The pet trade is a big industry worldwide—about 1,800 species of marine fish are sold, and virtually all of them are wild-caught. The pressure to collect marine fish has negatively impacted wild populations of highly prized fish. One such species is the Pacific blue tang, Paracanthurus hepatus, which filmgoers may recognize through Dory, the character in the Disney/Pixar films “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” Matt DiMaggio, an assistant professor with the UF/UFAS Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program, leads a research team at the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, located in Ruskin in Hillsborough County, that has been developing protocols for breeding several in-demand fish in order to reduce the pressure on wild populations. In 2016, DiMaggio and his team were able to successfully farm the blue tang in captivity. They hope to use their methods to help commercial producers replicate the process.
Pacific blue tang. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
Strawberries make up a large portion of Florida’s agricultural industry—about $300 million a year. In recent years, Florida’s strawberry growers have had to compete with low-cost production from Mexico, forcing them to increase the quality of their product. The UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GREC) in Hillsborough County works with agricultural producers in the area to develop and share new science-based information and technology. A large part of the research at UF/IFAS GREC is focused on developing new varieties of fruits and vegetables. Of the 11,000 acres dedicated to strawberry production in Florida, 85 percent are planted in UF/IFAS varieties. Vance Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at GREC, developed what is now branded as the Sweet Sensation™ strawberry. Developed through laborious cuttings and crossings, the strawberry tastes sweeter and has a longer shelf life than other UF/IFAS varieties, making it more attractive to faraway markets. This kind of research on strawberry breeding has increased the size of the berries and shortened their production time, allowing growers to cash in on higher prices at the beginning of the season.
Photo: Vance Whitaker, associate professor at UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. UF/IFAS File Photo