Degree: Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies
College/School: School of Environment, Arts and Society, College of Arts, Sciences & Education
Growing up, Adrian Figueroa admired Steve Irwin – the rugged conservationist and TV star who followed animals anywhere they went to gain a better understanding of how they lived and how they affected their environment.
Many of Adrian’s family trips involved camping and fishing. Those experiences and Irwin’s show inspired Adrian to pursue a career in environmental studies. As an FIU student researching how tortoises affect Florida’s endangered pine rocklands around Zoo Miami, Adrian did a very Steve Irwin thing – he followed the tortoises and collected their droppings for a year. Sifting through 2,484 seeds in 54 of the finest, fresh-cut-grass-smelling samples led him to this discovery: Gopher tortoises eat the pineland croton, which is the only known shelter for two federally protected butterflies. This could inform conservation strategies for the tortoise, the pine rocklands, the butterflies and the plant communities.
Like Irwin, Adrian’s research efforts have taken him abroad. On a recent National Science Foundation summer research trip to Costa Rica, Adrian placed camera traps in 48 locations in the jungle to study the behavior of pig-like animals called collared pecarries. Since Fall 2018, he has also mentored 20 FIU student researchers in the university’s Tropical Conservation Internship Program.
But Adrian’s not done with the gopher tortoise. He was accepted into the Ph.D. program in earth systems science at FIU, where he hopes to see if the pineland croton seeds grow wherever the tortoises leave them behind.
By Chrystian Tejedor
Account Manager, College of Arts, Sciences & Education