The past year was challenging for all of us. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic touch the lives of almost everyone, but its effects also reverberated throughout the museum community. In fact, the year began with most museums shuttered as the coronavirus spread across the nation and around the world. The American Alliance of Museums estimated that of the approximately 30,000 museums in America, as many as one-quarter to one-third could be at risk of not surviving the pandemic. Thankfully, we were not among them.
The Florida Museum reopened to in-person visitors July 1, 2020. Attendance was initially modest as visitors were hesitant to venture out into public settings. However, strict adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and university protocols such as face masks, social distancing, reduced occupation capacities for indoor spaces and vigorous cleaning of high-touch surfaces reassured people that the museum was a safe place to visit. By year’s end, our in-person attendance topped 150,000, about 70% of prepandemic levels.
One of the most exciting things to report this year is that we began construction on our new Special Collections Building.
As visitors returned to the museum, so did faculty, staff and students, many of whom became proficient at working remotely. Our research labs, collection areas, exhibit galleries and offices gradually sprang back to life. Unfortunately, we were forced to make many adjustments in response to the new reality we faced. No school tours or facility rentals meant elimination of these programs. Our popular Discovery Zone was closed all year, and large special events were canceled or reimagined as virtual events. Yet we were able to weather the pandemic challenges in large measure because of the support and guidance provided by our parent organization — the University of Florida.
While the lingering coronavirus influenced our daily operations all year, many exciting developments occurred nonetheless. Our temporary exhibition, Survival of the Slowest, featured many live animals, including Flash the sloth, and turned out to be immensely popular. UF awarded us two new faculty positions in artificial intelligence as part of its Faculty 100 initiative. Jon Bloch was appointed to another three-year term as chair of the department of natural history, and Keith Willmott became director of our McGuire Center. And at our Randell Research Center in southwest Florida, Annisa Karim was hired as the on-site operations manager, replacing Cindy Bear, who will retire this year after many years of dedicated service.
Finally, ’20-’21 saw the groundbreaking for a long-awaited and much-anticipated capital project, our new Special Collections Building. Located just south of Powell Hall and west of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, this 23,500-square-foot, purpose-built facility will be completed in 2022 and will house the museum’s “wet collections,” about 4 million to 5 million specimens stored in alcohol. After the project was in the planning stages for decades, UF provided the necessary funding. The state fire marshal, along with our collections and curatorial staffs, are eagerly awaiting its completion.
I hope you enjoy this annual report. Thanks for a great year and for your continuing support.
Douglas S. Jones
Florida Museum of Natural History
Unlocking collections: iDigBio celebrates 10 years of leading museum digitization
Scientists have collected animals, plants and fungi for hundreds of years, meticulously cataloguing and curating these organisms for posterity. Before the Internet, however, the wealth of information these specimens offered was largely confined to the drawers and shelves of museums and universities. Digitization, the process of uploading key specimen data and imagery to online platforms, compiles this information in a searchable archive of life that can be used by researchers, educators, policymakers and community scientists around the world.
For the past decade, iDigBio, a collaborative program funded by the National Science Foundation and based at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has led the push to digitize the estimated 1 billion biological specimens held in U.S. museums. These online records of animals, plants and other organisms help researchers identify species in danger of extinction, track the spread of invaders, study how climate change is reshaping ecosystems and possibly predict the next pandemic.
Thanks to iDigBio’s coordination, training and community-building efforts, about 40% of specimens in U.S. collections are now represented in the program’s portal, comprising one of the largest virtual collections of life on Earth and contributing to more than 2,000 studies so far.
This year, NSF awarded iDigBio nearly $20 million to continue its mission of digitizing natural history collections nationwide, propelling the next five years of the program’s success, said iDigBio Director Gil Nelson.
“We need to sustain the momentum that has been developed over the last 10 years in the collections community,” he said. “Our goal is to digitize everything we can.”
31 (TCNs) and 52 Partners to Existing Networks (PENs) supported, representing 900+ collections in 300+ institutions
Specimen records digitized
Graduate students & postdocs trained
Participants in 482 workshops, symposia & other events
Working groups supported
Despite the pandemic, the Department of Natural History experienced a remarkably productive year. Scientists focused on leveraging existing collections with the help of new technology and large-scale digitization efforts, and fieldwork resumed in the spring after a year of lockdowns. Accomplishments include many high-profile publications and a very successful year bringing in external funding for our collections and research. We quickly pivoted to virtual teaching, meetings, conferences and collaborations, working with colleagues from all over the globe. These platforms have changed how we approach our research collaborations, make our discoveries more accessible and will continue to shape the way we engage into the future.
The Solomon Island leaf frog, Cornufer guentheri, has true teeth on its upper jaw and bony fangs on its lower jaw, which do not have enamel or dentin, a dense tissue found in teeth. ©Florida Museum/Daniel Paluh
Specimens continue to yield surprises long after they are curated. Digitization and DNA analysis uncovered a new species of Florida lichen in the University of Florida Herbarium that had gone misidentified for more than a century. Now the hunt is on to find it in the wild – if it still exists. Digital data also revealed the puzzling backstory of teeth in frogs, showing the group has lost the feature more than 20 times throughout its evolution.
First recorded in 1923, the rare land snail Endodonta christenseni wasn’t formally named or described for almost a century, until researchers rediscovered it through extensive field surveys. Photo courtesy of David Sischo
For the first time in 60 years, scientists described a new native Hawaiian land snail species, sounding a rare, hopeful note in a story rife with extinction. The same team also rediscovered a snail species long presumed extinct on a remote Hawaiian island. Museum researchers are also identifying the major killers of Florida’s birds, thanks to a collaboration with rehabilitation centers. And scientists were astonished when a survey of sea anemone gut contents revealed an unexpected meal: ants.
These blades represent early Archaic Age technology and were used for cutting, digging, making tools such as spears and points and preparing brush for structures. ©Florida Museum/William Keegan
Advancements in the study of ancient DNA are redefining what we know about the first people to settle the Caribbean and helping resolve longstanding questions from an archaeologist’s career of more than 40 years. Ancient DNA also uncovered a previously unknown link between Old World birds and Caribbean avian life. A new grant from the National Science Foundation will fund an investigation of how humans have impacted bird diversity and extinctions over time, with specimens from the museum’s archaeological and paleontological collections.
Online programming rapidly expanded across museums during the pandemic, but it comes with challenges. Megan Ennes unpacked why partnerships and professional development are key to these programs’ long-term success. Michelle Lefebvre and David Blackburn’s “Introduction to Natural History Collections” immersed UF graduate students in the inner workings of museums. Akito Kawahara dispelled myths about the sparrow hornet and why nicknames such as “murder hornets” do more harm than good.
After death, ammonites would commonly float due to trapped gas in their shells. Collected by ocean currents, they often washed up and fossilized in groups, like this mass of Deshayesites deshayesi. ©Florida Museum/Jeff Gage
Computer network modelling overturned the textbook model of what drives major transitions in ocean life, showing battles between predators and prey reshaped the sea as dramatically as mass extinction events. A high school lesson gone wrong led to a new way of estimating how big megalodon was. CT scans of bizarre, armored amphibians provide the earliest evidence of a slingshot-style tongue. Finally, keep an eye out for a new virtual reality game that initiates would-be paleontologists in the joys of collecting and comparing fossils.
New data for Melastomataceae species such as Miconia curvipila, pictured here, will be made publicly available on web resources such as GenBank and iDigBio. ©Florida Museum/Lucas Majure
A trio of NSF grants will fuel new discoveries at the UF Herbarium. Using the wildflower genus Lobelia, researchers will study why certain species grow together and make predictions about how climate change could disrupt these patterns. The herbarium is also leading a grant to study Melastomataceae, the eighth largest family of flowering plants on the planet, to understand the evolution of worldwide tropical plant diversity. Another collaboration will result in the digitization of nearly 1.2 million lichens and bryophytes, a group that includes mosses, hornworts and liverworts – organisms often underrepresented in digital collections.
Grants & contracts worth $12 million
Undergraduates & postdoctoral fellows working in the collections
Million specimens & artifacts
New accessions to collections
New specimens & artifacts cataloged
Specimens & artifacts loaned via 243 loans
News articles about museum research with potential readership of 7.8 billion
Curators and staff with the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity continued their groundbreaking research focused on the conservation, diversity, ecology and evolution of moths, butterflies and other insects. This year, Keith Willmott was appointed as director of the Center, whose collections continued to grow apace through donations and the efforts of its staff and students.
The feeding behavior of Philodoria auromagnifica caterpillars can cause the leaf they live inside to fall off the plant, which may help protect them from parasitic wasps. ©Florida Museum/Chris Johns
Museum researchers helicoptered onto volcanoes to study gaudy, minuscule moths, discover new species and conserve Hawaiian biodiversity.
Adelpha, a genus of brush-footed butterflies, are fast-flying insects native to the Southern U.S., Mexico and South America. While difficult to catch in flight, they are easy to bait and common in museum collections. ©Florida Museum/Keith Willmott
Studies of colorful butterflies showed that their bright markings signal to birds not to bother even trying to attack these fast-flying insects.
After mating, male butterflies excrete a pre-molded plug from intricate abdominal ducts that give the plug its complex shape. The plug hardens on the female, blocking her reproductive organs, but not the orifice she uses to lay eggs. Photo by Ana Carvalho
Male butterflies sometimes attach bizarre winged, flanged or spiky structures on female abdomens to prevent them from mating again. McGuire Center researchers examined who is winning in this battle of the sexes.
The spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) is a spectacular butterfly found in the eastern United States. Adults are iridescent blue and black with orange spots, while caterpillars resemble a snake as a defense mechanism. ©Florida Museum/Andrei Sourakov
Many mysteries remain to be uncovered among the insects in our own backyards. Collections Coordinator Andrei Sourakov explained how Florida moths can keep invasive plants in check, documented insects that live in hollow trees, and disposed of mountains of poop during ongoing studies of Florida caterpillars.
A Florida Museum volunteer helps students with their planting. Museum staff and volunteers conduct these workshops to educate participants about pollinators and life as researchers, all while establishing a habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace
Efforts to inspire the next generation of Lepidoptera researchers included expansion of the museum’s butterfly garden initiative and movement of the popular summer LepCamp to a COVID-friendly, online format.
A marked blue calamintha bee collects pollen from Ashe’s calamint. ©Florida Museum/Jaret Daniels
An education and awareness campaign highlighted the current decline of insects, and Associate Curator Akito Kawahara described some simple steps we can take to help reverse this trend. A new exhibit provided stunning close-up images to show ongoing efforts to conserve insects. Curator Jaret Daniels received a grant from the Disney Foundation to continue work on imperiled butterflies, and scientists continued to uncover the secrets of one of Florida’s rarest insects, the blue calamintha bee.
Curator of Herpetology
Blackburn has worked as a curator at the Florida Museum since 2015, where he’s conducted research on amphibian biodiversity and conservation, with a particular focus on African frogs, and leads the oVert initiative.
Curator of Informatics
Cellinese’s work is centered around the development of computational tools that aid researchers in cataloging the tree of life. She also studies the evolution and diversification of flowering plants using advanced genomic techniques.
Graduate committees chaired
Graduate committees served
Independent studies supervised
Courses taught by Museum faculty
Operations Manager, Randell Research Center
Karim manages the day-to-day operations of the archaeological research center in Lee County, in addition to developing educational materials and activities for visitors and students from local schools. Learn more
Collections Manager II, Vertebrate Paleontology
In his new role, Woodruff oversees the screen washing and fossil collection of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. He also identifies and curates fossils from Thomas Farm in Gilchrist County.
Collections Manager II, Vertebrate Paleontology
From 1985-2020, Poyer helped to maintain the vertebrate paleontology collection and actively participated in research, fossil digs and community outreach activities.
Collection Manager, Ornithology
From 1984-2020, Webber helped to manage the museum’s ornithology collection, including conducting research, identifying and preparing new specimens, processing loans and participating in collection expeditions.
On July 1, 2020, the Florida Museum kicked off both the fiscal year and a public reopening following the unprecedented pandemic closure. In a challenging year, the museum played a vital role in welcoming and supporting visitors at a critical time. The Butterfly Rainforest provided beauty and respite, while Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived and the visiting exhibition Survival of the Slowest engaged audiences in safe, but entertaining, learning. As the pandemic made road trips more popular, the museum welcomed visitors from each of Florida’s 67 counties, all 50 states and 10 other countries.
Programs also provided meaningful community support. While virtual programs continued, in-person programs resumed in outdoor settings. Virtual events such as Science off Tap, Mushrooms at the Museum, speaker and film series, and 360-degree exhibit tours engaged people from all over the state, country and world. The in-person nature-based program Museum in the Parks partnered educators, scientists, state parks and public participants for deep learning on topics such as fish, insects and birds. Outreach events for community partner summer camps and after-school programs provided science learning for youth who might otherwise be unable to visit the museum. Focusing on outreach efforts allowed the museum to reach people where they were, deepen community partnerships, engage youth and families in nature, and expand its strategic outreach goals.
Although the pandemic did not end with the fiscal year, the year did close with stronger and more diverse visitation than in prepandemic times, underscoring the museum’s value to visitors, their families and friends. These visitors also reminded us of the amazing work done by our education, exhibits and front-line teams to keep visitors safe and engaged in unprecedented times. Butterfly Rainforest, security, visitor services and gift shop staff all navigated the complexities of pandemic visitation with dedication and a commitment to excellent customer service. The museum is grateful to all employees for a year of unmatched effort.
Public program participants
Visitors to Museum traveling exhibits at other venues
Youth camp participants
Youth outreach participants
School field trip participants
The University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute (TESI) continued to advance communication and education about Earth systems science in a way that inspires Floridians to be effective stewards of our planet.
Through digital outreach campaigns, we curated information about Florida’s environment and natural resources and packaged it in a way that is digestible, understandable and solutions-oriented. TESI’s workshops and paid internships focused on the art of sharing science with the public through effective science communication. We helped early-career scientists and aspiring science communicators hone their outreach skills to disseminate science-based information to broader audiences.
TESI’s flagship Scientist in Every Florida School Program, or SEFS, hosted professional development workshops, where teachers were able to work alongside scientists to develop novel, standards-based lesson plans focused on Florida’s environment. The program also coordinated more than 1,700 scientist visits to classrooms in about 500 public schools throughout Florida, reaching 55,000 K-12 students.
TESI faculty, staff and students advanced our vision to lead the way to a healthier planet by cultivating a responsible and curious society that values, trusts and has access to science.
K-12 Students representing 400 schools
SEFS scientist visits
K-12 students & teachers attend 137 virtual events
Floridians learn about earth systems through 17 events
Professional workshop attendees
In private funding acquired for SEFS & outreach
Through this campaign, 42,000 Floridians learned why insects are important, the threats they face and how they can be protected. ©Florida Museum/Sadie Mills
Produced in partnership with museum scientists from the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, this campaign used social media and educational videos to spread the word on the problem of insect decline.
Produced in partnership with iDigBio and Florida Museum educators, this workshop helped early career scientists develop valuable science communication skills.
During this virtual summer workshop, 10 UF students from underrepresented communities learned how to develop, film and edit a short video about their journeys to becoming scientists.
EJMI students were mentored by editors from prominent environmental publications where they learned reporting and interviewing skills.
Hosted in collaboration with the UF Levin College of Law, six science and journalism students teamed up to write stories showing the connections between the environment and social justice issues.
TESI environmental communicators learned storytelling, graphic design, social marketing, data analysis and more.
Through this paid internship, UF undergraduate students developed valuable science communication skills while contributing to TESI’s digital outreach and education about various topics related to the state’s environment.
Earth to Florida and Know Your Florida content garnered 416,000 impressions and 52,000 likes, comments and shares.
Through these two digital outreach platforms, TESI helped a statewide audience better understand Florida’s environment, natural history and outdoor wonders. The content for both platforms is primarily created by TESI’s student environmental communicators.
So far, the program has coordinated more than 1,700 scientist visits to classrooms in about 500 public schools throughout Florida, reaching 55,000 K-12 students. ©Florida Museum/Rebecca Burton
TESI’s Scientist in Every Florida School Program matched teachers with scientists who delivered lessons via classroom visits and served as role models for the next generation of Floridians.
Ann and Bob Powell Help Plant Seed for Museum Expansion Project
As longtime supporters of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Ann Powell and her late husband Bob have made a lead gift to support the Museum’s expansion project, which will include a state-of-the-art education and communications hub to educate diverse audiences about Earth’s air, water, land and life, collectively known as Earth systems. The new facility will house the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute, an outreach-focused program launched in 2018, a learning theater, a high-tech classroom and an exhibition gallery.
“Since their leadership gift in the 1990s that paved the way for construction of Powell Hall, home to the museum’s exhibits and public programs at the UF Cultural Plaza, Ann and Bob Powell have remained loyal supporters of the Florida Museum,” said Florida Museum director Doug Jones. “Their most recent gift to support our expansion project reflects their belief that this institution is vital to the education and inspiration of the next generation of Floridians.”
Bob grew up in Fort Lauderdale when it was a small beachside town, and Ann grew up in Gainesville. The two met at the University of Florida where Ann majored in education and Bob in civil engineering. After graduation, Bob joined the Air Force as a pilot before returning to Fort Lauderdale to work for his family’s marine and bridge-building business, Powell Brothers, Inc. Ann taught high school for many years before becoming what she describes as a “professional volunteer,” dedicating her time to programs that helped educate and inspire children.
As lifelong Floridians, the Powells have witnessed the environmental changes that continue to challenge the state.
“I love Florida because I was born here and I’ve lived here all my life, never considered living any place else,” Ann said, explaining that Bob was an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing. The two often spent time in their cabin in the woods near Okeechobee. With Ann’s passion for education and Bob’s love of nature, the couple was enthusiastic about supporting this exciting endeavor.
With their gift, many more Floridians and visitors to the state will be inspired to be effective stewards of the planet, allowing future generations to cherish Florida’s nature.
Total Gifts FY 20-21
Total Endowment Value
Gifts in Kind
|Gifts in Kind||$1,310,881||3%|
UF and State Allocation
Contracts and Grants
Other UF Income
|Contracts and Grants||$5.76M||16.00%|
|Other UF Income||$1.21M||3.36%|
Salaries and Benefits
Other Operating Expenses
Overhead and Other Fees
Transfers for Future Programming
|Salaries & Benefits||$16.58M||75.10%|
|Other Operating Expenses||$3.23M||14.65%|
|Transfers for Future Programming||$0.52M||2.34%|
UF Research Foundation Professor
UF Excellence Award for Assistant Professors
2021 Neptunea Award for service to malacology, conchology
Thea Award, Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), Amazing Pollinators exhibit
2021 Austin Award
2021 Austin Award
Ana Paula dos Santos de Carvalho
2021 Bullen Award
2021 Silver winner, SEMC, digital annual report