From scgovNEWS:

SARASOTA (THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2005) – Thanks to an innovative partnership between Sarasota’s scientific, educational and economic communities, Sarasota County may soon have a scientific field station in the Myakka Watershed that will cultivate intellectual and financial capital and address future ecological needs.

In September, approximately 20 scientists from around the country arrived in Sarasota to assist in choosing a site for the station, which would serve as a base camp for research and education and monitor the ecological health of Southwest Florida.

The meeting was funded by the TREE Foundation, a local scientific group that built the canopy walkway in Myakka River State Park. It was coordinated in conjunction with the Economic Development Corporation, Sarasota County and New College of Florida. Scientists from around the country, including Dayna Baumeister, Ph.D., of the Biomimicry Guild in Helena, Mont., and John Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., of Cornell University, visited four sites within the Myakka Watershed for the research station. Most favored T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve.

A field station in the Myakka Watershed would attract researchers and graduate students, funding an economic boon to Sarasota County through ecotourism, summer science camps and a visitors center for educational exhibits, according to Dr. Meg Lowman, director of Environmental Initiatives at New College of Florida.

Lowman says the station would attract scientists searching for unique ecosystems to explore, and cites the successful Archbold Field Station in central Florida as an example. “The Archbold offers a scrub ecosystem within walking distance of beds, a library and a kitchen,” said Lowman. “The combination has drawn researchers from throughout the county, the majority from northern universities, resulting in more than 1,100 scientific publications documenting its plants, animals and ecology.”

Lowman expects similar results with a research facility here. “Just over 50 texts have been published in Sarasota County, all limited to one species, the scrub jay,” noted Lowman. “All of these [other] systems are vastly unknown,” she added. Ecosystems provide lots of free services for human beings, such as prevention of soil erosion, nutrient cycles dependent for the quality of our health and life. To keep them working for us we need to understand how they work.”

Rob Patten, executive director for Sarasota County Environmental Services, says the field station could also fuel valuable research into the burgeoning science of biomimicry, which studies nature and then applies its designs and processes to solve human problems. “This is a unique partnership that will enable environmental decisions to be based on both economics and biology,” said Patten, who believes the station could be a model for similar collaborations in the future.

Lowman says the next step in creating the field station is to apply for funding, with eventual construction beginning by 2008.

For more information on the field station, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at (941) 861-5000