the role of Irish soldiers in World War I had been all but forgotten – until now.

This week marks the centennial of the Easter Rising – the armed insurrection that would trigger nationalist Ireland’s final battle for independence from Great Britain.

The first of July will mark another centennial, that of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history, in which over 3,500 Irish soldiers were killed.

For 100 years, the Rising has occupied center stage in the historical memory making of republican Ireland and the global Irish diaspora. But the role of Irish soldiers in World War I had been all but forgotten – until now.

As a historian of Ireland and the British Empire, I seek to understand not only these events themselves, but also the discrepancies in the ways they have been studied and remembered.

Why has it taken so long to see their interconnections?

The Rising that shook the empire

On April 24, 1916, a band of radical republicans forcibly seized and held key positions in Dublin.

Frustrated by the failure of Britain to implement Home Rule – a form of devolved self-government, not unlike what Scottish “Yes” voters sought in 2014 – as well as by the Irish majority’s seeming contentment to remain within the United Kingdom, the rebels sought to awaken the Irish nation and wrest the country from Britain’s imperial grasp.

It was an opportune moment, the rebels reasoned. Britain was otherwise engaged – in fighting World War I, or what would become known as the “Great War” because it was quickly becoming the biggest and most horrendous war the world had ever seen.

The rebellion, at least in the immediate term, was a failure.

Inadequately armed with outdated weapons and vastly outnumbered, the rebels were no match for the British Goliath. They held out against the British counterassault for only six days. The leaders were quickly executed. Approximately, 1,800 Irish men and women were detained in prison camps in Britain. The Irish public failed to lend the rebels their support.

Nevertheless, the Easter Rising became the catalyst for Ireland’s final, successful struggle to extract itself from the union and the empire.

Due in large part to Britain’s heavy-handed response, the Rising helped spark the Irish War of Independence, which culminated in the partition of the island of Ireland and, ultimately, in the establishment of the Republic in 1948.

Remembering the Rising

For the last century, the Rising has been the subject of countless acts of remembering.

Memorials to those who sacrificed themselves for national independence pepper the cities and counties of Ireland.

Creative artists working in wide-ranging media have found fertile ground in its tragic heroism.

Poets, including those among the rebels themselves, have memorialized its events and protagonists in verse, the most famous of which was penned at the time by W.B. Yeats:

I write it out in a verse
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

This year, extravagant productions combining song, verse, image and dance are celebrating the Irish “Spirit of Freedom“ at home and abroad, performing, for example, at 56 venues across North America.

Rebellion, a new TV miniseries, a three part Irish-American documentary and a feature film, “The Rising,” all portray the Easter Rising on screen.

In terms of official commemoration, the Easter Rising stands as the centerpiece of the Irish Republic’s ongoing “Decade of Centenaries,” an extensive program of public and private commemorations of the landmark events that occurred between 1912 and 1922.

In many ways, the emphasis on the Easter Rising is appropriate. As the nonpartisan Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations acknowledges, “the State should not be expected to be neutral about its own existence.”

But with so much focus on the dramatic events of the Rebellion, it is easy to lose sight of some of the fundamental complexities of Irish history, in particular the fact that hundreds of thousands of Irish were fighting on behalf of the very empire against which the Easter Rebels took their stand.

Forgetting the war

Historian David Fitzpatrick estimates that there were 58,000 Irish soldiers, officers and reservists already serving in the British Army and Royal Navy when the war broke out in 1914.

A further 148,000 Irish recruits joined up during the war. British Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener created three “Irish Divisions” – the 36th (Ulster) Division for unionists and the 10th (Irish) and 16th (Irish) Division for nationalists.

Irish soldiers fought, suffered injuries and died in all the theaters of the war, from Gallipoli to Nablus. By the end of the war, unionists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics, were fighting side by side.

However, for most of the 20th century, Irish participation in the Great War was an unapproachable topic within the Republic of Ireland.

Memorials in Dublin’s Catholic churches were hidden away. The Irish National War Memorial Gardens were established only in 1948. They were the target of Republican bombs and allowed to fall into a dilapidated state.

Even among professional historians – both Irish and British – the subject of the involvement of Irish men and women in the First World War received scant attention, especially when compared to the extensive scholarship concerning the Easter Rising.

As Irish President Michael Higgins recently observed,

For years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state. Thousands of Irish war dead were erased from official history, denied recognition, because they did not fit the nationalist myth and its “canonical” lines of memory.

'Intertwined history' and 'ethical remembering'

This state of affairs is finally starting to change although, of course, exactly what to remember and how to remember it have generated controversy.

This state of affairs has finally started to change. Of course, given that grappling with Irish participation in the war presents “difficult truths”, exactly what to remember and how to remember it have generated controversy.

In 2010, then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen delivered a speech in which he expressed deep sadness over “the two parts of the island losing touch with each other and with our shared heritage.”

Cowen urged the recovery of shared interests, perspectives, and history – not only between the Republic and Northern Ireland but also, more widely, between the peoples of Ireland and Great Britain.

Queen Elizabeth’s 2011 state visit to Ireland and President Higgins' visit to Britain in 2014 – the first ever by an Irish head of state – were seen as promoting this way of remembering.

The notion of “shared history,” however, generated understandable criticism. It appeared to gloss over centuries of Irish oppression at the hands of the British as well as the extreme enmity and violence between nationalists and unionists for most of the 20th century. The Troubles alone cost 3,489 lives between 1969 and 1998.

What offers more promise are alternative ways of remembering such as “intertwined histories” and “ethical remembering.”

“Intertwined history” maintains the distinctions between unionist and nationalist, North and South, British and Irish but it acknowledges their histories as inextricably linked.

In a 2012 editorial remembering the Ulstermen’s 1912 rebellion in the cause of union with Great Britain, the Irish Times asked: “Can we find with the passage of time, in our growing understanding of the interconnectedness of our stories, in the sense that each plays into the other, transforming it in turn, a means of celebrating our different narratives?”

“Ethical remembering” is President Higgins’ term for how the Irish should be approaching their histories. Higgins, who is not only a politician but also a scholar and a poet, has become a tireless advocate for more sensitive, accurate and inclusive ways of remembering.

At the Abbey Theatre’s Theatre of Memory Symposium, he proposed the occasion of the centenaries as an opportunity “to re-appropriate the repressed parts of our history, to include in our narratives the forgotten voices and lost stories of the past.”

Such a project must involve, he argues, a reliance on the work of professional historians as well as an appreciation for historical complexity and a willingness “to examine more closely the entanglements between the Easter Rising and the Somme and the great dilemmas of those who were involved in these respective events.”

First steps

There is, in fact, already evidence of the Republic’s commitment to these alternative strategies for remembering.

In 1998, the Irish government helped sponsor the building of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium to commemorate the soldiers of Ireland who died, were injured, or went missing during the Great War.

In 2006, the government finally held an official commemoration ceremony for Ireland’s Great War dead.

The official Decade of Centenaries Programme includes many events exploring and commemorating all aspects of the war. Perhaps most significantly, many of Ireland’s prominent cultural institutions, such as the national broadcaster RTE and the National Library of Ireland, have embraced their role as custodians of Great War documents and memories and developed impressive websites devoted to providing public access to a wide range of primary sources.

It is a hopeful sign for Ireland’s future that it now seems possible thanks in large part to the peace process of the 1990s, recent scholarship and Irish leaders like President Higgins – to appreciate the intertwined histories of Irish republicanism and of Irish association with the British Empire.

The true test of Ireland’s commitment to “ethical remembering”, however, is on the horizon, when the centennial of the Irish Civil War arrives in 2022.

This article first appeared in The Conversation on April 24, 2016.

Society & Culture

Why more cities need to add up the economic value of trees

May 3, 2016
Jack Payne

Jack Payne, senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources and professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, urges urban foresters to celebrate trees as economic drivers and move beyond the false dichotomy of economy versus environment.

Your parents were wrong: money does grow on trees.

Cities routinely rake up tens of millions of dollars from their urban forests annually in ways that are not always obvious. Leafy canopies lower summer air conditioning bills, but more shade also means less blade to maintain thousands of acres of grass. Health-wise, trees contribute to lower asthma rates and birth defects by removing air pollutants.

Across the nation this Arbor Day, city foresters should celebrate trees as economic drivers and get past the false dichotomy of economy versus environment.

Portland, New York City, Milwaukee and Atlanta are among the cities that have quantified the payoff from pines and palms, olives and oaks. It’s part of a breakthrough in thinking among city planners in recent decades who now realize that a city runs not just on engineering, but on biology and ecology as well.

What’s a tree worth?

Tampa, Florida demonstrated that kind of thinking in moving its leading tree official, Kathy Beck, from the Parks and Recreation Department onto its chief planning team. Tampa approaches trees as part of a green public works system, the living equivalent of roads and bridges. It’s a case of what Beck calls “green meets gray.”

Part of how Tampa gets it right on trees is that planners can shield themselves from partisanship, protest and profit motives by relying on science to decide on what, where and how many trees to plant.

To get the biggest bang for tree planting and maintenance bucks, Tampa turns to my colleague, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences urban forester Rob Northrop, for information on which trees provide the greatest shade, which can be planted closest to sidewalks and parking lots without root growth buckling pavement and which species best withstand floods in a city already impacted by sea level rise. University of Florida scientists Michael Andreu, Andrew Koeser and Paul Monaghan and the USDA Forest Service’s Geoff Donovan have also provided valuable expertise.

Northrop and other natural resource scientists see intrinsic value in trees. But he recognizes the tremendous economic pressures communities are under, so he and economists collaborate to get at the straight-dollar costs and benefits.

The most recent study of Tampa’s trees estimated that they save the city nearly US$35 million a year in reduced costs for public health, stormwater management, energy savings, prevention of soil erosion and other services.

Drilling down even further, the University of South Florida has begun mapping individual trees. So planners know, for example, that the live oak on the 4200 block of Willow Drive has a 38-inch diameter and a $453 annual payoff.

Coping with urban growth

Through the painstaking work of compiling an inventory of a city’s green infrastructure, policymakers can make more informed decisions on where to focus resources.

Just as the most decrepit or most used roads get more attention, key trees might get pruned or watered more often. Tampa has assessed the health of trees that line its evacuation routes. This kind of information would have been valuable to transportation officials in the San Francisco area, for example, before a commuter train was recently derailed when it struck a fallen tree.

Other cities recognize the importance of urban forestry. The Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission, for example, is appointed by the mayor and City Council to oversee urban forestry. Portland, Oregon, has a Parks and Recreation Urban Forestry Division that manages and regulates 236,000 street trees and 1.2 million park trees.

But in general, few cities employ people with deep expertise in urban forestry.

The Society of American Foresters didn’t start accrediting university programs in the discipline until 2005. There’s not even consensus on a definition of urban forestry, though Beck, from Tampa, describes it as the science of addressing both people with tree problems and trees with people problems.

In coming years, the nation will continue to grow and urbanize. One study suggests that in the next half-century, seven million acres in Florida alone could convert from rural and natural to urban use.

The push into formerly natural areas will bring with it more impacts on trees. At the same time, we’ll need trees more than ever to create and maintain livable cities.

Let’s love our trees. More than hugs, they need science. The quiet efforts of planners and scientists are our best bet for green cities that inspire us to marvel year-round at the natural canopies above us and the ground beneath our feet. Happy Arbor Day.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on April 28, 2016

Society & Culture

Where in the world are UF's Gilman Scholars headed?

May 3, 2016
Alisson Clark

Thirteen University of Florida students will spend the summer studying abroad through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The scholarship is open to students who receive federal Pell Grants. Here's where they're headed:

Campus Life

UF researcher elected to National Academy of Sciences

May 4, 2016
Steve Orlando
Florida Museum, FLMNH

A University of Florida researcher is among 84 new members of the National Academy of Sciences and 21 foreign associates from 14 countries, the academy announced Tuesday.

The election of Pam Soltis, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF, is in recognition of her distinguished achievement in original research. Soltis joins more than two dozen UF members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of engineering and the National Academy of Medicine.

“This is an incredible honor, and I’m very grateful to the academy,” Soltis said. “It’s really a reflection of great collaborators, students and post-docs, and of the wonderful environment here at UF.”

UF President Kent Fuchs said he was proud of Soltis and her recognition.

“Pam’s work in genetics and biology has been truly groundbreaking,” he said. “The respect she has earned on the international stage is a testament to her contributions and leadership, and we are incredibly fortunate to have her at the University of Florida.”

Soltis’s research interests are angiosperm phylogeny, phylogeography, polyploidy and conservation genetics. Among her most cited contributions are papers on plant evolution and on the role of genetic and genomic attributes in the success of polyploids.

Soltis’s research is motivated by her passion for biodiversity, especially plants. She uses genomic methods and computational modeling to understand patterns and processes of plant evolution and identify conservation priorities.

Much of her current work focuses on plant diversity and conservation in Florida, but her research has taken her throughout the U.S. and Canada and to Costa Rica, New Caledonia, Spain, China and Brazil, and she presents her research at both national and international conferences. She is the author of over 400 publications, including seven books. Her work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Soltis is a dedicated teacher and mentor at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. At UF, she is director of the newly formed Biodiversity Institute and a member of the Graduate Council and the Genetics Institute’s Executive Committee and other committees. She has served her profession as president of the Botanical Society of America, president of the Society of Systematic Biologists, a Council Member of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and the Society for the Study of Evolution, and an associate editor of numerous journals.

She has received several awards for her contributions to the study of plant diversity, most notably the International Prize in Botany, the Asa Gray Award, the Botanical Society of America’s Merit Award, and in 2016 the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London, all jointly with her husband, UF Distinguished Professor Douglas E. Soltis.

Soltis received a bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and her doctorate from the University of Kansas. She joined the UF faculty in 2000, after 14 years at Washington State University.

Those elected to the National Academy of Science today bring the total number of active members to 2,291 and the total number of foreign associates to 465. Foreign associates are nonvoting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and -- with the National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Medicine -- provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Campus Life

How universal design can help every voter cast a ballot

May 5, 2016
Juan Gilbert

Juan Gilbert, Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Chair and associate chair of Research, Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department, describes his team is addressing the needs of the 30 percent of voters with a disability who reported trouble voting in 2012.

In the 2012 presidential election, 15.6 million people with disabilities reported voting, leaving people without disabilities to make up the remaining 110 million votes cast. The turnout rate for voters with disabilities was 5.7 percent lower than for people without disabilities. If voters with disabilities had voted at the same rate as those without a disability, there would have been three million more voters weighing in on issues of local, state and national significance.

In 2012, 30.1 percent of voters with a disability reported difficulty in voting at a polling place, as compared to 8.4 percent of voters without disabilities. People reported difficulty in reading or seeing the ballot, or understanding how to vote or use voting equipment. This disparity wasn’t supposed to exist after the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002. That law provided US$3.9 billion for states to upgrade their voting equipment after the issues in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Furthermore, the HAVA required every voting place to have at least one voting machine that is “accessible” to individuals with disabilities, so they could vote privately and independently.

So why, a decade after HAVA passed, did these problems still exist? With the HAVA funds and accessible voting machines, they were supposed to be solved – or at least much less common.

Problems voting

To figure out what was going on, my team and I investigated, speaking both to voters with disabilities and election officials. We learned there were various problems, such as voting machines not being set up, poll workers not knowing how to use the equipment and even that people weren’t sure how to operate various features of the machine, such as how to use the audio or the touchscreen interface.

But the fundamental problem is that voters with disabilities are being offered a “separate but equal” approach to voting. And, as ever, separate is not equal. When a voting place has a separate accessible voting machine, it’s not used as frequently as the primary method of voting. Therefore, poll workers don’t spend as much time using the accessible voting equipment. As a result of this minimal use, poll workers will forget how to set up the equipment and how to instruct someone with a disability how to use it.

In my estimation, the best way to remedy the disparity in voting between voters with disabilities and those without is to provide a voting machine that can be used by all voters, no matter their disability, or lack of a disability. This goal relies on “universal design” – the principle of designing a system or environment such that it has the broadest access for as many people as possible. For example, wheelchair ramps have a universal design because they can be used by people with wheelchairs and those who can walk.

One voting machine for all

The idea of creating a universally designed voting machine isn’t new. In 2003, our research lab created the first universally designed voting machine, called Prime III. At that time, conventional wisdom suggested that universal design was not possible in voting. Recall that the HAVA, passed in 2002, required just one accessible voting machine in each voting place. This was how lawmakers, election officials and voting machine experts conceived accessibility in voting. With HAVA funding long since run out, states and municipalities must find cost-efficient ways to expand voting access. One way to do this is to integrate accessibility into every voting machine.

With the Prime III, voters can mark their ballots using touch, voice or both. They can touch the computer screen directly, or use a keyboard, button switches, joysticks or other input devices to interact with the voting interface. Other voters can use a microphone and headset to respond to verbal prompts. These options allow people who cannot read, cannot hear and even lack arms to all vote on the same machine as someone with perfect sight, dexterity and hearing. It’s one machine for everyone, independent of their ability or disability.

After Prime III was developed in 2003, my lab’s research team conducted several experiments and elections to test its accessibility and usability. For example, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) used Prime III in its national organizational election. NCIL has members who have various levels of disabilities. Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) is an organization that represents people with cognitive disabilities or limitations. SABE used Prime III in two of its national organizational elections. This was a critical test for Prime III as the team used candidate pictures on the ballot to accommodate people with shortcomings in reading literacy. The election was very successful: the people running those elections told us there were no failures of equipment, everyone was able to vote, the results were accurate and when there were mistakes, they were corrected.

Other states have also vetted the system and found it useful. For example, in 2012, Oregon used Prime III in the presidential primaries. In 2014, the state of Wisconsin did a pilot with Prime III in two voting places. There were many other tests as well with the aging population, blind voters and children who could not read.

Giving it away for free

Prime III was the first, but many others are following, such as the ES&S ExpressVote.

In September 2015, Prime III was released as open-source software. This allows anyone in the world to download and use the Prime III software for free. They still do need to have a computer, printer and accessibility hardware such as a joystick and microphone, but our system works with a wide range of commercially available products.

People can also extend Prime III, such as making modifications to observe specifics of local election laws. For the February 9, 2016, presidential primaries, New Hampshire was the first state to use Prime III at every polling place. Initial results were positive, with vision-impaired voters telling news media that it was a major improvement over prior systems.

All New Hampshire polling places will use the system again in November’s general election, including for the presidential race. It will be the primary system for people who need an accommodation to be able to vote, but will also be available for use by voters without disabilities. That’s a big step toward the goal of having all voting machines usable by all people.

Universal design is necessary in voting. According to the US Census, one in five Americans has a disability. Even disabilities people might not think of as causing voting problems can: voting machines can be set up too high for easy use from a wheelchair, for example. It is every citizen’s right to have accessible elections; in addition, it is the law. Universally designed voting technologies will have the greatest impact in accomplishing this goal. Making independent, private voting accessible for all voters regardless of their ability or disability is achievable now.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on May 2, 2016.

Society & Culture

Should Florida ‘frack’ its limestone for oil and gas? Two geophysicists weigh in

May 9, 2016
Ray Russo and Elizabeth Screaton

UF geophysicists Ray Russo and Elizabeth Screaton provide context for the debate over whether fracking should come to Florida, a state with a unique geology and hydrology

Florida is on the front lines of a debate over the spread of the controversial drilling technique hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which raises a crucial question: are the state’s unique geology and hydrology safe for expanded oil and gas drilling?

Over the past several months, a number of counties and cities in Florida have banned fracking over environmental concerns. Earlier this year, the state legislature considered but did not pass a bill to regulate fracking at the state level, which would have superseded local bans.

So far, there has been at least one exploratory well in Florida using fracking, but the practice is not widespread. However, the question of how and whether to allow fracking is likely to come back up again, as early as next year.

How would fracking be done in Florida and what environmental and geologic questions are worth considering? A close look at the particular conditions of the Florida peninsula reveals a number of unresolved areas of concern.

Acid fracturing

In some respects, Florida is an unlikely site for this battle. Florida ranks 31st of the 50 states in energy production. The state currently has two regions with conventional hydrocarbon production – the Sunniland trend in South Florida and the western Panhandle. Hydrocarbons are stored within carbonate rocks, which are composed of limestone and dolostone in South Florida and carbonates and sand in the Panhandle.

Potential hydrocarbon reservoir rocks in Florida are distinct from shales – the layers of sedimentary rock in other parts of the U.S. where fracking has led to a drilling boom in natural gas and oil. The rock under Florida generally has a higher permeability, making it easier for liquids to move through it.

A fracas ensued when one company in 2013 tested fracking before receiving a permit in Florida, which resulted in a cease and desist order from the Department of Environment Protection (DEP).

The company used a technique known as acid fracturing, which is substantially different than what’s more commonly practiced elsewhere in the U.S. In this method, which is suitable only for carbonate reservoirs, acidic water is injected at high pressure into a well to dissolve the rock. Because carbonate rocks are highly soluble, acids can increase pore size and permeability, allowing oil or gas to flow.

What we know

Elsewhere in the U.S., fracking has gained attention due to its association with two hazards: earthquakes and groundwater contamination.

Fracking is a well stimulation technique that entails injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into oil and natural gas wells. The fracking fluid pressure breaks up the rocks hosting the oil and gas, increasing their permeability and allowing the oil, gas, natural brine in the rock (called produced waters) and fracking fluid to migrate quickly to the surface. The oil and gas make their way to market, and the fracking fluids are often recovered and reused.

However, the briny produced waters can pose a problem. They are too laden with dissolved salts to release on the surface, where they would constitute a major pollutant. So, these brines are generally reinjected into the Earth in very deep wells, called injection wells.

A growing body of research based on high-quality seismic data collected at surface sites around these injection wells clearly shows that voluminous wastewater injection affects seismicity. Earthquakes in Oklahoma and several other pockets of midcontinent U.S. – including two in Oklahoma with magnitudes greater than 5 since 2011 – have been associated with high-volume deep-well injection of wastewater, a byproduct of oil and gas production.

An additional problem associated with oil and gas production is the potential for contamination of drinking water and irrigation aquifers by either fracking fluids or produced wastewaters. Done correctly, production wells can be constructed and cemented to avoid the migration of fluids into the well. However, natural gas and chemicals used in fracking have been found in the aquifers of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, and poor drilling practices have been blamed for methane entering aquifers. Surface operations associated with drilling may also contribute to contamination.

As a result of the experiences in other states, the possibility of fracking in Florida has met strong opposition in some quarters.

What we still don’t know

What would the environmental impact of fracking be in Florida?

At this point, there are more questions than answers. The specifics of proposed fracking in Florida are complicated by the very different regional geology of the peninsula.

Much of Florida sits atop what is called a karst terrane, a geological formation characterized by a complex, highly permeable and porous carbonate aquifer system. The geology includes an equally complex set of less permeable rock units – called confining units – that are distributed within, around and throughout the aquifer system.

Key unknowns for Florida include:

  • Are there are extractable oil and gas reservoirs outside of the currently producing regions of the Panhandle and South Florida? The recent local bans include many regions with no confirmed oil or gas reserves. Shales exist below the carbonate rocks in some locations, but it is unclear if conditions were right for oil/gas to form in those shale formations.
  • Where are the faults that could produce earthquakes in Florida? Wastewater injection occurs in many locations, but earthquakes are much less common. Earthquakes due to wastewater injection require a combination of factors. First, there must be faults that can produce earthquakes and sufficient stresses. Second, there must be fluid pathways within the rock through which injected wastewater can increase the fluid pressure significantly. The locations of basement faults in Florida are poorly known, and although none have been known to generate earthquakes, their ultimate impact on seismicity in the state will depend on knowing their proximity to proposed locations of wastewater injection.
  • Where and how deeply will wastewater be injected? Currently, some of the wastewater from Florida’s oil and gas drilling is injected where it is produced, which are in zones below drinking water. In South Florida, the “Boulder Zone” lies above layers from which oil and gas are drawn and below the tapped ends of the Floridan aquifer system. This cavernous zone receives injected wastewater from oil and gas and from municipalities with little pressure increase. This could possibly indicate that induced seismicity may not occur even following rapid and high volume wastewater injection. Many other parts of Florida do not have such a permeable zone similar to the Boulder Zone, but the precise distribution of permeable and impermeable zones in the Florida subsurface is poorly known, so safe wastewater disposal is highly uncertain.
  • Florida’s geology is significantly different from Oklahoma, where there has been the most seismic activity. In Florida, wastewater injection has generally been above oil/gas producing zones. This means they are farther from deep formations. That could decrease the risk of earthquakes, since earthquake-producing faults occur in these deep formations in locations such as Oklahoma.
  • On the other hand, Florida’s practice results in wastewater injection closer to drinking water aquifers. The confining units within the Floridan aquifer system (FAS) have been extremely difficult to map and are highly variable in thickness and properties. A comprehensive effort to map these and zones of high permeability – which could be suitable for injecting and storing wastewater – and rapid groundwater flow would be a monumental task requiring full-time work from many geologists and geophysicists for decades. In other words, understanding with certainty how effective Florida’s geology is for storing wastewater from oil and gas drilling and its ultimate effect on aquifers will be a huge undertaking.

Furthermore, Florida cities have generally tapped shallower aquifers until now. However, as these aquifers become overused, deeper brackish to saline portions of the FAS are being considered as source of freshwater through desalination. These aquifers could be used to store freshwater during wet periods, which would be pumped later during dry times (aquifer storage and recovery). Thus, zones of water used for human consumption may approach those where wastewater would be injected.

  • What will be the impact of surface operations? More widespread production of oil and gas drilling with fracking can result in a larger footprint of operations and more opportunity for surface contamination. Florida’s karst geology contains sinkholes, as well as extensive cave systems, which allow rapid entry and dispersive flow of contaminants into the aquifer system. These karst features are obvious in North and Central Florida, where caves can be large enough to walk or swim through.

South Florida’s aquifers also have rapid flow. In a 2003 dye tracer study in the Miami region, dyes reached the Miami Dade County well field in hours rather than the expected days. Not only did the dye turn the water red, it exposed the vulnerability of Florida’s carbonate aquifers to contamination. Contaminants could reach irrigation and drinking water systems rapidly enough to pose economic and health risks before any effective warnings could be issued.

So although there’s been a sharp debate over fracking in Florida, the focus on “fracking” alone risks losing sight of the bigger picture. Florida’s aquifers are potentially vulnerable to injected wastes, contaminant migration through poorly sealed wells and from surface activities, regardless of whether fracking is involved.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on May 5, 2016.

Science & Wellness

Study shows pain causes older adults to develop more inflammation over a longer period of time

May 5, 2016
Morgan Sherburne

When older relatives complain about their pains, show a little empathy, because new research suggests that as we age, we may all become more sensitive to pain. A small, preliminary University of Florida Health study has suggested for the first time that inflammation may occur more quickly and at a higher magnitude — and stays around longer — when older adults experience pain versus when younger adults experience pain.

This could mean that older adults could be at risk for developing chronic pain and may benefit from taking anti-inflammatories soon after an injury or procedure, according to the researchers.

Older adults often have a certain level of chronic inflammation in their bodies. But UF researchers found that when they induced pain in older adults, proteins associated with inflammation increased more than they did in younger participants and stayed in the bodies of older adults longer. The researchers also found that anti-inflammatory cytokines, proteins that soothe inflammation, peaked later for older adults than younger adults. Their results were published in a previous issue of Experimental Gerontology.

“Older people go through painful procedures more often, and we wanted to research whether this accumulation of painful procedures or more acute pain episodes that older people encounter is bad,” said Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, Ph.D., MSPH, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research who also is affiliated with the UF Institute on Aging. “If you have enough of those in a shorter period of time, does this predispose you to have chronic pain?”

When older adults have this kind of elevated inflammatory response, they’re more likely to have pain generated in the periphery of the body — their tissue and limbs outside of the spinal cord and brain, said the study’s senior author Joseph Riley, Ph.D., director of the pain clinical research unit in the UF Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence.

“If older adults are more likely to have these pain messages sent through the spinal cord to the brain, and the nervous system is being adapted to go through these changes, they may become more pain prone,” said Riley, also a professor in the UF College of Dentistry’s department of community dentistry and the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of clinical and health psychology.

While the study does not establish whether accumulation of acute pain predisposes older adults to chronic pain, the researchers say their findings suggest this is a possibility, and it’s the first step in pain research to further understand the relationship between pain and aging. The researchers said the study’s sample size, though small, was more than adequate to demonstrate large differences between the older and younger adults they tested. The differences in inflammation within each group varied very little compared with the overall difference between the two groups, which suggests the populations they sampled were very different and there was little chance of sampling error, Riley said.

Cruz-Almeida and Riley studied eight healthy older adults, whose average age was 68, and nine healthy younger adults, whose average age was 21. None of the participants had illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. During an initial visit, researchers induced pain in the participants in two ways, either using heat applied to the feet or a cold ice bath.

The first session determined how sensitive the participants were to pain. Determining a tolerable temperature allowed the researchers to recreate the same amount of pain for each participant in the subsequent sessions.

Participants rated their pain on a scale from 1 to 10. The researchers were aiming to induce pain to a Level 4 — a level that created the painful stimuli the researchers needed, but didn’t dissuade the participants from returning for the other visits required in the study.

To study inflammation in the blood, the scientists inserted a catheter into each participant before inducing pain. That allowed them to collect the participant’s blood before the pain stimulus and then at three, 15, 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes after the stimulus. These blood samples allowed the researchers to study inflammatory markers in the blood, finding that older adults had higher levels of inflammation when pain was induced than the younger adults.

Riley said activation of the immune system and increased inflammation are not necessarily harmful, but it’s important to understand how the length of time the immune system is activated affects the body.

“We think that the longer you have the immune system activated, having these elevated inflammatory cytokines, the more this activation can alter the homeostasis of the body. Usually an imbalance like that can be associated with autoimmune disorders, which also increase with age,” Cruz-Almeida said. “But the truth is we don’t know what the direct implications would be. We think low-grade inflammation is related to endocrine abnormalities such as diabetes and the development of heart problems. … We need to keep looking and doing future research.”

Riley said immediate implications of the research for patients could be to attack pain quickly with anti-inflammatory medication.

“Early treatment of an injury even with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may be a good idea,” Riley said. “It’s those first few days of bombarding the central nervous system with pain signals that has a bigger effect (on the body).”

Science & Wellness

What you read affects your writing – so choose carefully

May 6, 2016
Warrington College of Business
reading, writing

Educators have studied the processes of reading and writing, and the development of skills in each area, but never how one influences the other. In a groundbreaking study in the May issue of the International Journal of Business Administration, University of Florida associate professor Yellowlees Douglas and graduate student Samantha Miller discovered strong correlations between the complexity of graduate students’ reading and their writing.

“You’d think someone would have studied these effects in adults long ago,” Douglas said, “but we were astonished to discover no one had.”

The study used tools that measure syntactic complexity and the Lexile framework to assess lexical sophistication, based on how commonly specific words crop up in over 100 million publications. Douglas and Miller surveyed UF’s MBA students on their regular reading materials, the number of hours they spent reading per week and the frequency with which they read fiction. Douglas and Miller then captured a paragraph from participants’ cover letters, an assignment every MBA student completes for a required course.

“We chose the same paragraph from the same assignment — the second paragraph from a job application letter,” Miller said, “to ensure students were writing for similar audiences and with the same goals for the assignment.” Then the pair ran samples from a single news story across all the sources students read through the same two programs that they used to study participants’ writing.

Students who read exclusively online content like BuzzFeed, Tumblr, or the Huffington Post had the lowest scores in robust measures of writing complexity, including lengths of sentences and sophistication of their word choice. Students who read academic journal articles or critically acclaimed fiction had the highest scores.

“We didn’t expect the length of time our students spent reading to be significant,” Miller said, “and it wasn’t.” But Douglas and Miller believe this outcome reflects graduate students busy with the requirements for an MBA, not regular reading habits. “Their reading habits probably matter over longer durations of time, since our most sophisticated writers reported reading recreationally only a few hours a week.”

Douglas and Miller guess that these effects may resemble what researchers have discovered in oral communication, that we mimic what we hear around us. Or that their study might reflect a kind of synchrony in communication, also well established in studies of speakers in conversation. Or their data might have captured a phenomenon called linguistic availability, where writers rely on their reading to supply fodder for their writing.

The takeaway here? “Try to read something well-written to get your news. I’d recommend The Economist or the Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker,” Douglas said.


Society & Culture

Deadly fungus threatens African frogs

May 6, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
biodiversity, climate change, Florida Museum of Natural History

Misty mountains, glistening forests and blue-green lakes make Cameroon, the wettest part of Africa, a tropical wonderland for amphibians. The country holds more than half the species living on the continent, including dozens of endemic frogs — an animal that has been under attack across the world by the pervasive chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Africa has been mostly spared from the deadly and rampant pathogen that wiped out entire species in Australia, Madagascar and Panama — until now.

University of Florida herpetologist David Blackburn and colleagues at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin have documented declines in frog species on Cameroon’s Mount Oku and Mount Manengouba over a span of more than 12 years. The scientists link the decline of at least five species of frogs found only in these mountains to chytrid, which may have been exacerbated by habitat destruction, pollution and climate change resulting in weaker and more susceptible frogs, said Blackburn, an associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“There’s been this perception that frogs in Africa are not affected by chytrid at all, but we have evidence of the disease in some animals,” said Blackburn, co-author of a new study appearing online this week in PLOS ONE. “This is the first real case of a decline across multiple amphibian species in Africa.”

The road up Mount Oku, the second highest mountain in Cameroon and an important center of amphibian diversity in Central Africa.​ Photo by David BlackburnStudy scientists collected and documented abundance and diversity of frog species living on the two mountains before and after the immergence of chytrid in the area between 2008-2010. The persistent pestilence latches onto the frog's skin, affecting the function of internal organs and quickly leading to death.

Blackburn said many of the once common species, like the bright red Cardioglossa manengouba, a frog he discovered and named during graduate fieldwork in the early 2000s, are now scarce and nearly impossible to find.

“It’s looking like some of these frogs may not be around by the time my kids are old enough for me to take them to Cameroon to see them,” he said.

While chytrid is to blame for most of the patterns of decline in frogs worldwide, Blackburn said scientists have linked the fungus to climate change, which may drive the emergence of chytrid in some places.

In studies exploring declines of amphibians in Latin America, University of South Florida herpetologist Jason Rohr has shown that unpredictable climate fluctuations associated with climate change can increase chytrid-related die-offs.

"Our research has shown there may be an underappreciated link between climate change, disease and biodiversity losses," Rohr said. “Global warming and the severity of unpredictable variations in temperature increase chytrid growth on amphibians.”

Blackburn said extreme temperature changes may affect the biology of the frogs by making them more, or less, susceptible to pathogens. He said this could easily be a factor in Cameroon, though he and colleagues have not yet collected enough data to make that call.

A view of the forests on Mount Oku where some frog populations now experiencing declines once flourished. Photo by David Blackburn​In captivity, frogs with chytrid are treated with an effective fungicide bath. In the Sierra Mountains of California, scientists have successfully released frogs inoculated with bacteria that make them less vulnerable to chytrid. But these methods are less practical in the mountains of Cameroon.

“Even if a cure was found, it would be hard to inoculate all of the individual frogs out there,” Backburn said. “Promoting a healthier environment in general for Africa’s amphibians in terms of water quality and habitat protection is our best shot for keeping these species around.”

Science & Wellness

From Royal Society to Rate My Professors, Christou shines

May 9, 2016
Aileen Mack and Alisson Clark

Distinguished Professor George Christou of the University of Florida chemistry department has had a banner year: First, he was named UF’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year for 2015-16. Then he was inducted into UF’s Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars. And today, the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom awarded him the 2016 Nyholm Prize for Inorganic Chemistry, putting him in the company of 47 Nobel Prize winners who have also garnered RSC honors. The Nyholm Prize is given every two years to recognize excellence by a chemist who has established a high quality and high impact research program in inorganic chemistry. Christou’s research is in molecular nanoscience, developing molecular routes to nanoscale magnets for use in new technologies such as quantum computing and spintronics.  

When he’s not making breakthroughs in the lab, however, he’s often found teaching freshmen General Chemistry II, a class he says is crucial to inspiring a love for the field.

We wondered what his students had to say, so we turned to the anonymous – some would say infamous – site Rate My Professors. Here are our favorites: 

 “class was amazing!! and he goes over the material very thoroughly to make sure everyone understands..... he’s great!!”

 “u can actually stay awake during lecture... he has an awesome english accent! If u have to take 2046... take his class... u won't regret it!”

 “Extremely straightforward, definitely knows what he's talking about, perfect pace, perfect difficulty level. I'm not doing very well in the course, but I still think he's great!

“Very intelligent and funny, makes corny jokes sometimes, but usually they are pretty funny. Attendance isn't required but I personally enjoyed the lectures. Would definitely recommend.”

“Nice guy. More chill than other professors.”

Campus Life

How do you design a home for someone with autism?

May 12, 2016
Sherry Ahrentzen and Kim Steele

Sherry Ahrentzen, a professor in UF’s M.E. Rinker School of Construction Management, writing with Kim Steele from the University of California Los Angeles, shows that while there is no “one size fits all” approach, a lot of little things – from colors to appliance noise – can make a big difference.

What if every time the bathroom fan buzzed, you became unhinged? Or you lived in a place where it felt impossible to avoid curious neighbors whenever you went outside? Or where the location of kitchen appliances made it feel like a combat zone every time you tried to cook a meal?

Only then might you start to feel like the many autistic adults who struggle to live in homes that don’t accommodate their needs.

Today, while the majority of adults on the spectrum live in the home of a parent or other family member, their caretakers are now wondering what will happen when they get older and can no longer take care of themselves – let alone someone on the spectrum.

Over the last decade, investments in autism research and interventions focused on children and adolescents have grown. In 2010 alone, nearly US$350 million funded research projects in the United States.

But autism is a lifelong condition, and just 2 percent of these research funds are focused on the needs of adults.

In the past, autistic adults had few options to live independently in a community. They’d often end up in developmental centers, nursing homes or intermediate care facilities. Only in recent years have families and professionals started to consider designing, developing and choosing residences in the community.

In order to respond to these specific needs, we recently wrote a book – “At Home With Autism: Designing for the Spectrum” – that provides a robust set of guidelines for architects, designers, housing providers, families and residents.

No ‘one size fits all’

There’s a saying in the autism community: “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”

In other words, there is no single set of characteristics for those on the spectrum. Each has varying degrees of difficulty with social situations, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

They could have a range of medical and physical issues – seizures, sensory sensitivities, sleep dysfunctions and gastrointestinal problems. Some excel in visual skills and pattern recognition, while others are especially adept at music, math and coding.

With all of this in mind, there’s no umbrella approach for housing those with autism. The best-case scenario would include a generous range of residential options – available within a single community – so that individuals could discover and choose which best suits them.

This, unfortunately, is not feasible, making it challenging to find a home that’s a good fit, especially when the options are so limited.

Planning for independence

Researchers, support providers and design professionals are only now starting to explore how to plan for individuals on the spectrum once they age out of the school system, including where they will live, how they can set up a home, and the best way for them to become members of a community.

For those at the beginning stages of planning for their autistic kids or grandchildren to move out of the house, the questions and concerns are manifest: is it better to live in an urban apartment, with the mix of services, amenities and vitality that cities provide? Or would they be better served in a gated community developed specifically for individuals on the spectrum?

What about roommates? Are there advantages to having them? If so, how many? And are there home technologies that can enhance security and independence without invading privacy?

Then there are the home’s layout, room sizes and configurations. Design aspects that most don’t think twice about can be a huge deal for someone with autism: proper lighting, wall colors and appliance noise levels need to be considered.

For those who haven’t cooked or cleaned before, the arrangement of countertops, the sturdiness of cabinetry, even how the water flows out of the kitchen faucet can be the difference between mealtime being a frustrating or satisfying experience.

A lot of little things can add up

Several years ago, a local autism organization asked us what was the best housing design for adults on the spectrum. We were stumped. So we began to sift through countless reports, personal accounts and emerging research studies on adults with autism that could inform us of better ways to design such residences.

We wanted to craft design guidelines for residential settings that would enhance key quality-of-life goals that are particularly important to those on the spectrum. They include sensory balance and being able to control privacy and social interaction, in addition to having choice and independence, clarity and predictability, and access and support in the neighborhood (to name a few).

With these goals in mind, we developed key criteria to assess the suitability of a home, outdoor space and community, and what design modifications might be needed to maximize its livability.

The guidelines encompass everything from big-picture suggestions at the level of the neighborhood to specific tips for individual rooms; they range from the community’s social life to the durability of household fixtures.

For example, to make it easier for individuals to assimilate into the community, when adding exterior features such as fencing, it’s important to make sure the materials and forms fit in with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood, and aren’t fortress-like or institutional-looking. In the yard, raised garden beds provide good opportunities for sensory-seeking people with autism to touch and smell plants.

Inside the home, predictability can be a big deal to some on the spectrum. Each room should have an obvious purpose, transitions between rooms should be smooth and their boundaries should be clear. This may help an autistic person establish routines and increase independence, while minimizing anxiety.

There’s also a wide range of technologies that can mitigate stress and promote independence. Installing an exit/entry system with a camera and intercom/telephone allows the resident to preview visitors before opening the door. Meanwhile, activity monitors and task prompting systems can help autistic people feel like they have greater control over their lives and more independence.

For those with sensory sensitivities, air conditioning and heating systems should be as quiet as possible. Ideally, they’ll be situated away from bedrooms to minimize disruption.

In the bedroom, closets with built-in organization systems and good lighting can help with daily dressing and grooming tasks, while in the bathroom, toilets should have heavy-duty seats and bowls to accommodate wear that could come from repetitive movements like bouncing.

Since requirements, needs and tastes of those on the spectrum vary widely, it’s necessary to work closely with residents. The importance of doing this cannot be overemphasized: a well-designed environment that addresses the needs and aspirations of individual residents might not only improve their quality of life and ability to live independently, it could also minimize long-term costs associated with relocating residents when homes aren’t a good fit.

This article originally published in The Conversation on May 11, 2016.

Science & Wellness

UF Innovation Station Sarasota County hires Al Carlson as regional director

May 12, 2016
Jen Ambrose

The University of Florida’s first engineering extension office now has its first director.

Allen “Al” Carlson, retired CEO of Sun Hydraulics, joined the new UF Innovation Station Sarasota County this week as its regional director. In this position he will work closely with the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering to serve the industry, residents and community of Sarasota County and the surrounding region bystrengthening economic and workforce development opportunities.

“Mr. Carlson has extensive experience in running a successful engineering and manufacturing company,” said Tom Harmer, Sarasota County administrator. “His background in workforce development, combined with his knowledge of our local community, will allow him to hit the ground running.”

The UF Innovation Station Sarasota County is the first physical extension office of the Florida Engineering Experiment Station, or FLEXStation – an arm of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering that is dedicated to strengthening Florida’s role in the global innovation economy. Carlson will be based in Sarasota and will work closely with the leadership team at UF.

For the past 16 years, Carlson has served as president and CEO of Sun Hydraulics, one of the largest NASDAQ listed companies in Southwest Florida, founded and based in Sarasota County. He has over 40 years experience in the fluid power industry and is one of the most recognized leaders in the region’s business community.

He is active on the boards of Sun Hydraulics Corp., Tervis Tumbler and Mayville Engineering Company, Inc., and is a regent at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He also serves on local and regional boards for Junior Achievement. Carlson is a graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

“The University of Florida’s engineering college is a highly acclaimed academic institution that focuses on leadership and innovation,” Carlson said. “I am pleased to become a part of UF’s Innovation Station and to help increase and improve the Sarasota region’s technical talent pipeline and future economic development. This initiative is important for both established companies, like Sun Hydraulics, and also for startups that need interns, technicians and degreed engineers.”

In addition to building student talent pipelines with companies in the region, Carlson will lead efforts to engage the entrepreneurial community with UF technology, link local companies to student design projects and prototype development programs, and build collaborations with the region’s existing academic institutions. His primary responsibility is to drive economic impact. 

“Al Carlson has played a key role in creating the Sarasota region’s innovation ecosystem for the past 20 years,” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “He also has a passion for providing opportunities for the next generation. We couldn’t ask for a better person to lead this initiative.”

UF Innovation Station Sarasota County launched earlier this year with public and private funding, including philanthropic support from two foundations in the region. Mark Pritchett, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, said Al Carlson is a “perfect fit” to lead the Innovation Station.

“This is a great opportunity to combine his passion for engineering and education from his previous work helping Junior Achievement, Project Lead the Way and the Sarasota Chamber’s Talent for Tomorrow. Al will bring the innovation and results we need to build a strong entrepreneurial culture in Sarasota,” Pritchett said.

Teri A. Hansen, president and CEO of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, said, “Our community is getting a world class leader. There is no one better to lead this effort.”

Carlson plans to expand the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County staff to include program coordinators focused on industry, workforce development and educational collaboration programs.

Read more about FLEXStation and UF Innovation Station Sarasota County.

Campus Life

When the seas rise: global changes and local impacts

May 16, 2016
Heather Dewar

The research of Jaret Daniels, UF assistant professor of entomology and a Florida Museum of Natural History expert on endangered butterfly conservation, is featured in this recent edition of Gatorbytes.

On a balmy day in early June, Jaret Daniels drove from Gainesville to Florida City in an aging Ford Fiesta with a backseat full of hope.

Packed into a lime-green cooler barely bigger than a lunch bucket were twelve living examples of one of the world’s rarest butterflies, tucked into individual translucent waxed paper envelopes to keep their fragile wings motionless and safe.

A bigger cooler held clear plastic cups, each with a wooden tongue depressor propped inside. Each stick supported a dust-colored pupa, resembling the dry leaf that nature had designed it to mimic.

Also in the backseat, inside a nylon mesh flight cage, were more pupae nearing the end of their transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Their wing cases were turning transparent as glass, revealing a vivid pattern: the black of the night sky streaked with sunset colors of yellow, orange, and blue.

Two big butterflies were in the process of eclosing, the word lepidopterists use to describe butterflies’ emergence into the world—or in this case, into their temporary habitat in Daniels’ back seat.

The flight cage was there to give the butterflies room to stretch and form their brand-new wings. Still, at least once on the southbound drive, Daniels had to pull into a Florida Turnpike rest stop to park, pluck a butterfly out of a tight corner where its wings couldn’t fully open, and place it on a better perch within the net enclosure.

The first hour when the wings take shape is crucial to the insects’ survival. And when you are working with the only human-reared population of the critically endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly—a creature so elegant it has graced a U.S. postage stamp and so rare that in 2012 a thorough search turned up only four of them, all on a single island in Biscayne National Park—care is warranted.

“I’m dealing with precious things,” said Daniels, a University of Florida assistant professor of entomology and a Florida Museum of Natural History expert on endangered butterfly conservation. “I’m the only person allowed to breed this endangered butterfly in captivity and handle it. I’m entrusted with their care, and I don’t take that lightly.”

Like the island chain it inhabits, the Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly is a living embodiment of the tropical Caribbean that strayed onto the North American mainland and made itself at home. This resilient creature has made it through two of the worst hurricanes on record, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and countless other storms. It has survived at least two recent population crashes and may now be making a human-assisted comeback.

But like most creatures that exist only on low-lying islands, the Schaus’ swallowtail is in danger of losing its habitat to rising seas. And there’s another peril: if rainfall patterns change in Southeast Florida, the spurt of early rainy season plant growth that sustains each new generation of caterpillars may come too late or not at all.

If those biological cues are mistimed too many years in a row, the butterfly could disappear for good.

To read more of the story, go to http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=DEWAR008 and download the complete text, available from University Press for $14.95.

The stories chronicled in GATORBYTES span all colleges and units across the UF campus. They detail the far-reaching impact of UF’s research, technologies, and innovations—and the UF faculty members dedicated to them. Gatorbytes describe how UF is continuing to build on its strengths and extend the reach of its efforts so that it can help even more people in even more places.

Gatorbytes is available from University Press of Florida [URL: www.upf.com] and can be found wherever books and ebooks are sold.

Science & Wellness

Bugs are his job

May 13, 2016
Cecilia Mazanec

Lyle Buss’ office is filled with bugs.

They’re in his drawers, under his desk and on his work space. But he isn’t worried. Buss, 46, is the manager of the Insect ID Lab at the University of Florida’s Steinmetz Hall, where he says he receives several insects per day from people around the state.

Buss has worked at the office for 15 years. He works alone, at a desk covered in papers and pastel sticky notes showing his working progress of identifying samples. His job is to use his resources — taxonomy books, a microscope, other entomologists and his own experience — to identify the insects in his mail.

He pulls out a large box from underneath a desk and grabs a cardboard tube. Some type of insect, dead or alive, sits inside, waiting to be identified. He usually receives samples from homeowners, pest-control professionals and people at county extension offices. Sometimes the insects are alive, smashed onto tape or in a photo sent to his email, he said. Most often, he’ll see ants, termites and spiders. But people usually know that much. They send him bugs to know if what they found on their driveway or in their backyard is harmful or beneficial. If the bugs cause damage, people need to know how to manage them. But people may spend money on pesticides to rid themselves of bugs that are actually helping them out. For example, there are about 220 kinds of ants in Florida. When Buss is sent a sample, he has to find out what type of ant it is to know what it feeds on and, if it’s causing harm, how to find the nest.

Although it’s an ID lab for insects, people have sent in snakes, snails and slugs, which he identifies using his connections to experts in those fields. To identify the species of bugs he receives, he looks at various body parts under the microscope at a high magnification. For some insects, however, his method of action is waiting it out. Sometimes, he’s sent larvae or caterpillars in the mail. Because he can’t yet tell what type of insect they are, he takes them home to try and rear them to the adult stage, he said.

He opens drawers in his office to show insects pinned in a display box with an identification written in tiny black letters on a tag below them. He gestures to the many insects on display that he had raised. But he also likes to look closely at bugs from behind his camera. The other half of his job is to take photographs of insects for an online archive. If he walks past a tree to see a caterpillar feeding on it, he’ll photograph it along the way. He also takes photos of the insects he raises. His screensaver on one of his computer screens at his desk shows a diamondback moth on a leaf that had grown from a caterpillar under his care. Even before his job, he found collecting and rearing insects to be fun, he says.

“It’s the kind of thing where my hobby is my job,” he says. “What more could I ask for?”

Campus Life

Study proves removing beach debris increases sea turtle nests

May 16, 2016
Brad Buck

Conventional wisdom says removing beach debris helps sea turtles nest; now, as sea-turtle nesting season gets underway, a new University of Florida study proves it.

Clearing the beach of flotsam and jetsam increased the number of nests by as much as 200 percent, the study shows, while leaving the detritus decreased the number by nearly 50 percent.
Sea turtles are classified as either endangered or threatened, depending on the species. Restoring their nesting habitats is critical to keeping them alive, said Ikuko Fujisaki, the study’s lead author and an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
With humans encroaching on their natural habitat, sea turtles face an uphill climb to stay alive, said Fujisaki, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, but they rely on sandy beaches to reproduce.
From May 1 to Sept. 1 of each year, from 2011 through 2014, Fujisaki and her colleagues conducted an experiment along the Gulf Coast near Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. They sought to understand the effects of large debris on sea turtle nesting activities. The study area has one of the highest nesting densities of loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The debris in the area were both natural, such as fallen trees and stumps, and man-made, including concrete, pipes and metal fencing that remained on the beach after old military structures were demolished.
During the experiment, researchers recorded locations of nests and false crawls, defined as the number of times that sea turtles emerge from the Gulf waters but do not lay eggs. Researchers also removed large debris. They found sea turtle nests increased where scientists removed debris.
After researchers got rid of debris, sea turtle nest numbers increased 200 percent, and the number of false crawls increased 55 percent, the study showed. In beach sections where debris was not removed, the number of nests declined 46 percent.
“Our results showed that the presence of large debris on a sandy beach could alter the distribution of sea turtle nests by influencing turtle nest site selection,” Fujisaki said.
Fujisaki’s findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

Science & Wellness

UF's Kratzer selected for ROTC Hall of Fame

May 19, 2016
Paul Bernard

Dave Kratzer, vice president for student affairs at the University of Florida, has been selected for induction into the 2016 inaugural class of the U.S. Army ROTC National Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame induction is awarded to alumni whose character and distinguished service epitomize the qualities Army ROTC embodies. This year’s induction ceremony coincides with the organization’s Centennial Commemoration Ceremony.

Kratzer retired from the Army in 2006 with the rank of major general. He continues to support the military veteran community through various volunteer roles including serving as chair of the Military Advisory Committee for the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program and senior mentor to the UF Collegiate Veterans Society.

Since 2012, Kratzer has served as vice president for student affairs at UF, where he is responsible for developing and leading effective student services and programs. He will retire from his position in June.

The induction ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. on June 10 at Fort Knox, Ky.


Campus Life

Can Puerto Rico escape its $72 billion debt trap and avoid Greece's fate?

May 18, 2016
Brian Gendreau

Brian Gendreau, director of UF’s Latin American Business Environment program, explains the consequences of Puerto Rico’s failure to pay bondholders and discusses options it could consider to resolve its financial situation.

To almost no one’s surprise, Puerto Rico missed a US$422 million debt payment earlier this month, triggering fears among investors that additional defaults are on the way and increasing pressure on Congress to act.

The warnings that this would happen could hardly have been louder. The major credit rating agencies long ago cut Puerto Rico’s $72 billion in debt to some of the lowest levels. Its bonds have been trading at steep discounts to their face value for several years. And in December, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla told the U.S. Senate that his government had “no cash left” and would need to restructure its debt or face “disastrous” consequences.

And this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited the island with a similar message, urging lawmakers to act and highlighting the crisis' human toll.

The warnings thus far, however, have fallen on deaf ears, leading to this month’s inevitable default. The only question is – as it has been for a long time – how to resolve the crisis before it spins out of control.

At stake is years of falling incomes and house prices, chronic unemployment and lost economic opportunities – typical outcomes of unresolved debt crises, as citizens of Greece can attest.

No easy way out

Debt crises are typically contentious and take a long time to unwind.

I’ve been researching financial crises for 25 years, and several unique features promise to make Puerto Rico’s especially messy. These include years of economic decline, no standing in U.S. bankruptcy courts and hedge funds intent on seeking to collect as much possible in a lawsuit.

At this juncture, resolution of the crisis without action from Washington is hard to imagine.

How did Puerto Rico get to this point? And what options remain to avoid disaster?

Economic shocks

For decades, Puerto Rico, a largely self-governing U.S. territory, had a vibrant economy. Real income per capita more than doubled from 1975 to 2006, growing at a 4.2 percent annual pace, much faster than in the U.S. or Latin America over the same period.

But the commonwealth suffered a severe economic shock in 2006, when Congress allowed tax breaks encouraging businesses to set up on the island to expire. The result: factories closed and job losses followed.

Next came the 2008-09 financial crisis and recession, which hit Puerto Rico especially hard. Its economy has contracted every year but one since, resulting in the loss of more than a third of manufacturing jobs and driving unemployment to as high as 17 percent in 2010. Economic output is expected to decline at least through the 2017 fiscal year.

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can move to the mainland in search of jobs, and the island’s population has been falling as thousands have done just that, leaving the commonwealth with a lower tax base.

These shocks, together with chronic budget deficits, put Puerto Rico on an “unsustainable trajectory of financing gaps" with no end in sight.

Surging debt levels

But how did Puerto Rico’s economic crisis spiral into a debt crisis?

Puerto Rico bonds enjoy what is known as a triple tax exemption. That means interest investors earn on the bonds is exempt from federal, state and local taxes, giving them higher after-tax yields than similarly rated debt.

Normally, the triple tax exemption is available only to those who live in the state or city that issued the bonds. But buyers of Puerto Rico’s bonds get the exemption regardless of where they live, which made them popular with tax-exempt mutual funds, hedge funds and wealthy individual investors.

That meant there was always plenty of demand for the debt, even as Puerto Rico’s budget deficits worsened and its economy contracted – problems that required ever more borrowing to pay the bills. As a result, its debt burden soared to 89 percent of personal income, about nine times that of the most heavily indebted U.S. state by that measure (Hawaii).

How can we get out of this mess?

The first step in resolving any debt crisis is to recognize that a loss has occurred and that without changes in policies or external intervention, it is likely to get worse. In Puerto Rico’s case, this is no longer in question.

The only real issue now is how the loss should be split among Puerto Rico’s creditors, its residents and taxpayers in the mainland United States. Here Puerto Rico government’s options are limited.

Its access to the bond market has been cut off, so further borrowing is out of the question. With another $2 billion in debt payments due in July, the government says that paying creditors would require cutting essential public services.

What’s more, bankruptcy is currently not an option because neither Puerto Rico nor its municipalities are eligible for protection under Chapter 9.

So what options are left to deal with the crisis, at least in the short term? Here are a few of the main ones under consideration:

Provide a bailout. A federal bailout could be devised to cover losses on Puerto Rico’s bonds, but it’s highly unlikely because neither the White House nor Congress has any appetite for it. The concern is, in part, that it would set a precedent for financially troubled states. The federal government has not come to the direct assistance of a state since it assumed their independence-related debts in 1790. Barring an outright bailout, Congress could modify some federal programs for the island, something the Obama administration appears interested in doing. Under current rules, Puerto Rico receives less from Medicaid than states and no Supplemental Security Income.

Change the law to allow bankruptcy. Congress could amend Chapter 9 to allow Puerto Rico and its cities to declare bankruptcy. Treasury Secretary Lew has expressed support for this approach. Legislation has been introduced to do just that but has run into opposition from some hedge funds and other investors. In December, an effort to bring one of the bills to a vote failed.

Establish an oversight board. Nearly everyone involved with Puerto Rico’s crisis agrees on the need for fiscal and economic reforms, though not necessarily on how to implement them. Puerto Rico’s government has already cut the public pension system, hiked taxes and laid off government employees, but the budget’s red ink continues to flow. Recently, House Republicans has been in negotiations with the White House over legislation calling for a federal control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances. But some Democrats oppose such a board, arguing that it would infringe on the island’s sovereignty.

Restructure the debt. The resolution of a debt crisis often involves convincing investors to take a loss on their holdings. The Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, for example, did not end until the Brady Plan provided cut the amount countries owed by an average of 30 percent. The outlook for a debt deal is in doubt, however, because hedge funds have been buying Puerto Rico’s debt in an apparent effort to use U.S. courts to force a favorable settlement – as happened recently over Argentina’s 2002 default.

Long-term challenges and way forward

Solving the debt crisis, however, is only a first step toward resolving Puerto Rico’s problems. It must also find a way to sustainable economic growth, which inevitably means becoming more competitive.

A group of former International Monetary Fund economists issued a report last summer in which they argued that Puerto Rico needs to alter labor market practices to lower the costs of doing business, for example by temporarily exempting companies from the federal minimum wage and easing rules governing overtime, vacations and layoffs. They also advocated cutting federal welfare benefits, noting that those benefits can provide a disincentive to work for low-wage workers.

A more long-term-oriented strategy would be to build on the island’s strengths, such as its well-educated workforce. Almost 49 percent of Puerto Rico’s population has some college education, making it one of the best-educated work forces in the world. Another advantage is a credible legal system (especially relative to its Latin American neighbors).

These strengths suggest that Puerto Rico could grow by increasing support for high-value industries like finance, management and software rather than competing to lure low-wage producers. Singapore and South Korea are two examples of countries that successfully followed a development strategy of moving up the value-added ladder.

But to follow such a strategy, a more favorable business climate is needed. According to the World Bank, Puerto Rico ranks 47th out of 188 countries in terms of ease of doing business (the U.S. is 7th), and is particularly weak in ease of paying taxes, registering property and obtaining construction permits.

The Jones Act, meanwhile, hurts business by requiring that cargo shipped between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. ships. An exemption from the act would help Puerto Rico develop as a regional hub.

While there seems to be consensus that reforms like these are necessary, they will take time to implement and bear fruit. And before we can tackle Puerto Rico’s long-term problems, we must first find a way to resolve its debt crisis.

Time is not on our side: Latin America’s debt crisis took a decade to resolve, and Europe is still struggling with aspects of its debt crisis, six years on. Let’s hope Puerto Rico’s doesn’t take quite as long.

This article appeared originally in The Conversation on May 11, 2016.

Global Impact

These wearables know when you’re bored

May 18, 2016
Alisson Clark
tourism, eric friedheim tourism institute, technology

High-tech tools help a UF researcher discover what makes a destination memorable

The glasses Jamie Kim uses in her research might look dorky, but they’re designed to help you have more fun.

Kim, a researcher in the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, uses high-tech eye-tracking glasses to determine what parts of an attraction capture visitors’ attention. She’s one of a handful of researchers worldwide pairing the glasses with a wristband that measures your emotional state. Together, the wearables reveal how what you’re looking at makes you feel, which can help design better experiences in everything from theme parks to nature parks.

When you put on the glasses – which look a bit like the bygone Google Glass– eye-tracking technology shows researchers what you’re looking at and how long it holds your interest. ‌It’s more than just a frame-mounted camera, which would only show where the glasses were pointed, not where your eyes were focusing (at the sign nearby, the horizon, or down at your phone, for instance). These glasses actually evaluate your eye movement to determine where you’re focusing your gaze and attention. Meanwhile, the wristband measures emotional arousal by tracking the electric activity on your skin. When you see something that engages your interest, researchers can see corresponding peaks in readouts from the devices, which are sent wirelessly to their laptops as their study subjects move through the attraction. By combining this data with GPS tracking, the researchers can create a heat map showing what people found the most interesting, guiding the fine-tuning of that attraction and the design of future experiences.

Jamie Kim at Sweetwater Wetlands Park, where her research is helping design a better visitor experience.

“Where are visitors really intrigued? Where did they get bored?” Kim said. “When we analyze the data across multiple participants, we’re able to answer those questions.”

The data can even tease out details such as confusing signage: When participants spend too much time reading a sign, or their eyes keep wandering back to read it again, there’s a good chance the message isn’t coming through as intended, she said.

Kim and her colleagues have used the technique – which she calls iMotion – on trolley tours in St. Augustine and at Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, where their work is shaping the planning of trails, viewpoints and interpretive signs. She’s also using iMotion to evaluate responses to tourism ads.

“This has lots of potential to improve our knowledge of how to design tourism experiences,” Kim said.

Society & Culture

Man-eating monster crocodile may be Florida’s newest invasive species

May 19, 2016
Stephenie Livingston

Spotting native alligators and crocodiles in Florida is common, but anyone who sees a large reptile may want to take a second look— man-eaters that can grow to 18 feet long and weigh as much as a small car have been found in the Sunshine State.

Using DNA analysis, University of Florida researchers have confirmed the capture of multiple Nile crocodiles in the wild.

The ancient icon eats everything from zebras to small hippos to humans in sub-Saharan Africa. Now three juveniles of the monster crocodile, have been found in South Florida, swimming in the Everglades and relaxing on a house porch in Miami.

The invasive crocodiles were captured between 2000 and 2014, leading UF scientists to analyze their DNA, study their diet and one of the animal’s growth. Scientists verified the animals were Nile crocodiles linked to native populations in South Africa, and confirmed the species can survive in Florida—and potentially thrive, said Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

In other words, there likely are more.

“The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely,” said Krysko, co-author of the study published in April in the Journal of Herpetological Conservation and Biology. “We know that they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know that they grow quickly here and we know their behavior in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida.”

Nile crocodiles, Crocodylus niloticus, were responsible for at least 480 attacks on people and 123 fatalities in Africa between 2010 and 2014. They are generalist predators and eat a wide variety of prey. In Florida, everything from native birds, fish and mammals to the state’s native crocodile and alligator would be fair game for the carnivorous croc.

The study found one juvenile grew nearly 28 percent faster than wild Nile crocodile juveniles from some parts of their native range.

DNA analysis revealed the three similar-size Nile crocodiles were genetically identical, suggesting they were introduced via the same source, but Krysko said the source has not been confirmed. Prior to graduating in 2013, former UF doctoral student and co-author Matthew Shirley extensively sampled DNA of live Nile crocodiles housed in U.S. zoos, including Florida. The DNA of the three crocodiles did not match any of those Shirley sampled, suggesting they were either acquired by a permitted source later, or introduced by someone without a permit.

Study scientists note that over the last decade, large groups of Nile crocodiles have been imported from South Africa and Madagascar for display at places like Disney’s Animal Kingdom and to supply Florida’s flourishing pet trade, with the latter being the most likely introduction pathway, according to the study.

While there is currently no evidence of an established population, study scientists recommend a scientific risk assessment to evaluate the potential for Nile crocodiles to breed and spread across the state. According to the study, Florida’s Atlantic coast and the entire Gulf of Mexico coastline provide favorable climate for Nile crocodiles.

Florida’s subtropical climate is one reason the state has the world’s largest number of invasive species—from the Burmese python that has invested the Everglades to the Cuban tree frog, which has been found as far north as Jacksonville on the East Coast and as far north as Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast.

“My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone’s eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state,” Krysko said. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa.”

Science & Wellness

Puffs casts a spell on UF School of Theatre + Dance

May 25, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann

The University of Florida’s School of Theatre + Dance is spreading a little magic this season as it stages a sardonic but heartfelt comedy bound for an off-Broadway debut in the fall.

Puffs, alternately titled Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, is a collaborative effort featuring students in UF’s Summer Repertory Theatre program and a New York-based creative team. Performances on campus will be June 2-5 in the Black Box Theatre in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion.

Joining the team is School of Theatre + Dance alum and two-time Tony Award-winning producer John Pinckard. Managing partner of the commercial theatre production company Tilted Windmills Theatricals, Pinckard worked with UF students last summer on the well-received comedy Volleygirls.

Director of the School of Theatre + Dance Jerry Dickey said the summer program is designed to focus on UF as an incubator of new and developing works in theatre and dance, offering student actors the opportunity to work with a team of professionals for four weeks.

“The School of Theatre + Dance is honored to host this special residency as part of our Summer Repertory Theatre program,” Dickey said.

Playwright and visiting artist Matt Cox describes Puffs as a witty parody that tells the story of Wayne Hopkins, a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and travels to a school of magic, where he is placed in a group of loyal and good-intentioned misfits called the Puffs. The seven years he spends at the school are fraught with dangerous situations as he tries to learn magic and avoid a four-eyed nemesis.

“It has a lot of heart and dramatic soul under all the silly moments,” Cox said. “It’s also a look at growing up, and growing up as not the cool kid in school.”

Director Kristin McCarthy Parker, who has worked with Cox on Puffs since its inception, said the development process is the next step toward doing another version of the show.

“It’s really exciting for us to see how the show translates through (the students),” she said. “It’s a bit of a playground, and I love to work in that setting where things are sort of rapid-firing and coming at you very quickly.”

For the student actors, “very quickly” is an understatement.

Kristina Johnson, a second-year student in the Master of Fine Arts in Acting program, said the eight-week production timeline typical for UF shows was reduced to a brief three weeks.

“It’s interesting to take what we’re learning in school and apply it in a way that we would when we graduate,” she said.

Kacey Musson, a 21-year-old theatre student, said the summer program, including the master classes offered by the visiting artists, gives UF students an education advantage.

“This is an experience I don’t know how many other universities can do,” she said. “We’re getting professional attention we may not get otherwise.”

After working through five-hour rehearsals and an ever-changing script, Musson looks forward to applying lessons learned from the show to her professional career. 

“Hopefully we’ve influenced the production team and made the show better,” she said. “And hopefully when we graduate we’ll be the alumni who have that experience and can give back the same experience that was given to us.”

Tickets for the UF production are $18 for the general public, $15 for UF faculty/staff and seniors, and $13 for students. Tickets are available through the University Box Office located at Gate 3 of the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Gale Lemerand Drive (next to the Heisman statues), by calling 352-392-1653 or at ticketmaster.com.

The University Box Office is open Tuesday through Friday, noon-5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets also can be purchased at the Constans Theatre Box Office starting 45 minutes prior to the performance. Puffs is not suitable for children.

The Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion is located at 687 McCarty Drive. Parking is available at the Reitz Union garage and the Museum Road parking lot.

For more information, visit http://arts.ufl.edu/in-the-loop/news/puffs-casts-a-spell-on-the-university-of-florida-school-of-theatre-dance/.

Campus Life

Florida Museum professors receive
international biology award

May 26, 2016
Elizabeth Brown

Two Florida Museum of Natural History professors have received the 2016 Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London, considered one of the top international awards given to researchers studying evolutionary biology.

Distinguished professor, Florida Museum curator and University of Florida Biodiversity Institute director Pam Soltis and Doug Soltis, distinguished professor in the Florida Museum and the UF department of biology, received the award from Linnean Society President Paul Brakefield at the group’s headquarters at the Burlington House in London. The Soltises are principal investigators in the Florida Museum Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics and researchers with the UF Genetics Institute.

“This is an incredible honor, particularly that Doug and I were selected as joint recipients,” Pam Soltis said. “We are humbled by this award and that colleagues consider us worthy of it.”

The award is given for major advances in evolutionary biology, and has been presented annually since 2010, previously only being given in 1908, 1958 and 2009.

“Pamela and Douglas Soltis richly deserve the award of the prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal for their groundbreaking studies of the evolutionary diversification of the flowering plants,” Brakefield said.

The Soltises began working at UF in 2000. Pam holds a doctorate in botany from the University of Kansas and Doug holds a doctorate in biology from Indiana University. Their work includes identifying how major groups of flowering plants are related to each other, and they have both received numerous awards and grants.

“It’s humbling when you see the names of previous recipients,” Doug Soltis said. “It’s a huge honor and quite a surprise.”

Fellows of the society nominate individuals for the medal, and the society’s 20-person council of scientists and professors selects the recipients.

“How gratifying it is to think that two evolutionary biologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History should be honored as recipients of the celebrated Darwin-Wallace Medal,” Florida Museum of Natural History Director Douglas Jones said. “They certainly rank among the most productive and influential evolutionary biologists and molecular geneticists of the 21st century.”

The medal was originally awarded to recognize the 50th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s paper “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection,” published July 1, 1858.

Campus Life

Florida consumer sentiment continues downward in May

May 27, 2016
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians fell another 1.6 points in May to 89.4, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey. This reading is lower than the previous 12-month average, trending downward for the third month in a row.

Of the five components that make up the index, three decreased and two increased.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago show the greatest increase, from 80.4 to 85.2, a 4.8-point jump. Expectations of personal finances a year from now rose 1.9 points to 103.1.

Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as an appliance or automobile plummeted 8.6 points, from 101.4 to 92.8.

“This pessimistic perception is the main force behind the overall decrease in Florida’s consumer sentiment index this month and is shared by all Floridians, independent of their age, gender or income,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the two groups exhibiting the most drastic change in perceptions as to whether this is a good time to make a big household purchase are the elder population and those with annual income less than $50,000.”

Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year dropped 4 points to 81.6, and expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years decreased 2.1 points, from 86.2 to 84.1.

Both short- and long-run expectations of the U.S. economy have fallen in the past two months. However, this month’s negative expectations are accompanied by a substantial decline in readings on current conditions.

“It’s unlikely that Floridians are delaying the purchase of big household items because they expect a better deal. Rather, it seems to be an indication of unfavorable opinions about the economy,” Sandoval said.

Since the third quarter of 2013, Florida has experienced positive annual state gross domestic product growth rates, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Also, in the first quarter of 2016, Florida hosted a record number of 29.8 million tourists, reflecting positive economic conditions in U.S.

For almost six years—69 consecutive months—Florida’s labor market has experienced positive annual job growth. Further, the Florida unemployment rate declined in April from 4.9 to 4.8 percent, according to the latest employment report.

“Despite the positive trends in Florida’s economy over recent years, Floridians tend to have pessimistic economic expectations about the future,” Sandoval said. “These negative expectations might be associated with the slowdown of China’s economy, which experienced its slowest quarterly pace since 2009. But they might also be a result of the uncertainty associated with the upcoming presidential election, as its outcome will have important consequences for U.S. economic policy.”

Conducted May 1-22, the UF study reflects the responses of 416 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Society & Culture

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