AEC Skills in Action at the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP) The Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants is a nationally recognized center for invasive plant research, and Shelby Thomas is the Communications Manager for this organization.

You will not meet anyone more passionate about communicating science and sharing the vast importance of invasive plant species than Shelby Thomas. Invasive species are plants or animals that are non-native to an ecosystem and often overpower native plants or animals. Thomas is the Communications Manager for the University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP).

Shelby Thomas is the Communications Manager for the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP).

“Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up, but it actually ended up being a really great opportunity to grow myself and to grow something pretty huge at the Center,” said Thomas.

CAIP at the UF is a nationally recognized Center for invasive plant research. The mission of CAIP is to develop and disseminate strategies for addressing the impact of invasive plants. Florida is a very unique state that has a wide variety of plants and vegetation due to our climate, so it is very helpful for the UF to research invasive plant species.

This invasive plant species is water hyacinth. The beautiful green color and bright flowers in bloom are appealing to the eye, but they are a problematic species outside their native range. If you see these plants in your backyard, be sure to report it!

“We’re the only Center of our kind in the nation. And so, people often look to us for information on basic plant monitoring and management. And that's people from New York to California,” said Thomas.

Thomas helps develop communication strategies and messages about CAIP’s research on aquatic and invasive plants, the use of herbicides, and different forms of invasive plant management. The studies are published and shared online for others around the country to understand invasive plants. CAIP works to educate formal and non-formal educators and students through public outreach programs such as school and community program visits and electronic field trips.

Wild taro is an invasive plant that grows quickly and crowds out native vegetation. This plant is known for its very large, arrowhead-shaped, dark-green, velvety leaves.

Thomas is a graduate of the UF Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) department, and is the current CAIP Communications Manager. Thomas is responsible for all of the social media, visuals, and communication at CAIP, and she actively participates in CAIP outreach and public relations with the UF/IFAS Florida Invasive Plant Education initiative. The UF/IFAS Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative provides educators with the information and resources needed to teach students about the harmful impacts some non-native, invasive plants are having on natural areas and neighborhoods.

Shelby Thomas spent four years in the AEC program at the University of Florida and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“We're all a very, very new group of young scientists who are just really excited about accomplishing the mission that we set for ourselves and really addressing the impact of invasive plants. We’re attempting to set ourselves apart as a Center,” said Thomas.

The work being done at CAIP is helping farmers and civilians around the world eradicate deadly invasive plant species. Moving forward, Thomas has a goal to develop an online newsletter for the Center and to develop research guides, which would turn CAIP’s academic research publications into consumable conversational information for the public.

Photo taken by IFAS Photography.

The skills that Thomas learned from the AEC department at UF have prepared her for effectively communicating these issues to inform all audiences about invasive plant species and how to make a difference in the natural world. Stay up to date on the latest information regarding invasive plants by following CAIP on social media and do your part to help eradicate invasive species!

Photo Credits: UF/IFAS Photography and UF/IFAS CAIP.

Created By
Savannah Gardner


Photo Credits to Shelby Oesterreicher and Savannah Gardner