Meet Adrian Figueroa | Tortoise Ecology

Hi Adrian! We are stoked to chat with you. Tell us, what do you do?

I’m a PhD Candidate at Florida International University (FIU) working in the Pine Rockland Ecosystem of Miami, Florida, USA. My research is focused on the seed dispersal ecology of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) at the southeastern extent of their range in Miami, Florida, USA. The goal of my research is to better understand which plant species gopher tortoises disperse the seeds of, how their role as seed dispersers changes over time, and whether different individuals from this population provide unique seed dispersal services by favoring some plants over others. The reason why my research is important is because with this information, we could someday reintroduce gopher tortoises to pine rockland habitat they historically occupied with the goal of restoring not only gopher tortoise populations, but the lost ecosystem service of seed dispersal they provide… in other words, rewilding the phenomenon of animal-mediated seed dispersal in this habitat. (All research performed under the following permits: FWC – LSSC-19-00011B; NAM – Permit #304)

That’s really interesting! What is the journey that led you to study gopher tortoises?

I was finishing my Associate’s degree in community college when I watched a documentary called “Finding Joe.” This documentary talks about “the hero’s journey” and how this common template in storytelling applies to our lives as well. The purpose of the documentary was to remind viewers to follow their bliss… in other words, doing the things which bring you joy and fulfillment in life. Although I was receiving my Associate’s degree in Engineering Science, I knew I wanted to work in the field of Wildlife Conservation. In a nutshell, when I transferred to FIU as an undergraduate student, I sent an email to Zoo Miami and inquired about starting an internship related to conservation. This path led me to learn about Ecology, Conservation Biology, and how conducting research can help us learn about, protect, and restore wildlife and biodiversity. In this process, I participated in other research experiences, published my first research paper, and began my PhD program at FIU, working with the same institution that supported my goals from the beginning, Zoo Miami’s Conservation and Research Department.

What piece of advice would you like to share with other fellow Rewildologists?

Follow your bliss! Do what makes you happy and brings you fulfillment. If you are passionate about conservation but aren’t interested in doing research, don’t be dissuaded! There are other ways you can help conservation efforts and make a career out of it (for example, conservation policy, conservation education, sustainability, etc.). The most important thing is that you do what you love and that you do it wholeheartedly because the fact that you love it is what will carry you through the most difficult, trying times.

Thank you so much for your time, Adrian!

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