SARASOTA, Fla. (Sept. 28, 2016) German researcher Dr. Nicola Erdsack recalls a vacation to Florida that inspired her to study marine biology.
After learning about so many marine species being endangered, from green sea turtles to orcas to manatees, “I just wanted to save them all and learn more about them,” recalled Erdsack, at the time a web site developer. “These animals are just so fantastic.”
A dozen years later she’s back in Florida, but now as a guest of Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Through the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, Dr. Erdsack was able to apply last year for a special visa to conduct research for two years at Mote, an educational partner of USFSM.
The University of South Florida is approved to serve as the visa sponsor for international visitors to participate in research, teaching and consulting, both at its main campus in Tampa and its affiliates, including USF Sarasota-Manatee.
“Research is a major part of what we do at USF Sarasota-Manatee and we are thrilled to have Dr. Nicola Erdsack here conducting research at Mote,” said Dr. Terry Osborn, regional vice chancellor for student and academic affairs. “Mote Marine Laboratory is a terrific partner for us and I am glad we were able to help bring Dr. Erdsack to this community.”
As a marine biologist with a PhD in zoology at the Universität Rostock in northeastern Germany, Dr. Erdsack said she’s excited at the prospect to study the West Indian manatee, a species listed as “endangered” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With its resident manatees Hugh and Buffett, Mote offers the ideal setting for Dr. Erdsack because it represents the only site worldwide with manatees trained for behavioral research. In addition, she plans to join research trips in coming months to sites along Florida where manatees congregate.
In particular, Dr. Erdsack is trying to learn more about the manatees’ “thermoregulation,” or how the warm-blooded mammals cope with cold air and water during winter months.
The animals generally migrate to avoid sharp temperature declines, including to areas with hot springs or warm-water discharges from power plants. However, the potential loss of warm-water shelters poses a major threat to Florida’s manatees. Exposure to cold is one of leading causes of death among the creatures.
Using a thermal imaging scanner, Dr. Erdsack plans to examine the animals for signs of cold stress syndrome (CSS) before the onset of more life-threatening symptoms. She hopes that someday her research spurs more proactive intervention on the animals’ behalf, such as the development of warm-water refuges.
Prior to studying manatees, Dr. Erdsack spent eight years researching thermal biology in pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses).
The U.S. Department of State plays a primary role in administering the J-1 exchange visitor program to bring international faculty, research scholars and other professionals to the United States to join in educational and cultural programs. USFSM coordinated her visit as well as the J-1 visa paperwork.