Welcome to our annual report for fiscal year 2022. It’s been a dynamic year at the Florida Museum. Any lingering effects from the COVID-19 pandemic substantially disappeared as museum attendance not only returned to pre-pandemic levels but exceeded it, with 213,200 visitors. Once again K-12 school groups are arriving every day of the week for museum field trips. Even UF students found their way back to the museum in record numbers (17,297). But in addition to welcoming visitors, we did a lot of planning this year.
After months of thoughtful discussion, we launched our new museum strategic plan in January. One of the themes of the plan focuses on unity. Specifically, we are interested in better integrating the activities and personnel involved in our Research and Collections Division, primarily located in Dickinson Hall, with the staff and activities associated with our Exhibits and Public Programs Division situated in Powell Hall and the McGuire Center, 2 miles across campus.
One way to accomplish this goal involves our new Science Up Close initiative, in which we design and build our own temporary exhibition around a particular collection or research topic. Then we staff the exhibit with real scientists in a “live lab” conducting their research in full public view and talking to visitors about what they’re doing, how it works and why it matters. Our goal going forward is to alternate one Science Up Close exhibition each year with a leased temporary exhibition.
Our first Science Up Close installment is “Fantastic Fossils,” which opened in April. It features our three paleontology collections and will remain through the end of 2022. By all measures, it’s been a resounding success. Visitors report loving their interactions with our scientists, who discuss their work with fossil excavations at our Montbrook fossil site near Williston, Florida, which involves specimen preparation and identification, and high-tech imaging and computer cataloging of specimens, as well as careers in paleontology and science. The visitor impact has been phenomenal, as has the response of museum personnel, who often don’t get an opportunity to work with their colleagues on such cross-division projects.
Finally, much of our year was devoted to monitoring construction of our new Special Collections Building, slated for completion in late 2022. Located just south of Powell Hall and west of the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, this 23,500-square-foot, purpose-built facility will house the museum’s wet collections: about 4 million specimens primarily from ichthyology, herpetology and invertebrate zoology preserved in alcohol. Once the building is completed, the move of specimens from Dickinson Hall to the new facility will commence but will require many months to accomplish. Staff excitement is palpable.
Naturally, many more exciting things occurred throughout the year, and I encourage you to peruse this report to learn more about what YOUR museum has been doing. From my perspective, I couldn’t be prouder of the museum faculty, staff and students as they continue to perform at a very high level. Hopefully you’ll agree that we punch above our weight class — a Top 5 natural history museum for a Top 5 university.
Thank you for your generous support of the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Douglas S. Jones
Florida Museum of Natural History
“Fantastic Fossils,” first installment featuring the Florida Museum’s three paleontology collections
The Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Rare, Beautiful & Fascinating: 100 Years @Florida Museum” exhibit was a milestone in multiple ways. In addition to commemorating 2017 as the centennial anniversary of being designated the state’s official natural history museum, the exhibit also initiated the idea of including a working lab as a regular feature in Powell Hall, strengthening the partnership between researchers and public programs to benefit museum visitors. This concept bloomed into the “Science Up Close” exhibit series, which opened in April 2022 with the first iteration, “Fantastic Fossils.”
The series takes a deep dive into the myriad collections that call the Florida Museum home and brings visitors face-to-face with experts to reveal different aspects of the 40 million specimens in the museum’s 18 collections. The initiative kicked off by highlighting the vertebrate paleontology, invertebrate paleontology and paleobotany collections. The task of creating a working lab dedicated to fossil research from scratch was no easy feat. The result has been a unique opportunity for people across the museum to collaborate and has put museum research front and center in a new way.
“The exhibit gives our scientists an opportunity to engage with people in a way that they don’t typically get to,” said Jonnie Dietz, exhibit developer. “They get to change the perception of collections and specimens being dusty jars sitting on shelves and can directly show people the value of science and the relevance of their research.”
Apart from the rare fossils on display, the centerpiece of the exhibit is the working lab. Recognizable by the constant bustle of collection managers, curators, students and volunteers, this functional prep lab serves as a space for scientists to do research they typically would do in their respective divisions while still engaging with visitors face-to-face.
The Department of Natural History had another extraordinary year. Our faculty, staff, and students had many notable publications, received high levels of external funding supporting our collections and research, and conducted fieldwork around the globe. Our faculty made significant contributions to teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. Our science reached teachers, students, and the general public through public programs, exhibits, news stories, and more. We hired our first curator of artificial intelligence as part of a broad initiative by the University of Florida to spur innovation in AI and data science. We were honored to host a visit from National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. We made substantial progress towards opening and planning the move into a new state-of-the-art building housing our fluid-preserved specimens. And finally, we opened the first of a new, dynamic exhibit series focused on research and collections in collaboration with Florida Museum Exhibits and Public Programs.
Joshua trees can only produce fruit if their flowers have been pollinated. Each fruit is home to developing yucca moth larvae, which eat a small number of seeds before burrowing their way out. Photo by Robb Hannawacker, CC0
Researchers are increasingly turning to citizen scientists to help take the pulse of a rapidly changing planet. This year, Florida Museum researchers used crowdsourced data to determine how urban cityscapes affect the wild mammals who live in them and why disappearing Joshua tree populations experienced an early-blooming event in 2019. To help scientists sidestep irregularities in these large data pools, researchers also scrutinized differences in the timing, location and the type of organism documented on the citizen scientist platform iNaturalist.
Ancient pottery holds clues to the past lives, traditions, and movements of Indigenous people from the Caribbean Islands. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace
Frogs hopped into the spotlight this year with insights into their jumping behavior — or lack thereof — and the weird relationship frogs have with teeth. Pottery shards revealed the ancient trade routes used by Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. In another study, a massive dataset revealed how and what birds see.
One of the few fully aquatic caecilians, Typhlonectes natans, this species was captured in the Tamiami Canal in southern Florida. ©Photo courtesy of Noah Mueller
Researchers have had their hands full keeping tabs on newcomers to the state of Florida, those just passing through, and those in danger of disappearing. Herpetologist Coleman Sheehy is actively tracking the first record of invasive caecilians, a type of amphibian, in South Florida. Elsewhere in the state, researchers are working to reduce the number of migratory bird deaths caused by collisions with windows. And Florida Museum specimens were instrumental in the designation of a protected habitat in North Florida for a freshwater mollusk that was once believed to be extinct.
National Academy of Sciences members Doug and Pam Soltis are forging ahead with the Earth BioGenome Project, an ambitious international effort to map the genomes of Earth’s 1.8 million eukaryotic species. Researchers also published the largest genetic study on bryozoans to date, highlighting their relationships and the important role parental care has played in their survival and diversity. DNA analysis collected nearly a century ago led museum botanists to the discovery of a new and rare plant species in the Dominican Republic. And a broad analysis of seed plant genomes revealed that an accidental DNA duplication likely led to the origin of gymnosperms, a diverse group that includes pines, cypresses and sequoias.
Educators often face an uphill battle when applying for positions and negotiating equitable pay, problems which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. ©Florida Museum/Jerald Pinson
Studies revealed the challenges of virtual learning during a pandemic and the toll of closures on museum educators. Museum researchers were also a part of a call to action to strengthen working relationships between zoos and museums to advance shared research, discovery and conservation goals.
Mollusks have proven to be incredibly resilient to climate change, but human activity over the last few centuries threatens to destabilize communities in the Adriatic region, with negative impacts for the ecosystems they occupy. ©Photo courtesy of Fabio Negri
Several incredible fossils have led to record discoveries this year. Paleontologists have unearthed the first mosasaur from the West Indies, the oldest giant ground sloth from Hispaniola, and the first fossil evidence of a land bridge between North and South America during the Cretaceous. In more explosive news, paleobotanists discovered what may be the oldest fruit of the spurge family, a group of plants whose fruits often have a self-destruct method of seed dispersal. In the Adriatic Sea, a sobering study of more than 70,000 fossilized mollusks revealed that major climactic shifts had less of an effect on marine populations than the last few centuries of human activity.
Grants & contracts worth $29.5 million
Undergraduates & postdoctoral fellows working in the collections
Million specimens & artifacts
New accessions to collections
New specimens & artifacts cataloged
Specimens & artifacts loaned via 2,170 loans
News articles about museum research with potential readership of 10.3 billion
National Science Foundation director Sethuraman Panchanathan visited the University of Florida in May to discuss opportunities for university researchers as well as the agency’s priorities and vision. He toured various NSF-funded projects beginning at the Florida Museum of Natural History. For fiscal year 2021, NSF funded approximately $60.9 million in UF research, with more than $25 million going to the Florida Museum.
Curators, staff and students at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity pursued a broad range of projects relating to the conservation, diversity, ecology and evolution of moths, butterflies and other insects. This year saw the launch of a new Visiting Researcher program supported by the Mr. Carl Wisler and Dr. Midge Smith Visiting Researcher Endowment, bringing experts from around the world to work with McGuire Center researchers and our continually growing Lepidoptera collections.
Park rangers use photographic ID guides to identify the butterflies they capture in bait traps. ©Photo by Maria Checa
Park rangers in Ecuador’s hyper-diverse Yasuní National Park, along with McGuire Center and Ecuadorian institution researchers, demonstrated the potential for a butterfly monitoring program to help detect long-term trends in tropical insect biodiversity.
Lebeau’s Silk Moth, Rothschildia lebeau ©Florida Museum/Eric Zamora
Researchers designed and built a portable moth tracking device that will improve understanding of the behavior and activity of these often inconspicuous insects.
Elephant Hawk Moth, Deilephila elpenor ©Photo by David Whitaker
Example of slide-mounted male genitalia of a crambid moth showing claspers (left), and phallus (right). ©Florida Museum/Laura Gaudette
To more broadly share the wealth of information within the museum’s Lepidoptera collections, microscope slides of the intricately sculptured genitalia of moth specimens, often critical in identification, are being scanned and made available online.
With over 1,700 individuals observed this year on Key Largo and in Biscayne National Park, researchers are hopeful that Schaus’ Swallowtail populations will continue to grow in the Florida Keys. ©Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-ND 2.0
The tireless efforts of museum researchers and volunteers were rewarded with one of the best years in recent memory for the iconic, beautiful, and threatened south Florida Schaus’ Swallowtail butterfly.
Curator of Lepidoptera
Hired in 2011 as an assistant curator of lepidoptera, Kawahara was tenured and promoted to associate curator in 2017. He has published over 160 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is one of the world’s leading researchers on the systematics and evolutionary biology of moths and butterflies.
Graduate committees chaired
Graduate committees served
Independent studies supervised
Courses taught by Museum faculty
The year brought much good news – as the pandemic waned, museum visitors returned in pre-pandemic numbers and programs returned in person. Welcoming visitors from each of Florida’s 67 counties, all 50 states and 37 other countries, underscores the value of the museum experience to a wide range of audiences.
On the exhibition front, we proudly opened “Science Up Close: Fantastic Fossils,” created by the museum. This exhibit showcases the paleontology collections and features faculty, staff, student and volunteer paleontologists in a live laboratory setting, providing real-time engagement between visitors and scientists. One of the first in a new exhibit series, “Science Up Close,” intends to share current museum and university science with public audiences.
As programs resumed, we brought back some large-scale on-site events, such as the popular Can You Dig It? and the fall and spring plant sales, which drew record crowds. Focus shifted this fiscal year to strengthening impact and diversifying the audiences we serve. Girls Do Science aimed to inspire the next generation to consider science careers, Museum for Me opened the doors early to guests on the autism spectrum, Family Discovery Time hosted Head Start youth and families and Summer Science Surprises engaged hundreds of underserved youth at community partner locations. These projects continue to broaden the museum’s audiences and support its strategic goals.
Further extending the institution’s reach, the museum’s traveling exhibits program hosted two long-term installations – “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” at Governor’s House in St. Augustine, Florida and “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas” at the Silver River Museum in Ocala, Florida. “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” continued its national tour, and a new downloadable exhibits portal brought some of our smaller exhibits to venues around the world, enjoyed by over a million people.
Public program participants
Visitors to Museum traveling exhibits at other venues
Youth onsite program participants
Youth outreach program participants
Youth field trip participants
The University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute (TESI) is advancing communication and education about Earth systems science in a way that inspires Floridians to be effective stewards of our planet.
The study of the interactions among air, water, land and life on Earth, and how these systems are influenced by human activities. Only by understanding how the Earth’s systems interact will we be poised to fully understand the ways human activity affects the natural environment in which we live.
Our vision is 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 357 schools
Scientist in Every Florida School (SEFS) scientist visits
K-12 students & teachers attend 137 virtual events
Lifelong learners attend 10 public outreach events
Undergraduates gain experience through TESI internships and fellowships
In private funding acquired for SEFS & outreach
Students with the TESI Environmental Leaders Fellowship tour UF’s Field and Fork Farm to learn about sustainable agriculture on campus. ©Florida Museum/Jeff Gage
With funding from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation, TESI’s Environmental Leaders Fellowship brought together 12 students from diverse majors and backgrounds and provided them with opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills, confidence, and network to advocate for the planet as they take on leadership roles in their respective careers.
UF undergraduate student, Taylor Pierson, engages with students from M. K. Rawlings Elementary School. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace
Scientist in Every Florida School engages Florida K-12 students and teachers in cutting-edge research by providing science role models and experiences that inspire the future stewards of our planet. During 2021-22, the SEFS team coordinated scientist visits to classrooms in 43 counties across the state.
Teachers uncover fossil specimens at the Montbrook Fossil Dig site in Levy County, Florida. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace
Our Scientist in Every Florida School professional development workshops allow teachers to work closely with scientists to co-develop lesson plans. After the workshops conclude, the learning continues throughout the school year as teachers invite scientists to their classrooms. Over the past year, 83 teachers representing 25 counties attended three professional development programs focusing on the hydrosphere, climate change and adaptations, and Florida paleontology.
A snail kite hangs onto its meal as it glides through the air. ©Photo by Nick Wallis
During 2021-22, eight undergraduate TESI Environmental Communicators developed social media content, wrote newsletter articles, created videos and more, all focused on communicating Earth systems issues to Floridians, and beyond. This year, TESI environmental communicators were named finalists in the 2021 ArcGis StoryMaps Challenge for Restoring Our Ocean for their project, “By Saving the Sea Cows, We’re Saving Ourselves.”
Through online platforms, TESI’s digital outreach team curates and shares information about Florida’s environment and natural resources. During 2021-22, 9,248 people followed TESI on social media and 75,000 unique users visited the Institute’s website to learn more about Florida environmental topics. TESI social media channels earned 603,000 impressions and 40,000 comments, likes and shares. Educational videos on the TESI YouTube channel garnered 59,000 views.
UF alumnus, Victor Perez, demonstrates to teachers how AI can be used to identify shark’s teeth. ©Florida Museum/Jeff Gage
With the goal of recruiting more students to STEM and computer science careers, a team from TESI, the College of Education, the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, and the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to teach Florida middle school teachers how to use fossil shark teeth to promote learning about artificial intelligence (AI).
Generous endowment improves accessibility of collections for leading experts
Midge Smith and her late husband Carl Wisler based their life’s work on helping public, private, and governmental agencies measure performance and achieve accountability. In 1995, Dr. Smith helped codify the fledgling field of evaluation by launching an ambitious new endeavor—The Evaluators’ Institute (TEI)—providing adult learners with knowledge and skills, and eventually with certified credentials, to assess any program—from U.S. foreign policy to classroom curricula to nonformal community-based programs. The first classes were located at the Johns Hopkins University (MD) and later in several large U.S. cities plus Canada. Midge was the Director while Carl, who’d recently retired from an extensive career as a physicist and government accountability leader (USGAO*) was the “General Factotum”—a title codified by him—because he could and did assist with anything needed. Midge donated TEI to the George Washington University in 2008—by which time adult learners from more than 100 countries had participated and the influx of expertise, facilitated by TEI, evaluation had blossomed into a “profession.”
“Carl had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and was one of the most widely read people I’d ever met—one of his many attributes that attracted me to him,” Midge said, noting he could discourse on nearly any subject. “He was also the most decent human being on Earth. He was kind, unassuming, considerate, and very—but quietly—intelligent…and it didn’t hurt any that he was quite handsome!”
This year, Smith brought her spirit of success and belief in science to the Florida Museum with the establishment of a visiting researcher endowment to honor Carl’s life and achievements.
Funds from the endowment are awarded to top specialists in the field of Lepidoptera to conduct research at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. The center houses more than 10 million moth and butterfly specimens, making it the largest collections-based research and education center of its kind in the world. As technology improves, the amount of new information that can be gleaned from these specimens becomes nearly limitless, but gathering it requires the concerted effort of researchers the world over.
In 2022 alone, the endowment has supported eight visitors from multiple countries and a diverse range of expertise, said McGuire Center director Keith Willmott. “These funds have enabled visiting students to work on dissertation research, provided opportunities for McGuire Center students and staff to interact with experts from outside our institution, and have made our collections more accessible to the global research community.”
*U.S. General Accounting Office
Total Gifts FY 20-21
Total Endowment Value
Gifts in Kind
|Gifts in Kind||$720,882||3%|
The Florida Museum has centered Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) in its new strategic plan. This year multiple initiatives were launched. Among them are internships for university students from diverse backgrounds, expanded outreach with youth traditionally underrepresented in science and stronger partnerships with diverse community organizations. Two museum committees are dedicated to advancing IDEA for staff, students and visitors – a museum-wide committee advisory to the Director, and a committee specific to the Natural History department to advise departmental activities. The combined efforts have resulted in new recruitment and hiring practices, leading to more diverse candidates applying for positions, as well as climate surveys, listening sessions and internal communication strategies with a goal of creating a more welcoming space for employees and visitors.
UF and State Allocation
Contracts and Grants
Other UF Income
|Contracts and Grants||$5.79M||20.38%|
|Other UF Income||$1.37M||4.82%|
Salaries and Benefits
Other Operating Expenses
Overhead and Other Fees
Transfers for Future Programming
|Salaries & Benefits||$17.03M||72.36%|
|Other Operating Expenses||$4.40M||18.67%|
|Transfers for Future Programming||$0.43M||1.83%|
UF 2021-24 Term Professorship
UF 2021-24 Term Professorship
UF Global Fellow
University Photographers’ Association of America 2022 Annual Photo Competition: 2nd place Personal vision, 4th place Science and Research
UF 2021-24 Term Professorship