Dr. Tom Virzi ~ Executive Director

Tom has conducted ecological research since earning his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Rutgers University in 2008, working in academia and the nonprofit sector. In 2017, Tom decided it was time to start a new nonprofit organization that would not only conduct valuable scientific research, but would also seek innovative ways to share this research with the public to foster a better connection between people and nature. As Executive Director of Conservation InSight, Tom brings more than a decade of experience leading avian research projects throughout the US, along with an extensive background in business and finance from his previous career.

Tom’s research interests focus on avian ecology, with a strong interest in understanding the effects of ecological restoration projects on bird populations. Past avian research projects include studies of the effects of urbanization on American oystercatchers in coastal New Jersey, the effects of salmon estuary restoration projects on bird populations in north Puget Sound, Washington, and the use of artificial conspecific attraction to influence the settlement of endangered Florida grasshopper sparrows into restored habitat in the dry prairies of central Florida. Tom’s largest and longest-term project is a demographic study of the federally endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in the Florida Everglades – this work is ongoing with Tom acting as the principal investigator on this project for Conservation InSight.

Tom was previously the instructor of ornithology at Rutgers University and always enjoyed bringing his passion for birds into the classroom. He maintains a philosophy that education is a critical component of scientific research that is often undervalued in its importance towards achieving conservation goals. Our organization shares Tom’s conservation philosophy that to make lasting changes in our society we need the public to actively participate in conservation efforts, and education is the best way to engage people and keep them connected with nature.

Dr. Sean Murphy ~ Research Ecologist

Prior to coming to Conservation InSight, Sean spent six years working as a Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey-Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. He received a B.S. in Biology from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in Biology from the City University of New York in 2010.

Sean’s research interests focus on the interactions between avian populations and their environment. He has studied bird populations along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts as well as the Interior West. At Conservation InSight, he is helping develop a spatially-explicit population estimator for the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow using long-term survey data and new survey protocols to be recommended to agency partners to modify and improve current methods.

Sean is based out of central Pennsylvania and spends most of his free time with his wife and two young daughters. He enjoys hiking, biking, and birding.

Michelle Davis ~ Wildlife Biologist

Michelle Davis has been with Conservation Insight since its founding in 2017, leading the field crews monitoring the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park. She brings over 18 years of field experience with this species in this habitat, previously having worked with Dr. Julie Lockwood of Rutgers University. 

Michelle has been obsessed with birds from a very early age while growing up in northern California. She received a B. A. in Art with an emphasis on Scientific Illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1990 and then spent the next decade working as a seasonal field technician on various bird projects across the southern United States. During this time she developed a particular interest in both passerine migration and hands-on management of threatened and endangered species. She moved to south Florida in 2000 to work with the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park, and has continued this work up to the present day. Michelle also was integral in founding the Cape Florida Banding Station to monitor fall songbird migration on Key Biscayne; since 2002 the station has banded over 33,000 birds and trained dozens of local residents in citizen science. In December 2018 she will graduate with a Professional Science Masters in Environmental Policy and Management from Florida International University. This program allows Michelle to learn more about management-level issues and to then combine this broader knowledge with nearly 30 years of practical field experience. 

When not working Michelle can usually be found racing her Laser sailboat or puttering around in her orchid garden with a glass of wine.

David Tafoya ~ Crew Leader

David grew up in Southern California. He has always had a love of science and a fascination with nature. He completed a B.Sc. Degree in Biology with an emphasis on Ecology and Evolution in 2011, and has since worked as a field researcher on a variety of wonderful project. He is very happy to be back in South Florida and to be working with the Cape Sable seaside sparrow again. 

Some of David's other interests include making things (also known as crafting), gardening, and of course birding.

Courtenay Harding ~ Field Technician

Courtenay is a field technician working on the Cape Sable seaside sparrow project in the Florida Everglades. She received her B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida in 2017. Courtenay became hooked on wildlife after an internship through the University of Florida conducting acoustic surveys of endangered Florida bonneted bats in South Florida and has since worked on a few different projects. She chose to work in this field to protect and fight for wildlife biodiversity.

Courtenay is interested in human influences on bird diversity decline particularly involving invasive species and climate change. She enjoys birding, herping, wildlife photography, and social media outreach.

Brittany Panos ~ Field Technician

Brittany joined Conservation InSight as a field technician monitoring the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in the Florida Everglades. She is a native to South Florida and has grown up on the edge of the Everglades her whole life.

Brittany attended the University of Florida and received a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. While at UF, she volunteered and worked under Dr. Kathryn Sieving doing bioacoustic work on the vocal complexity of tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees. Along with this, she has experience nest searching and is an ABA certified bird bander. Her main research interests involve studying the effects of anthropogenic climate change on at risk avian species. She was recently accepted into the University of Hawaii - Hilo where she hopes to bring this research to life while working on Hawaiian honeycreepers.

When not working, Brittany enjoys birding around her local areas, reading, gaming, and spends as much time as possible with her dog back home.

A. J. Pate ~ Field Technician

A.J. joined Conservation InSight in 2018 as a member of the crew studying the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park. Prior to this, he has spent time working on various conservation projects throughout the United States, including a prior seaside sparrow project in Louisiana. Most recently, he has spent the last few years monitoring the populations of forest birds in American Samoa.

He has been passionate about wildlife and conservation his whole life, and developed an enthusiasm for avian research while studying at Auburn University where he earned a B.S. in Zoology in 2012. Starting in the fall of 2018 he will begin a Master’s program at Tulane University.

When not in the field, A.J. enjoys watching Auburn football, reading comics, and looking for adventure with his island dog Trigger.

Nice to meet you!

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