Wildlife professor updates 'best available science' on Florida panther

Blacksburg, Va. -- When researchers and policymakers consider the best ways to protect an endangered species, the phrase "best available science" is frequently used to describe the scientific basis behind decisions that are aimed at preserving natural habitat and preventing further decline in species population.

However, the "best available science" has been shortchanging the Florida panther, according to an article by Liza Gross in the Pulbic Library of Science Biology (Aug. 23, 2005) and a report to be published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management (Beier P, Vaughan M, Conroy M, Quigley H. "Deconstructing flawed scientific inferences about the Florida panther.").

Since 2002, fisheries and wildlife science professor Mike Vaughan has been one of four members of a Science Review Team put in place to review the research of the State of Florida and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on one of the country's most endangered species: the Florida panther. As a team member and an expert on large carnivore ecology, Vaughan reviewed more than 20 years and 3,000 pages of scientific literature based on Florida panther research.

His analysis revealed serious flaws in their research and understanding of habitat requirements for the panthers. Vaughan pointed out that although the existing research conducted and adhered to by the FWS and State of Florida was loaded with what he called "improper inferences," it still was "taken as gospel once it was published, and [therefore] this flawed research keeps being cited."

The idea of reviewing research on the Florida panther was first brought to Vaughan's attention by his former Ph.D. student John Kasbohm, who was the coordinator of the Florida panther recovery program for the U.S. FWS.

As Vaughan and his colleagues reviewed the data gathered in the panther research, they quickly identified a major source of oversight in the service's analysis of panther habit

Contact: Lynn Davis
Virginia Tech

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