Wildlife Research and Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration: Danny and Gretchen Caudill

Danny and Gretchen Caudill share a passion for wildlife conservation and currently work together on a large scale game bird research project.

 

Danny Caudill holding a wild turkey

Danny Caudill

Upland Game Bird Research Biologist
Wildlife Research
Lovett E. Williams, Jr. Wildlife Research Laboratory
Gainesville, FL

 

Degrees/Certifications:

B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences with a minor in Forestry, University of Tennessee

M.S. Wildlife Biology, Utah State University

 

Experience:

I actually began my career right here at FWC, where I was a technician on the Babcock-Webb Quail Research Project.  I then went to the University of Tennessee and majored in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, which laid a strong foundation for me in wildlife management.  While at UT I worked for several agencies and gained invaluable experience (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Valley Authority, and US Fish and Wildlife Service).  After finishing my undergraduate degree I went straight to graduate school (Utah State University) and studied juvenile sage-grouse in south-central Utah.  USU was a phenomenal institution that instilled a strong background in applied wildlife research.  After graduate school I worked on the Deepwater Horizon (Mississippi Canyon 252) Oil Spill Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) capturing great egrets.  I then was hired by Jim Rodgers to lead gamebird research for FWRI’s avian research subsection, where I currently reside.     

 

What are you working on now? 

At this exact moment I am working on answering this question. More generally I am working on a coyote diet project and a wild turkey breeding chronology project.  The coyote project has expanded to include a much broader scope including not only diet, but several other factors: body size variation and what causes it, heartworm load and previlance, and population genetics.  The wild turkey project focuses on how breeding activity varies across the state, and how harvest effects movement and behavior. 

 

How is this information beneficial? 

The coyote project will help answer many of the questions our stakeholders have:  Why are coyotes in urban areas?  How big are coyotes and are they bigger in the eastern US than in the Western US?  What do coyotes eat throughout the year?  Why do I see black (melanistic) coyotes and what causes this?  The list could go on for awhile.  The turkey project will help us manage harvest of the species by informing how turkeys respond to harvest and how their breeding activities vary across the state.   

 

What is your typical work day like? 

It really depends on the time of year.  For a few months in the winter we trap all the turkeys we study throughout the rest of the year.  So in January and February I spend a lot of time sitting in a blind waiting for turkeys to show up so we can catch them.  The rest of the year I am usually around the office performing other job duties.  I spend a good amount of time writing, reviewing, or providing rebuttal for scientific manuscripts in one way shape or form.  I also spend a lot of time managing data and performing various analyses.  

 

What is your greatest career accomplishment? 

Convincing my wife to marry me.  Not only did I get a phenomenal partner in life, but professionally I have a full time sounding board with immesuarble insight into ecology and an incredible editor.

 

What are some of your biggest challenges? 

Sample sizes.  It turns out a lot of wildlife isn’t to keen on being captured and subsequently measured, followed, and otherwised studied.   

 

What do you like most about your career? 

I enjoy the opportunity to help influence wildlife policy and management for the good of the people.  I grew up spending massive amounts of time outdoors (e.g., camping, hunting, fishing, hiking), and I really appreciated that others had set aside public lands and managed resources such that I could enjoy them.  Being able to help ensure access to natural resources for current and future generations is the most rewarding aspect of my career.

 

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not? 

Yes, for the reasons outlined in the previous question.

                                                      

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science? 

I didn’t think there was an opt out of science option in life.  If there is please tell me where to sign up because there are several aspects I would like to opt out of like ageing and dying.  Its like taxes, you can try to evade, but sooner or later you are going to get caught.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Find a university with a good program in natural resources (e.g., Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management) that will built a strong foundation in wildlife management.  While in an undergraduate program volunteer and intern at every opportunity.  Get an advanced degree from a program that requires a thesis and collection of field data toward that thesis.  The exposure to the field and agencies that this type of program requires will serve you well throughout your career regardless of whether your career takes you down the applied research or management route.  At some point in your education focus on quantitative skills (statistics).  Learn to program in some way shape or form whether it be a general-purpose programming language (e.g., python) or a more specific interpreted one (e.g., R).  Programming will be invaluable in managing large amounts of information and synthesizing/analyzing it.  However, do not prioritize technical skills (e.g., statistics, programming) at the expense of ecological knowledge.  The right answer to the wrong question is of little use.     

 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I enjoy spending time exploring outdoors with my wife.

 

Gretchen Caudill holding a black bear cub

Gretchen Caudill

Wildlife Biologist
Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration
Fish and Wildlife Health
Lovett E. Williams, Jr. Wildlife Research Laboratory
Gainesville, FL

 

Degrees/Certifications:

B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences with a minor in Forestry, University of Tennessee

M.S. Wildlife Biology, Utah State University

Associate Wildlife Biologist certified by The Wildlife Society

 

Experience:

The University of Tennessee gave me phenomenal building blocks to be successful in conservation.  During undergrad, I took technician positions with the Wildlife Center of Virginia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Tennessee Valley Authority. After receiving my B.S., I moved to south-central Utah to begin a Utah prairie dog habitat and survival research project. After completing my MS, I worked a stint with Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Louisiana and South Carolina researching oil spill implications for great egrets. After which, I came to FWC to work in wildlife conflict in the Southwest Region, before taking a position with the Wildlife Health team in Gainesville.  

 

What are you working on now? 

My main job is working with the Wildlife Health Team out of Gainesville on terrestrial wildlife health issues throughout the state. I am also conducting food habits research on Florida panthers and working on a large scale coyote research project with Danny Caudill, FWRI’s Upland Gamebird Researcher and my all-time favorite scientist.

 

How is this information beneficial? 

The coyote research, in particular, is very important to answer some previously unanswered questions about coyote ecology in Florida. Stakeholders in Florida have recently expressed concern regarding the abundant coyote population in Florida and to directly address those concerns through current research is really exciting. When completed, we will better understand the food habits of coyotes in Florida and how food habits change on an urban to rural gradient. We will also have a firm grasp on the genetic makeup of Florida coyotes, their morphometrics and how they compare to coyotes nation-wide, and some wildlife health implications.    

 

What is your typical work day like? 

My day is really dependent on wildlife deaths.  We monitor terrestrial wildlife for potential disease outbreaks/issues that could affect wildlife at a population level, which typically includes necropsies of deer, panthers, bears, and a wide array of avian species. When I’m not in the necropsy lab I am usually sifting through scats and stomachs, analyzing data, or writing manuscripts.  

 

What is your greatest career accomplishment? 

I hope my greatest career accomplishment is yet to come. I am really proud of the research I have been involved with and the relationships I have fostered with stakeholders over the years. 

 

What are some of your biggest challenges? 

Wormholes. Just kidding. The growing resistance to science is a wide reaching challenge that we all face, but is especially tough on our conflict biologists who deal with it daily.

 

What do you like most about your career? 

The best part about my job is being able to serve the people of the state of Florida. The resources we are entrusted to manage belong to all of the citizens of Florida and being able to guide management in their best interest is, hands down, the most fulfilling part of working in conservation.  

 

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not? 

I have always been invested in natural resources. I grew up camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors so being able to join the ranks of those who managed those spaces and resources for me when I was kid is really fulfilling. I didn’t necessarily have it planned out that way, but am very thankful this is career I ended up in. 

                                                      

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science? 

I can’t even picture that. Science is such a huge part of my life. I am married to a ridiculously smart scientist so I don’t really ever get a break from it. And to be quite literal, science is what explains the world around us so just existing, in and of itself, is to be involved in science.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Invest time in studying the history of wildlife management and understanding the framework of conservation in North America (we are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants)! Volunteer and intern with wildlife agencies at any opportunity. Learn as much about statistics as you possibly can. Try to surround yourself with really smart and ethical biologists.

 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I really enjoy exploring and hiking with my husband and pup any chance we get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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