Marine Fisheries Research: Mike Tringali

Mike Tringali is a geneticist by day, championship softball coach by night.

Mike Tringali, caption below

Mike Tringali prepares a genetic sample for analysis.

Mike Tringali
Marine Fisheries Biology: Genetics Research
St. Petersburg, FL

Ph.D. – Molecular Genetics, Department of Biology, University of South Florida
M.S. – Population Genetics, College of Marine Science, University of South Florida
B.A. – Marine Ecology, Department of Zoology, University of Florida

Twenty-four years of professional experience, most at what is presently called the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Research interests include: genetic analyses for fisheries, aquaculture and conservation; probability; and mathematics. Principal Investigator for state and federally funded genetic research and monitoring of marine and freshwater fishes and invertebrates; marine and terrestrial mammals; and waterfowl. Designer and supervisor of genetic tagging programs for five aquatic species. Affiliate faculty member and graduate course instructor at the University of Florida. Lead Editor of the upcoming American Fisheries Society book titled "Black Bass Diversity, Multidisciplinary Science for Conservation." Lead author of the FWC’s "Genetic Policy for the Release of Finfishes in Florida."

What are you working on now? 
My staff and I, along with our FWRI colleagues, are fortunate enough to have discovered two new fish species. The latest one is a freshwater bass (genus Micropterus) that inhabits Florida coastal rivers and streams west of Apalachicola River, into Alabama and Mississippi. Because it superficially resembles another bass species, it was never on anyone’s radar. We first found it the form of a novel genetic signature in our black bass surveys, and we could not assign it to specimens of known species. We eventually tracked down these new bass and characterized them genetically.  We’re now preparing a formal morphological and ecological description. Because the species’ range coincides with the endemic territory of one of our Native American peoples, we are recommending the common name Choctaw bass. The scientific name will be Micropterus haiaka, which is pronounced “high-ah-kah” and translates to “revealed” or “made manifest” in the Choctaw language. 

How is this information beneficial? 
I’m not sure if the scope and scale of bass fishing in the southeast U.S., both culturally and economically, is generally appreciated, but it’s huge and continues to grow. Also growing among anglers is an appreciation for the diversity and habits of the lesser-known, lesser-studied endemic basses. Finding a new bass species literally hiding in plain sight was the last thing anyone expected. Unfortunately, for various reasons, folks like to move black basses around. Not surprisingly, species introductions have negatively impacted native bass populations throughout the U.S., because the invasive species either replace the native species or crossbreed with them, contaminating their gene pools. Because the Choctaw bass is a “cryptic” species – meaning it closely resembles another species – it presents unique and difficult conservation challenges in this regard. We’ll have to watch it closely. 

What is your typical work day like? 
As a research-group supervisor, there are always a few hours of administrative tasks, but, honestly, no two days are alike. We work on such a variety of species and projects that each day seems to bring something new to the table. I tend to focus on project development and management and data analysis. My group seems to believe that my lab skills are a little rusty, but they (usually) manage to hide their giggles when I grab a pipette from time to time.

What is your greatest career accomplishment? 
I can’t really claim to have accomplished anything “great.” I’m hoping to compensate by doing as much good stuff as possible. Science is a retrospective and prospective process. My goal for my group is to advance the works of our predecessors in a useful and meaningful way, having others then build on our findings.

What are some of your biggest challenges? 
Manatees, both literally and figuratively! I have a great fondness for these gentle beasts; however, things that are usually easy when dealing with other organisms – in the field, at the lab bench or in a conference room – are almost never easy for them. For example, we can simply rub the jaw of a live tarpon with a small abrasive pad to obtain DNA, but we have to poke through the tough, outer (non-nucleated) layers of hide of live manatees to obtain a sample from DNA-carrying cells. Also, for most organisms, we can profile (identify) individuals using only approximately 10 molecular markers, but we have to use twice that number for manatees because of their limited genetic diversity.

What do you like most about your career? 
The people I work with, both inside and outside our agency. Also, I’ve been blessed to be able to lead a staff of talented, dedicated and just plain nice folks. My long-term research colleague, Dr. Seifu Seyoum, deserves special recognition in this regard.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not? 
Someone once said (maybe it was Confucius), “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I grew up on the beach in St. Augustine – swimming, surfing and working on the back of my dad’s shrimp boat. I’m pretty sure I spent as much time in or on the water as I did on land. So this was a natural career choice for me. I didn’t start out as a geneticist, though. That I owe to Ray Wilson, Terrie Bert and other mentors who opened my eyes to research possibilities involving genetic tools. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science? 
Probably flipping houses and buying Powerball tickets.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Actually, I speak to a lot of young folks about this and two things usually come up. First, the above Confucius quote. Second, I tell them there are many willing, wise and established people out there that would love to help – find them.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
I would like to say watching “Duck Dynasty,” but my wife won’t let me do that anymore. My sons are grown to the point of self-reliance, so my favorite thing now is coaching my daughter’s softball team – state champs last summer, finally!


FWC Facts:
Many species of fish (many groupers, snook, etc.) are hermaphroditic and change sex at some point in their life.

Learn More at AskFWC