Grant proposals for the J. Larry Landers Award are required to address research concerning gopher tortoise biology or any other relevant aspect of upland habitat conservation and management. Bill said indigo snakes make their homes in gopher tortoise burrows and contribute to the species’ environment.
“Most student awardees are already grad students on career paths to become professors, state biologists or federal biologists,” said Gopher Tortoise Council member Jeff Goessling, Ph.D., who also is an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd. “I, myself, received this grant when I was in graduate school at Auburn University doing my dissertation fieldwork with gopher tortoises.”
Bill learned more about Cryptosporidium serpentis while visiting the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC) in Eustis with the College Herpetology Club. OCIC director Michelle Hoffman said the Center works hard in partnership with the Central Florida Zoo to propagate the eastern indigo snake, a species that eats other snakes, including venomous types, and to reintroduce them into their native habitats. Animals are bred through the Center, and healthy ones who are not held back for breeding are released in Alabama and Florida at two years of age.
“All the animals used in this study are separate from the release groups,” Hoffman offered. “This is a small side project to help us better understand what this disease does. We have many research partners from universities and non-governmental organizations whom we work with regularly.”