Behind the science: Q&A with biologist Jim Lee
Tue, Oct 26 2010 at 10:02 AM
By The Nature Conservancy
One of the most endangered frogs in the U.S., the Mississippi gopher frog is about three inches long when full-grown. Once common in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, now its only known home is two Mississippi ponds—one in Harrison County and another in Jackson County. TNC staff members are working in association with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to re-populate a third pond (in Jackson County) to increase the frog’s chances of survival.
This species actually relies on fire for survival, since regular fires maintain the open tree canopy and ground cover plants needed to maintain the correct type of habitats.
Nature.org spoke with the Mississippi Conservancy’s Biologist, Jim Lee.
Nature.org: What led you to a career in science?
Jim Lee: I have been interested in wildlife and the environment since I was a kid. I always enjoy being outdoors and am especially interested in reptiles and amphibians.
Nature.org: What is one of the weirdest/most disgusting things you’ve had to do in the name of science?
Jim Lee: I often find my subject matter, such as snakes, ‘dead on the road’ [after a run-in with a car or other vehicle]. I often will do a necropsy—an autopsy on an animal—to find out more about that particular animal, including what it last ate, and even if it was in good health or not. We can figure out which animals eat what and how everything is connected together.
Another part of my job that some people might think is disgusting is the time I spend with scat—animal poop. For example, I might separate out bones and other materials from a snake’s scat sample to figure out what animals it ate. From this information, we can tell what types of food the snakes use and determine if there is a potential problem, such as an expected shortage in the number of prey that are eaten by the snake. It’s kind of like riding in a messy friend’s car and seeing the types of food wrappers they leave around—you can definitely tell what and where they like to eat.
Nature.org: What’s been your most embarrassing moment on the job or in nature?
Jim Lee: I think it was the time when I tore my pants nearly off when I was checking traps in the field one day, and then had an unexpected meeting with a number of partner agencies when I arrived back to the office—luckily, that’s only happened once.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
(Photo: © Jim Lee/TNC)