Environment and Science
12:51 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition At Archbold Biological Station

WFIT has been following the ongoing Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition on an outdoor adventure through the sunshine state. This team of conservationists is showcasing some of the state's unique landscapes while stressing the need for contiguity of wild and pastoral places. 

Picture an ancient natural landscape in need of protection. What comes to mind probably isn't that scrubby vegetation that lines the beaches - the dense, spiky undergrowth that has to be crossed over on a boardwalk. To Floridians living along the east coast it might come as a surprise to know that this type of environment makes up large portions of Florida's interior as well, where it's an archaic remnant of the ocean in flux.

Archbold Biological Station recently hosted a Florida Wildlife Corridor event. Archbold, a research facility and conservation area, is run by Dr. Hilary Swain. She explained that all of a scrub ecosystem's adaptations are based on ancient dune systems, brought into formation by a great architect: The ocean.

There's the Lake Wales Ridge - where Archbold is located - the Ocala scrub, and Brevard County's own barrier island. Unfortunately, much coastal scrub has been cleared for housing. One modern example is preserved at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Aside from housing, scrub ridges have also been used for roadways. U.S. 1 and I - 95 are examples of this.

"It's no coincidence that we put our roads down the ridges," says Swain. "They were high and dry, and they didn't flood."

Then there are the life forms found within scrub habitats. The individual plants in this type of habitat can be hundreds, and even thousands of years old. Dr. Swain says many of these plants have a large portion of their structure, what Swain calls their biomass, below ground.

Some charismatic animal species, like the Florida scrub jays, are highly adapted to the specialized conditions of these ecosystems, including dryness and frequent fire.

So what does all this have to do with the Florida Wildlife Corridor? After presenting the fascinating scrub ecosystem at Archbold Biological Sation, Dr. Swain lead a panel discussion about the involvement of Archbold's scientists in the proposed corridor. She explained that the idea for this project got it's start at Archbold. She went on to say that it has been particularly rewarding to the researchers at Archbold to know that the data they've collected has helped engage the public in the importance of connecting Florida's remaining wild lands.

Swain says that Archbold is also dependent on its connection to surrounding lands.

She adds this: "We're dependent on a flow of species, and a flow of genes, and a flow of processes like fire and water."