Lee News

Freake Serves on Expert Panel


By Ashley Walker

Lee University’s Professor of Biology Dr. Michael Freake recently served on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Status Assessment expert panel for Eastern Hellbenders in Marietta, Ohio.

Eastern Hellbenders are a candidate for being listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will announce a decision regarding this listing in 2018. An important part of the listing process is expert scientific assessment of population trends and likely threats.

Experts from each state were invited to take part in the three-day workshop. Freake joined Dale McGinnity from the Nashville Zoo in representing Tennessee.

Dr. Freakes serves on Expert Panel
Dr. Michael Freake

While on the panel, Freake and other experts looked at current Hellbender populations and attempted to predict how the status of the populations will change in the future given the impact of factors they had identified. They were also asked to perform the challenging task of giving worst case, best case, and most likely case predictions, as well as a level of confidence for each prediction.

Freake’s assessments, along with those of the other experts, will be used to determine the likelihood that Eastern Hellbenders will decline in abundance, distribution, and genetic diversity to the point that they are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Freake joined Lee’s faculty in 2001. Along with teaching biology, he is the head coach of the women’s rugby team, which has made multiple showings at nationals nine times since 2010. Rugby, which is traditionally a fifteen person sport, also competes in shorter games which feature only seven players on the field.

Freake’s research on conservation biology and genetics of eastern hellbenders has been published in journals including PLoS ONE, Diseases of Aquatic Organisms and the Bulletin of the Florida Natural History Museum.

For more information about Eastern Hellbenders, contact Freake at mfreake@leeuniversity.edu.

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