Pine Trees and Treefrogs

Authors: Teresa Fonseca & Betsie Rothermel

Pinewoods Treefrog in a palmetto. Photo by Theresa Fonseca.

“Have you heard the Pinewoods Treefrogs? This rain is really making them happy!” remarked Dr. Betsie Rothermel, director of the Archbold Herpetology Program, a couple of weeks ago. For the past several months, the treefrogs had been generally inactive due to cool, dry weather. Although now, through the gentle patter of the rain and the rustle of the wind, their “tek tek tek” call came ringing like Morse code from the pine trees.

The calls of male Pinewoods Treefrogs signal the beginning of their breeding season, when the adults journey to seasonal ponds to mate and spawn the next generation. However, like most treefrogs, they spend a significant portion of their lives out of water in the terrestrial environment.

Pinewoods Treefrogs are just one of several treefrog species found in central Florida. Others include the Squirrel Treefrog, Green Treefrog, Barking Treefrog, and the invasive Cuban treefrog. While you are likely to see a Cuban Treefrog or maybe a Green Treefrog in your backyard or clinging to your house, Pinewoods Treefrogs are a bit harder to find. That is, unless there is Florida scrub nearby. These native treefrogs depend on seasonal ponds, which are common in the scrub at Archbold and other natural areas.

Seasonal ponds fill with summer rains and dry out in the winter. Because the ponds do not hold water all year long, the fish populations cannot persist from year to year. This means tadpoles can grow up in the ponds without the major threat of fish predators. In more urbanized landscapes, however, seasonal wetlands are often drained or modified to stay wet all year, making them more suitable for fish than for treefrog tadpoles.

Pinewoods Treefrogs are fairly small, about an inch long, with smooth and slightly sticky skin. Individuals can be bright green, sandy beige, or a deep mottled brown, with pale tan undersides. These colors allow the frogs to blend in well with their surroundings, whether it be amongst leaves, sand, or bark.

With all the ways that they blend in, searching the scrub for the tiny frogs would be an exhausting endeavor for anyone wanting to study them. When not high up in their namesake trees, they often hide within palmetto fronds. Undaunted by this challenge, Archbold herpetology research intern Theresa Fonseca launched a study to determine what type of terrestrial habitat Pinewoods Treefrogs use during the dry season. Rather than actively searching for frogs, she used PVC pipes to assess their presence (or absence) across 30 locations, some in an area burned 2 years ago by a wildfire and some in longer unburned areas. Though unnatural, the pipes provide an inviting refuge away from the hot sun.

Then it was simply a matter of checking the pipes twice a week for a couple of months, to see which were empty and which had frogs. Peering down inside a pipe, a pair of bright black eyes would stare out of the long plastic tube. A frog! But was it a Pinewoods Treefrog? The only way to know for sure was to gently remove the frog from the pipe and inspect it more closely. As Theresa explained, “There is one feature that makes Pinewoods Treefrogs stand out. They have yellowish-orange spots on the back of their thighs, though you can only see the spots when they extend their back legs.” After identifying and measuring each frog, she returned them to their pipes.

A Pinewoods Treefrog on a tree with stretched out back leg, revealing yellow thigh spots (left), and a Pinewoods Treefrog in a PVC pipe (right). Photos by Theresa Fonseca.

One initial finding of Theresa’s study is that the “Pinewoods” Treefrog is very appropriate name! Pipes that were closer to a pine tree were more likely to be occupied by a treefrog at least once during the 6-week study. In a separate study, University of Central Florida researchers showed that Pinewoods Treefrogs climbed pine trees to escape fire, but many returned to the ground post-fire. This left Theresa thinking, are the treefrogs staying close to the trees, ready to climb if a fire comes? And do they stray farther from the trees during wetter times when fires are less likely? Regardless, mature pines are important to this species.

Although many pine trees survive fire and can provide a refuge for treefrogs, whether or not they do depends on complex interactions between the frequency, seasonal timing, and intensity of natural or prescribed fires. Archbold considers this when planning and conducting controlled burns, which are critical for maintaining Florida scrub habitat. To learn more about the Archbold Herpetology Program, please visit:

Archbold Appoints New Interim Director of Philanthropy

Archbold’s philanthropy program is entering a new era with a change in leadership and expanded opportunities for engagement.

Over the past seven years, Deborah Pollard has diligently led and grown the program, empowering donors across the country in support of Archbold’s mission to build and share the knowledge necessary to protect the life, lands, and waters of Florida and beyond.

Under her leadership, the philanthropy program thrived. Pollard channeled her passion for Archbold and experience in marketing, and she stewarded important relationships with partner organizations, stakeholders, and local communities. One of her achievements was expanding the philanthropy team to employ an annual giving manager, giving donors a more personal experience.

In September of last year, Tahlia Warrick stepped into the new annual giving role, and upon Pollard’s departure in December, Warrick took leadership of the department as Interim Director of Philanthropy.

Tahlia Warrick – Photo by Dustin Angell

Warrick is a native of Gainesville, Florida and has been a resident of Lake Placid since 2019. However, her first introduction to Archbold was in 2013 when she worked as a cattle operations intern at Buck Island Ranch. She holds bachelors and master’s degrees from the University of Florida in Agricultural Education and Communication, and she has worked in both higher education development and corporate communications.

A change in leadership is not the only development for the program. Dr. Zach Forsburg, previously the Archbold Communications Coordinator, will be moving into the newly created position of Engagement Manager. In this role, Forsburg will work closely with Archbold scientists and donors to steward strong relationships with stakeholders and advance Archbold’s science, conservation, and education programs.

Zach Forsburg – Photo by Dustin Angell

Forsburg joined the Archbold community as a herpetology graduate research intern in 2009. He earned his PhD from Texas State University in 2020 and has a background in herpetology and conservation ecology. Forsburg brings a valuable science-centered perspective to the philanthropy team.

With a new team in place, Archbold’s philanthropy department will soon be announcing the newly created Richard Archbold Founder’s Circle. Inspired by Richard Archbold’s generosity and dedication to science, the Founder’s Circle is an annual giving opportunity for donors to engage with Archbold more personally. The program is set to launch in May.

Though Pollard stepped away from Archbold, she isn’t going far. She will now be serving the Live Wildly Foundation as Director of Marketing and Branding. Live Wildly manages an awareness campaign and works closely with Archbold to champion conservation initiatives in Florida.

To learn more about Archbold’s philanthropy program, visit, or contact

Margaret Shippen Roebling: Highlands County Founder

Author: Joe Gentili

Margaret Shippen McIlvaine was born on August 31, 1867 in Trenton County New Jersey, to Anne de Belleville Hunt and Edward Shippen McIlvaine.  Her family had deep ties to the New Jersey area, dating to before the American Revolution and including one member who was a U.S. Senator representing the state in the 1820’s. Margaret lived a privileged childhood, though was affected by health ailments, including tuberculosis which would be a long-term affliction that altered many aspects of her life.

On June 12, 1888, she married John Augustus Roebling II, son of the builder and grandson of the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. John lived in New Jersey as well, where his family had established a company to manufacture steel wire for bridge construction. The couple would be married for more than 40 years.

Margaret’s health concerns were always in the background, however. The couple tried living in Arizona and North Carolina, since doctors recommended Margaret live in a warm dry climate. The conventional wisdom at this time was that this would be good for those with tuberculosis. Eventually the search for a warm dry climate would lead to Lake Placid, Florida. Margaret’s time in Highlands County began during the winter of 1928. Melville Dewey (known for the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries) built a large lodge in Lake Placid during the height of the 1920’s land boom in Florida. Winters in South-Central Florida fit Margaret’s doctor’s instructions perfectly, and the new lodge provided a comfortable place to spend the season. During one of these visits, Margaret flew over the area, with her son Donald as pilot, which would later become Highlands Hammock State Park. She was clearly impressed, and word started to spread that the Margaret might acquire some of the lands he viewed from the airplane. In a 1930 Club News item, Melville Dewey noted that, “Margaret Roebling, a life member who has spent 2 winters at Club Lodge, gave $25,000 to buy this land.”  According to the official Florida State Parks description, “[she] later contributed another $25,000, with the condition that the community raise $5,000 to show its commitment… The property, which consisted of 550 acres of the Hammock proper and an additional 1,500 acres, was acquired in 1930.”After several winters in Lake Placid, Margaret and John decided to build a seasonal home in the area. According to Archbold Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer, “They purchased 1,050 acres of forested land 8 miles south of Lake Placid (two transactions May 15, 1929 & March 30, 1930), where they intended to construct a winter home on the highest point of the land, Red Hill, 213 feet above sea level.” Unfortunately, Margaret died at the age of 63 on October 23, 1930, and the Roeblings never built their winter home. Both the store and supply buildings of the Red Hill and Highlands Hammock were only in the early stages of their respective development. John saw that each project was completed, largely as a legacy to Margaret. During the Great Depression work on these two properties provided jobs for hundreds of locals in a very difficult time. The Red Hill property would never be the home Margaret had sought, though her son Donald facilitated the transfer of the grounds from his father John to his childhood friend Richard Archbold in 1941. Richard would make the land his home for the next 35 years, and created Archbold Biological Station. Margaret’s legacy of preservation of local natural areas continues to this day, more than 90 years after her death, at Archbold and Highlands Hammock. There is a stone marker at Highlands Hammock State Park with a plaque dedicated to Margaret which reads “Highlands Hammock. Purchased by the late Margaret Shippen Roebling (Mrs. John A. Roebling). To make accessible and to conserve in their natural state the vegetation and all forms animal life herein. In her memory the officers and directors of Highlands Hammock Inc. here place this tablet, March 15, 1931.” This succinct memorial gets right to the heart of what Margaret Roebling means to Highlands County. In just a few short years, she was critical to the creation of two large natural areas, which to this day conserve thousands of acres of the County and protect the plants and animals within. Her Legacy as a Highlands County Founder is still thriving nearly a century after she last set foot on the ground.

First In-Person Meeting of Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group Since 2019

Attendees of the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystems Working Group meeting.

Author: Emily Angell

This past February, on a beautiful Florida morning, biologists and land managers from all over Highlands County and nearby areas were streaming into Bok Tower Gardens for the first in-person meeting of the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group since February 2019.

The Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group is an association of non-profit, federal, and state organizations. It was founded in 1991 to ensure the long-term protection of the native plants, animals, and natural communities of the unique Lake Wales Ridge, a 115-mile-long sand ridge that extends from Clermont south to Venus, Florida. This ancient dune is what remains of a series of small islands that existed when, two million years ago, Florida was almost completely covered by water. Long-term isolation on these islands caused the plants and animals in these areas to evolve unique characteristics to deal with the harsh, sandy environment. The most well-known habitat found here is the Florida scrub, home to the iconic Florida Scrub-Jay.

Scientists at Archbold Biological Station, located on the south end of the ridge, have spent more than 80 years studying the plants and animals of this one-of-a-kind region. Many Archbold staff, past and present, participate in the working group. “The Lake Wales Ridge is such an extraordinarily special sliver of land – so many species are found here and nowhere else on earth, and they’re just trying to hang on amidst the orange groves, ranches, and development,” said Dr. Aaron David, Archbold Plant Ecology Program Director. There are nearly two dozen plant species and more than 40 invertebrate species that are endemic to the Lake Wales Ridge, meaning they only occur here in this small slice of Florida.

February’s meeting was organized by Candice Knothe, the Environmental Lands Stewardship Coordinator for Polk County Parks and Natural Resources. Said Candice, “I think the meeting went great. We got a lot of positive feedback from many members. People were happy to see each other in-person and be able to network. The meeting covered a variety of topics that included prescribed fire resources, using drones to map and monitor prescribed fires and wildfires, restoring cogon grass fields, and flatwoods restoration. The highlight for many was the presentation given by Dr. Reed Bowman on the successful strategy for recovering the Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the Avon Park Air Force Range. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm moving forward with the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group. Members are eager to exchange information and collaborate.” Dr. Bowman, the emeritus John Fitpatrick Director of Avian Ecology at Archbold, was also honored with a custom portrait to commemorate his retirement after 33 years.

Sixty-five people from fourteen different state, federal, private, and non-profit organizations attended the meeting, including Archbold, Florida Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida State Parks, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy.

Dr. Reed Bowman holding his custom portrait by photographer and Archbold Director of Education Dustin Angell. Photo by Emily Angell.

Mixing It Up: New Seed Mixes Tackle Old Problems in the Soil

Daikon radishes growing in an experimental pasture. Photo by Karen Rice-David.

Author: Karen Rice-David

Buried underground in the fields of Florida ranchlands lies a tricky environmental issue: legacy soil Phosphorus. Phosphorus became a commonly used fertilizer in the 1950’s. It was used to grow high-protein clover fields and Bahia grass, a subtropical grass that grows well in heat and can handle wet and dry conditions, as forage for cattle. It was not until the 1980’s that farmers and scientists realized that Phosphorus fertilizer could harm water quality, and reduced Phosphorus applications were recommended. At Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, very little to no Phosphorus fertilizer has been added to the soil since 1986, yet Phosphorus remains in the soil, thus considered legacy soil Phosphorus. Phosphorus can leach out of the soil, potentially polluting ditches, canals, and ultimately the Everglades watershed. Dr. Betsey Boughton, Archbold Agroecology Program Director said, “Even though Phosphorus loads from cattle pastures are low relative to other land uses (on a per-acre basis) the large acreage of ranches in the watershed makes them, cumulatively, a significant contributor to overall Phosphorus loads. Therefore, ranches have been a focus for improved Phosphorus control. At Buck Island Ranch, we are testing a variety of ways to mitigate soil legacy Phosphorus.”

Buck Island Ranch scientists have teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, with funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, to explore if interseeding cover crops into pastures may be an effective way to capture Phosphorus, improve soil health, and improve water quality in Florida pasturelands. Interseeding is when new plants are planted within an existing pasture.  David Royal of The Nature Conservancy is one of the co-leaders of this three-year project and noted, “cover crops are nothing new, but most scientific papers are from the Midwest. This is an opportunity to get data from Florida, which is so different from any other state. Water quality is a major topic, and if we can find ways to improve and protect it, believe me the agricultural industry wants to do that. They know the land is their livelihood, so they want to be good stewards.”

Scientists at Buck Island Ranch planted two different seed mixes in pastures this winter, and will plant another seed mixture in the summer. As you walk through these cow pastures this spring, you can observe these seed mixes coming to life; daikon radishes, turnips, crimson clovers, rye, wheat, and oat are popping up amongst the Bahia grass. “Each of these cover crops have roles to play in improving the soil,” added Karen Rice-David, Archbold Agroecology Program Research Assistant. “The radishes and turnips have these large taproots, or tubers, that will decay and leave behind pockets in the soil. That will help air and water move down into the soil for other plants and microorganisms to use. Legumes like crimson clover and hairy vetch can add Nitrogen to the soil and reduce the need for fertilizer. Their roots are also good at finding nutrients in the soil and can capture those excess nutrients before it leaches out of the soils and into the waterways. Plus, we will have more flowering plants which may attract more pollinators, which in turn may attract more birds and other wildlife.”

David Royal believes there will be many benefits to our local ranchers if they start using these cover crops. “Water quality is our top priority. By absorbing excess nutrients and improving soil health, that will also improve forage growth. By doing variety mixes – that will extend the growing season, which benefits the grazing period during the winter months for the rancher. These plants will absorb nutrients, and as they breakdown at the end of the season they add nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. As a management program, the landowner can re-seed some species and cut seed to increase their acreage. It’s a win-win for all.”

Tractor aerating the Bahia grass pasture in preparation for planting the new seed mixes. Photo by Karen Rice-David.

Archbold Re-Opens to the Public

Visitors and research interns viewing specimens in the Avian Ecology lab on Darwin Day. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Author: Michaela Herron

Archbold Biological Station re-opened its gates to the public this past January. The first visitors to the Station were Johnny Baakpiny and Dona Khneisser, graduate students from the University of Illinois. The two were interested in learning about the landscape and wildlife of the Lake Wales Ridge, particularly Eastern Indigo Snakes. When asked about their experience, they stated that they felt “privileged to be Archbold’s first visitors.”    

Archbold Biological Station is dedicated to scientific research, conservation, and environmental education. Scientists study the Florida Scrub, a unique ecosystem with species found nowhere else in the world. Staff study plants and animals including Scrub Mint, Florida Scrub-Jays, Gopher Tortoises, and Black bears. 

Archbold is now open to everyone, Thursday through Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm. Visitors can walk trails, watch videos in the Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, and view the historic buildings on the campus. Archbold has also started hosting events for the public, and recently hosted Darwin Day. Visitors were able to view a collection of animal and plant specimens, and speak with scientists about their work. Cecilia Luaces, a volunteer at Archbold, assisted with the event. “A lot of people came,” she said. “The research facilities were open to the public, which is such a treat. It’s such a good mission.” 

Additional events are scheduled for the next few months. These include a swamp buggy tour of Buck Island Ranch (March 17th, 1-3 pm); a plant collection demonstration (March 18th, 10-11 am); a talk on Florida Scrub-Jays (March 19th, 1:30-2:30 pm); and two guided ecology hikes (March 25th, 9-11 am and April 22nd, 9-11 am). More information can be found on Archbold’s website and social media. 

Michaela Herron, Environmental Education Intern, has been working at the Station for three months. “I am really looking forward to the upcoming events,” she says. “Every time visitors come, I get excited. They fill the campus with life! Furthermore, these events will be a great learning opportunity for the community. In my experience, the more people learn about the Scrub, the more they grow to appreciate it.” 

In addition to welcoming visitors, Archbold continues to welcome volunteers as well. The Station needs help with various tasks, including checking in guests and assisting with landscape management. “If you would like to help us, please call our Volunteer Coordinator, Alice, at (863) 273-2166,” says Linda Gette, a long-term volunteer. “We are so excited to welcome the public back.”

Archbold Hosts Long Term Agroecosystem Research Network Meeting

Members of the Regionalization Project working group. Photo by Gerardo Armendariz.

Authors: Shefali Azad, Vivienne Sclater, & Julie Sorfleet

Last month, Archbold Biological Station hosted a weeklong meeting for the US Department of Agriculture Long Term Agroecosystem Research network. The US Department of Agriculture Long Term Agroecosystem Research network is comprised of 18 research sites across the continental US. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch – in partnership with University of Florida’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center – is one of the 18 network sites, focusing on issues unique to the subtropical grazing lands of Florida. The research sites collaborate on strategies to improve sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture requires balancing increased outputs, like crop or cattle production, with the conservation of natural resources, protection of the environment, and enhancement of rural wellbeing. Network scientists design experimental treatments tailored to their region’s climate, geophysical characteristics, agricultural products and practices, and cultural context. These experimental treatments contrast with the standard practices for managing agriculture lands in an attempt to provide producers and agencies with important information and new techniques for management and economic decision-making. 

Within the Network, there are different network-level working groups that focus on specific topics, agricultural challenges, and opportunities. Working groups meet periodically to work together to achieve different research goals. The network scientists representing the Regionalization Project, Human Dimensions Working Group, Remote Sensing & Geographic Information Systems Working Group, and Communications Strategies Working Group met for the 2023 Long Term Agroecosystem Research Integrated Meeting at Archbold. Over the course of the week, the groups met to workshop strategies and goals for 2023.

Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch

Vivienne Sclater, Archbold Director of Data and Technology, is part of the Regionalization Project, which aims to estimate the spatial footprints for Long Term Agroecosystem Research network research. Vivienne explained, “We want to know to what geographic extent we can extrapolate the results of our research. In other words, where else can we apply what we learn from our experiments to help improve sustainability elsewhere?” The group has been working on new methods to answer this question since 2018, and this meeting served as a writing workshop. Seven new journal papers were outlined which will be submitted for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Landscape Ecology later this year.

The Human Dimensions group was created to support the social, economic, and cultural components of agroecosystem research. Social scientists within this group assess the capacity of the network to support rural prosperity, and create frameworks to engage stakeholders and discover barriers to adopting innovations. Archbold Data Manager Shefali Azad stated, “The meeting refined network indicators for rural wellbeing, and the group laid the groundwork for a multi-site survey of producer and consumer issues that will be deployed this summer.”

Archbold Geographic Information Systems Research Assistant Julie Sorfleet, participates in the Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems working group. The goal of this group is to share resources and support coordinated research to address agroecosystem problems using remotely sensed data (data collected with satellites and drones).  Julie said, “We discussed how to derive common indicators from remote sensing methods across the Network sites, and piloted a new project to estimate biomass from satellite and drone imagery in both cropland and rangeland sites.”

The visiting scientists also enjoyed a swamp buggy tour of Buck Island Ranch and short hiking trips in Archbold’s sandy scrub ecosystem. This workshop facilitated collaborative work within and across working groups to advance projects supporting the mission to improve sustainable agriculture. 

Lake Placid Christmas Bird Count

Gull-billed Tern, a new species for the Lake Placid Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Patrick Blake.

Author: Emily Angell

On December 19, 2022, twenty-one determined birders awoke well before dawn and journeyed forth in search of every bird they could find; this was the start of the 34th annual Lake Placid Christmas Bird Count. The enthusiastic birders set out to spot as many species of bird as they could, and count every individual of each species, within a 7.5-mile radius circle, the center of which is near downtown Lake Placid. Nine different teams covered as much of the area as possible, driving back roads, slogging through wetlands, scanning lakes, peering into treetops, and listening with their keen ears.

The count has been on a two-year hiatus, largely due to the pandemic and participant turnover. Emily Angell, Archbold Research Assistant, decided to start it up again. “The Lake Placid Count was started in 1987 by Dr. Glenn Woolfenden, former Archbold Avian Ecology Director. I’ve participated in this count in the past and thought it would be a shame to let it go by the wayside. It used to be one of the highest inland counts east of the Mississippi River,” says Angell. “Last year, 82 counts took place in Florida alone, and I think ours is pretty special.”

Participants counted more than 16,000 individuals of 123 species of birds over the course of twelve hours, including eight species of ducks, ten species of heron, sixteen species of owls and raptors, eight species of shorebirds, seven species of woodpeckers, and six species of warblers. One highlight was the addition of a single Gull-billed Tern, a new species for the count, found by Patrick Blake. In the past, the Lake Placid count has observed between 118 and 155 species, depending upon weather conditions, water levels, and the number and expertise of participants. “It wasn’t a great year for warblers or ducks,” Angell mused.

One of the Lake Placid Christmas Bird Count teams birding on Lake Istokpoga with an airboat. From top left and going clockwise: Hilary Swain, Paul Gray, Sandra Sneckenberger, and Liberta Scotto. Photo by Sandra Sneckenberger.

“I’ve recently heard the Christmas Bird Count referred to as ‘endurance birding,’ and that’s exactly what it is,” says Angell. “We go from before dawn to dusk, always chasing that next flock, always looking for that rarity we can share with the group later.” After the count, several participants gathered back at Archbold for some well-deserved dinner and a rehash of the day’s highlights. “The best part is hearing what everyone found. There are always some great stories, like the group who spied a Great Blue Heron that had killed and was eating a Belted Kingfisher. We all debated over whether or not to count the kingfisher, since it was technically alive at the start of the count,” laughed Angell.

According to Angell, “the count couldn’t have happened without the cooperation and help of the Highlands County Audubon Society, local landowners who allowed access onto their properties, and of course all our fantastic and dedicated birders! We had participants who have done this count for decades and many that were brand new. It was such a great mix of people and I’m grateful for their hard work.”

The original Christmas Bird Count was started in 1900 by an intrepid ornithologist who decided to count, rather than shoot, birds (as was the tradition), and is continued to this day through the National Audubon Society. It is one of the longest-running citizen science projects in the world. Hundreds of counts, which run from December 14 to January 5, take place annually across North America. Data collected during counts contribute to assessing the long-term health and status of bird populations and can help guide conservation actions.

2022 at Archbold: the year in review

Archbold has officially re-opened to the public! Walk-in visitors may tour the Archbold Nature Trail on Thursday through Sunday from 8am to 5pm.

2022 was a year of returning to normal, continued growth, and milestones for Archbold. After a pause due to Covid, Archbold returned to sponsoring visiting early-career scientists through the Archbold Visiting Scholar program. Archbold also had a vibrant cohort of post-baccalaureate research interns who were eager to explore the natural laboratory that is the Florida Scrub and the unique ecosystems on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. In-person seminars from distinguished scientists and research interns were once again hosted in The Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center. The Education Program returned to hosting Scrub Ecology Camp in person at the Station and welcomed visiting elementary school classes for field trips to learn about the unique ecosystems of Florida.

As the lead science organization in the statewide campaign to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor, Archbold continued to grow its Conservation Program and turn science into conservation action. With partners from the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at the University of Florida, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Archbold hosted three online Corridor Science Exchanges to promote exchange of scientific needs and information among attendees. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Executive Director, presented a keynote address at the first annual Florida Wildlife Corridor Summit about lessons learned from the history of conservation land acquisition in Florida. More than 36,000 acres of land were approved for protection within the Florida Wildlife Corridor in 2022 by the State of Florida, including a conservation easement of 1,883 acres within Buck Island Ranch. Dr. Hilary Swain said, “The easement will contribute towards Archbold’s ability to sustain Buck Island Ranch as a protected working landscape and a vital long-term research center. We are proud that Buck Island Ranch is a critical part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, embracing the natural and working lands that make Florida unique, valuable, and the state the world loves to visit.”

Archbold science programs continued to grow last year, protecting the rarest of the rare and sustaining natural and working grasslands. Buck Island Ranch has become increasingly well known as a center for agroecology in the Southeast and an important partner in the USDA Long Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) program. The Agroecology Program launched several new studies with the help from Ranch Operations, including a grazing study with rainout shelters. The Predator-Prey Program expanded its Corridor Observatory network of cameras to increase the understanding of how large mammals move through different ecosystems and working lands. The Plant Ecology, Avian Ecology, and Herpetology programs continued their long-term studies of rare species including the Lake Placid Scrub Mint, Florida Scrub-Jay, and Gopher Tortoise. Archbold launched a new buoy in Lake Annie bristling with high-tech sensors to collect data on the weather and the lake. The yellow data buoy was funded by the National Science Foundation and custom-built by Flydog Marine. The GIS and Data program continued using drones to collect data to help answer interesting ecological questions. Archbold’s newest program, Conservation Science of Military Lands, was awarded a four-year grant, along with collaborators at the University of Central Florida and Conservation Science, Inc., from the Department of Defense to study the impacts of habitat burning and Fire Ants on endangered wildlife populations as part of the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.

The year was also full of milestones and awards. Former Archbold Executive Director, and current Board Member, Dr. John Fitzpatrick and Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer both celebrated their 50th anniversaries at Archbold. Dr. Mark Deyrup, Emeritus Entomologist, and his wife Nancy Deyrup, retired Archbold Environmental Education Director, celebrated their 40th anniversaries at Archbold. Director of Education Dustin Angell won second place in the Faces of Biology photo contest sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Angeline Meeks, Archbold Conservation Cartographer, and Joe Guthrie, Predator-Prey Program Director, won 2nd place in the Education Map Category for their story map ‘Bear Necessities’ based on the journey of Florida Black Bear m34, at the Esri User Conference, the largest GIS (geographic information system) mapping conference in the world.

Archbold would not have been able to accomplish so much without loyal supporters, donors, Board members, and dedicated staff. Archbold looks forward to continuing their mission, to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters of the heart of Florida and beyond, in 2023. Archbold staff and Board wish all readers, “A safe, happy, and healthy New Year!”

Archbold Board of Directors

Fire, Fire Ants, and Wildlife

Author: Tiffany Doan, Ph.D.

Gopher Frog- photo by Dr. James Layne

Straddling the line between Highlands and Polk counties lies Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR).  Although most people would assume that the bombing and gunnery range would be a scarred landscape thanks to its primary mission, in fact APAFR is home to many beautiful Florida habitats and it serves as an oasis for endangered wildlife.  Part of the military mission at APAFR and all other U. S. military bases is to conserve endangered species on their lands.  The Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program provides funding to scientists every year to do that.

A team of biologists from Archbold Biological Station, the University of Central Florida, and Conservation Science, Inc. recently received a four-year grant from the Department of Defense with the goal of testing how the frequency of habitat burning and Fire Ants combine to affect endangered wildlife populations. Charismatic animals such as Gopher Tortoises, Florida Scrub-Jays, and Eastern Indigo Snakes will be surveyed, as well as lesser-known species such as Mole Skinks, Gopher Frogs, and Homosassa Shrews. Dr. Tiffany Doan, Archbold Research Biologist, is the lead reptile and amphibian biologist on the project.  She stated, “starting in early 2023, we will survey for seven species of threatened reptiles and amphibians. Teams of biologists and students will observe lizards, snakes, frogs, and tortoises to estimate population numbers in each of the habitats.” 

Fire Ants are a pest probably known to all Floridians.  They were introduced from South America in the 1930s and, in addition to stinging people, they have been known to kill young animals, especially those that lay eggs.  According to Dr. Joshua King, University of Central Florida Fire Ant expert and lead investigator on the new project, “Fire Ants have devastated populations of lizards, turtles, and ground-nesting birds.  Starting in the second year of the project, we will eliminate Fire Ants from half of the survey areas and examine what effects that has on the animal populations.”  The team will perform these methods for reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds, to gain an overall picture of the effects of Fire Ants on the wildlife.

Pine flatwoods, one of the target habitats of the new project. Photo courtesy Archbold Biological Station.

Although the words savanna and prairie evoke thoughts of Africa or the upper Midwest United States, we have both of these habitats here in Highlands county.  Pine savannas, pine flatwoods, Florida scrub, and dry prairies are the four habitats being targeted in this project.  Dr. Doan stated, “in addition to studying the effects of Fire Ant removal, we also want to know how burning of the habitats effects the threatened wildlife populations.  All four of the habitats in our study have evolved to burn naturally.  In fact, many plants and animals in these habitats cannot complete their life cycles without fire.  Nowadays, the habitats need help from people to burn.  Thankfully, the Air Force regularly ignites the lands on the range through controlled burning, which helps maintain our native Florida habitats and allows the animals to thrive.” 

What is not currently known, however, is how the effects of the frequency of habitat burning and Fire Ants combine.  Dr. Doan explained, “although we know burning is beneficial to most of the wildlife species we are studying, we also suspect that fires make it easier for Fire Ants to establish new colonies.  We would like to determine the optimal amount of burning and Fire Ant removal to safeguard the populations of endangered species.  Our project will provide management solutions to the military for their installations, but this knowledge will also be useful for land managers outside of the military.  Our hope is to widely distribute best practices to help conserve our native species.”

With the combined efforts of scientists who specialize on reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and fire ants, this new project hopes to make a difference in the conservation of endangered Florida animals in Highlands county.

Wonderful Wandering Wildlife

A Florida Black Bear spotted by Archbold Research Assistant Meredith Heather on a sandy trail through the Florida Scrub. Photo by Meredith Heather.

If you wander around any of the many wonderful wild places in Florida this time of year, you may be surprised to see so much wildlife wandering around. Just as humans enjoy the mild temperatures in Florida during the winter months, wildlife also takes advantage of the warmer climate. As many animals in cooler climates reduce their activity, or even hibernate, when the temperature drops, wildlife in Florida continues to be active throughout winter.

Black Bears in northern populations are not active this time of year, denning for several months while it is cold, and food is not available. However, male and non-pregnant female Florida Black Bears may only den for a few weeks when temperatures become too cold. Food is typically available year-round here due to Florida’s mild winters and Florida Black Bears wander around during winter months in search of their next snack. Joe Guthrie, Archbold’s Predator Prey Program Director, explained, “bears this time of year are showing a behavior known as ‘hyperphagia’, which is the extreme unsatisfied drive to consume food.” Florida is home to a wide range of excellent bear food, including acorns, Scrub Hickory nuts, and Saw Palmetto berries. Most of this increased activity is during daylight hours, from dawn up to late morning, with another peak from mid-afternoon to dusk. This increase in activity also increases the chances of humans encountering a bear while exploring Florida’s wild places.  If you are out wandering in a wild place, be mindful of signs of bears, including tracks and large piles of fresh bear scat.

Reptiles and amphibians are also quite active in Florida during the winter months. Reptiles and amphibians are considered ‘cold blooded’ because they can’t regulate their body temperature internally, so they move to warm, sunny, spots when it is cooler. Snakes are often seen basking on paved roads to warm themselves after a chilly morning. Some snake species are venomous, and others may bite when they feel threatened. As such, Archbold does not advise picking up snakes; instead, if you see a snake on the road while driving, simply brake and give the snake time and space to finish crossing the road. Similarly, you may see alligators crossing roads, particularly during the dry season as they seek out new water sources or males seeking mates in the mating season. Never approach an alligator, rather give it room to cross the road by itself.

A Coral Snake basking on a road. Photo by Joe Guthrie.

Tortoises and turtles are also frequently seen wandering along or crossing roads. If you see a turtle or tortoise one on a road while driving and can safely stop, pick it up with two hands on either side of the shell, towards the back, and place it well off the road in the direction it was headed. Never lift a turtle by the tail or a leg and be sure to sanitize your hands after touching any wild animal. While tortoises and most of the turtles you will encounter are gentle, be extra careful around softshell and snapping turtles, as they may bite if they feel threatened. If in doubt, simply remain in your vehicle and give the turtle space to cross on its own.

If you come across a living animal that has been struck by a car, you can contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Archbold Biological Station is not a wildlife rehabilitation center and does not have the staff, facilities, or permits to care for injured animals. Instead, you should call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator such as the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey or visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website to find a contact. If you cannot reach a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who can treat the type of animal you found, you can contact FWC’s Southwest Regional Office for assistance at (863) 648-3200.

Archbold is home to a wide range of wonderful wildlife during the winter months and will be re-opening to the public in January. Please check our website or Facebook page in the new year for updates on open hours to see when you can come to wander around the Archbold nature trail and view the wonderful wildlife.

Archbold Avian Ecology Staff Flock North for Ornithology Conference

Authors: Tori Bakley & Kelly Roberts

Dr. Bowman organized an ‘Archbold Lunch’ during the conference for past and present ‘Archboldians’ to share their stories. Left to right: Dr. Angela Tringali, Dr. Jennifer Smith, Tori Bakley, Kelly Roberts, Samantha Apgar, Lyn Brown, Natasha Lehr, Meredith Heather, Dr. Reed Bowman, and Charlotte Wilson. Photo courtesy of Dr. Reed Bowman.

Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program staff made their way to Plymouth, Massachusetts this October to attend the annual meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists, marking the organization’s centennial conference. The organization was founded in Massachusetts in 1922 as the New England Bird Banding Association, and has since expanded to include ornithological research from the entirety of the United States and Latin America.

Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program, served as the President of the Association of Field Ornithologists from 2014-2016 and continues to serve on the council as co-Editor-in-Chief of their Journal of Field Ornithology. Dr. Bowman has been taking students and members of his lab to ornithological conferences for more than 30 years. Bowman said, “nearly half of the attendees at this meeting were students or early career professionals. There is no better place to network and discuss your research than professional meetings. Since I am retiring this winter, this will be the last flock of lab mates I will get to mentor at such meetings. I will miss that more than anything but this was a great group to end on!”

Dr. Angela Tringali, Director of Archbold’s Conservation Science of Military Landscapes Program, also attended the conference and serves on the Association of Field Ornithologists council, along with a dozen other dedicated researchers. Tringali commented, “the society recognizes that a better understanding of birds native to the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is critical for conservation, especially for migratory and broadly distributed species. AFO is committed to engaging ornithologists across the Western hemisphere and beyond, and it is an honor to serve on AFO’s council and have the opportunity to help make those programs happen.”

This was the first in-person meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists since 2019. Avian Ecology Lab Manager Meredith Heather said, “it was nice attending an in-person conference again after two years of virtual events. Being face-to-face allowed for better opportunities to network, meet new friends, and have conversations about current research in ornithology.”

Heather is also a graduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University, and this fall she will defend her Master’s thesis on Florida Scrub-Jay habitat use and preference. Conferences are essential to students and early career professionals, as Heather explains, “I had the opportunity to share my current thesis research with professionals for the first time and receive helpful feedback on my work. I am coming away from the conference motivated and more confident in my presentation skills.” Heather received an honorable mention for her exemplary presentation on the use of drones for data collection.

Kelly Roberts (left) and Tori Bakley (right) with their research poster titled “Social Contexts of Extra-Pair Paternity in Florida Scrub Jays”. Photo courtesy of Tori Bakley.

Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program also sent two research assistants, Kelly Roberts and Tori Bakley, to the conference. For Roberts, “the opportunity to discuss our project with professionals was invaluable, as was the experience of learning more about graduate school opportunities.” This was the first avian-centered conference Bakley has attended. Bakley noted, “the opportunity to be exposed to more than ten research projects a day is as exciting as it is overwhelming. I appreciated that the conference was not limited to North America because I have a special interest in tropical species and I was able to learn from and connect with researchers working outside of the U.S.” Roberts and Bakley co-presented their study of extra-pair paternity in Archbold’s Florida Scrub-Jays.

Conference attendees were able to balance out their hard work with some fun, which, unsurprisingly, involved birding. Roberts and Bakley, who attended daily birding field trips organized by the Association, spotted some ‘lifers’. Lifers are birds that a birder is seeing for the first time, and for this duo they included a Red-throated Loon, many White-winged Scoters, and even a Cory’s Shearwater. Between spotting birds, networking with attendees, meeting Archbold alumni, and taking in the beautiful fall weather of the Northeast, this conference was an invigorating event that encouraged our staff to flex their knowledge and feel more connected to others in the field of ornithology.

The David S. Maehr Florida Wildlife Corridor Applied Science Fellowship

Archbold Biological Station has awarded the David S. Maehr Florida Wildlife Corridor Applied Science Fellowship to Dr. Janardan Mainali, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is an 18-million-acre connected network of public and private lands stretching from the Everglades north to Georgia and west to Alabama. It is primarily designed to protect connections between wildlife habitats and is about 55% conserved, so far. Last year, the Florida legislature unanimously passed, and Governor DeSantis signed, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, formally recognizing the geography and providing funds for state land conservation activities. Along with other key groups including the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Wild Path, Conservation Florida, and Live Wildly, Archbold is championing the Corridor vision—to conserve natural and agricultural lands of value to wildlife all across the state.

The David S. Maehr Fellowship aims to catalyze the science needed to effectively and efficiently conserve the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and the ecological (e.g., wildlife, water, and ecosystem processes) and societal (e.g., ecosystem service, recreational, and agricultural) benefits it provides. The fellowship is named in honor of Dr. David Maehr, renowned conservation biologist known internationally as a world expert on large carnivores, most notably Black Bear and Florida Panther.  Maehr was a faculty member at the University of Kentucky who conducted research at Archbold Biological Station for 25 years. His work helped form the backbone of knowledge on which the Florida Wildlife Corridor geography and conservation campaign are built, and he trained and mentored many students and scientists who have gone on to careers in conservation. He was conducting an aerial survey of Highlands County Black Bears with friend and colleague Mason Smoak, prominent leader in the Highlands County agricultural community, when they were tragically lost when their plane went down southwest of Lake Placid, Florida in 2008.

Dr. Janardan Mainali, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience

Dr. Mainali’s project, “Spatial Patterns of Landscape Modifications and Their Relationships to Aquatic Habitat Quality in East Central Florida”, aims to examine the relationship between human-impacted land use and the health of aquatic ecosystems in East Central Florida, which includes sections of the Florida Wildlife Corridor that are most imperiled by urban development. The project will identify opportunity areas for more robust protection of land and aquatic ecosystems within the current Florida Wildlife Corridor boundaries, while also seeking to increase regional connectivity of aquatic ecosystems.

Janardan explained, “Here in Central Florida, humans frequently interact with aquatic ecosystems such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Our proposed scientific research funded by this award will examine the relationship between people and aquatic ecosystems and contribute to protecting the water quality of wetlands, lakes, and rivers.” He continued, “We also plan to explore loss of connectivity in natural ecosystems, such as fragmented habitats, and how more urban development has impacted aquatic ecosystems in this region. We hope our results will help inform decision making for the Florida Wildlife Corridor and suggest ways to: protect upland terrestrial habitats; increase the habitat quality of the aquatic ecosystem; and advocate for a better understanding of the land-water connectivity.”

The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council is serving as the primary community partner for Dr. Mainali’s project and will work closely with Archbold, Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, local and state government, and other stakeholders to apply the results into the conservation elements of the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Action Plan. 

Archbold’s Director of Conservation, Dr. Joshua Daskin, said “We look forward to collaborating with the work Dr. Janardan Mainali and his collaborators at Stetson University and the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council have proposed, and helping to turn their science into conservation action outcomes to help protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”

The Florida Wildlife Corridor map vision: dark green areas have already been protected within the Corridor, while light green areas still need to be protected. Map by Angeline Meeks/Archbold Biological Station based on the Florida Ecological Greenways Network Priorities 1-3 (2021) developed and maintained by the University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning. Conserved Lands, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, May 2021. 

Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot: A Highlands County Treasure

A Black Swallowtail caterpillar on a flowering Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot plant. Photo by Iris Kennedy.

Author: Iris Kennedy

Around 2 million years ago when the sea level was higher, the majority of Florida was completely underwater except for a region of sandy islands. Those sandy islands are now known as the Lake Wales Ridge, a ribbon of ancient sand dunes forming a backbone down peninsular Florida. Because this region has been above sea level for so long, many unique plants and animals have evolved there and it is now home to many endemic species. An endemic species is found only in one region and nowhere else. The Lake Wales Ridge has one of the highest levels of endemism in North America and is home to many unique and rare species found nowhere else on Earth.

Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot (Eryngium cuneifolium) is one of the rare plants endemic to the Lake Wales Ridge, and only found in Highlands County, Florida. Dr. Sterling Herron, a research assistant in Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program, describes Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot as “the rarest member of the carrot family, which can be detected from a carrot-spice scent in the fall.” The small white flowers of this plant bloom throughout Fall and are often visited by Black Swallowtail butterflies.

Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot often grows in ‘gaps’ in rosemary scrub, which are open areas of bare sand. It also can be found growing along sandy fire lanes. Because of its preference for gaps, Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot benefits from disturbances such as fires. Fires are an incredibly important part of the Florida scrub ecosystem, as they open up the landscape and create gaps where native plants like Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot prefer to grow.

(L) A roadside population of Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot next to a sieve, used to separate seeds from sand, and (R) Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot seeds magnified through a microscope. Photos by Iris Kennedy.

Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot populations are able to recover after fire because of their soil seedbanks. Iris Kennedy, the Maxwell-Hanrahan Plant Ecology Intern explained, “A soil seedbank forms when seeds are dropped by plants and do not germinate immediately, instead remaining dormant in the soil to germinate at a later time.” The seed bank allows populations of Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot to regenerate after experiencing a disturbance, like a fire. Kennedy is collecting data on the sizes of these seedbanks in the scrub. “Because of the larger size of Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot seeds, they are relatively easy to sift out of the sand. This provides a valuable opportunity to investigate the way Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot seeds are distributed in both natural and disturbed areas.” Kennedy hopes that studying Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot seed banks, especially in disturbed roadsides, will contribute to the conservation of this federally endangered plant.

With so few populations of Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot left, scientists at Archbold are always on the lookout for more wild populations. If you find any Wedge-leaf Button Snakeroot on your property, please reach out to the Archbold Plant Ecology program (contact information on our website Protecting all the natural treasures in Highlands County may seem like a daunting task, but step one is simply recognizing and appreciating the value of what we have.

Archbold Weathers Hurricane Ian

By the morning of Monday 26th September, the predicted path of Hurricane Ian had shifted south. Researchers at Archbold Biological Station and Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch decided it was necessary to remove sensitive equipment and sensors from the field to prevent damage from the storm. Archbold’s Agroecology Program staff removed the Ranch’s five advanced ‘eddy flux towers’ from pastures, which include large, fragile, solar panels and many delicate sensors. Additionally, they took down 32 rain exclusion shelters, part of a long-term study, from eight pastures. Ranch Operations staff stayed with the cattle and prepared Ranch buildings for the incoming storm. Station staff checked on experiments, brought in equipment, and secured the Station buildings. The path of Hurricane Ian had further shifted by Tuesday evening and some Ranch residents evacuated.

Hurricane Ian made landfall early afternoon on Wednesday 28th September and those sheltering at the Station started watching the storm’s path, checking the radar plots frequently. Archbold’s main weather station started recording tropical storm force max wind gusts around 2pm Wednesday afternoon. By 6pm, Archbold’s weather station started recording hurricane force max wind gusts.  Hurricane Ian crossed State Road 70 around 8pm as a category-3 hurricane, during which the Station recorded maximum gusts of up to 96.3 mph. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, just East of the Station on State Road 70, recorded maximum gusts of up to 68 mph.

Wind gust speeds recorded at the main Archbold weather station during Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022.

The maximum gust Archbold recorded during Hurricane Ian was just slightly lower than the maximum gust recorded at the Station during Hurricane Irma in 2017 (97.4 mph). While the wind speeds experienced at Archbold during Hurricanes Irma and Ian were comparable, Hurricane Ian did not bring as much rain. The Station recorded 8.85 inches of rain over the course of Hurricane Irma, while over the course of Hurricane Ian, the Station recorded half as much rain at 4.28 inches. The Ranch received 3.88 inches of rain during Hurricane Ian.

Radar plot showing intensity of rainfall during Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022. Source: National Weather Service / NOAA

Archbold Executive Director Hilary Swain and staff surveyed the Station for damage on Thursday morning. The main buildings had no major structural damage, though the Station’s historic roofs experienced some tile damage. While the whole campus was a disheveled mess of tree limbs, leaves, and debris, there were not as many downed trees as experienced during Hurricane Irma. Amazingly, only one tree fell on a building and it did not cause significant damage. The Ranch had areas of flooding, though no major damage to structures.

Archbold Executive Director Hilary Swain noted that “Archbold is grateful to have survived Hurricane Ian relatively unscathed. We are thankful to our dedicated staff who moved sensitive equipment so quickly, helped us throughout the storm and especially during cleanup, and who have since returned the equipment to the field after the storm. We extend our thoughts to all our neighbors and the communities in Highlands County and throughout southwest and central Florida who went through this storm, especially those who have suffered more severe damage.”

Archbold’s 2022 Visiting Scholars

In 2018, Archbold’s own Dr. Mark Deyrup, Emeritus Entomologist, and his wife Nancy Deyrup, retired Archbold Environmental Education Director, helped to endow Archbold’s Visiting Scholar Award that provides early career scientists, graduate students or postdoctoral fellows, with financial support to conduct field research at Archbold. Because of a hiatus due to Covid restrictions in 2021, this year we presented three emerging scientists from very diverse fields of science, with these awards.

Dr. Charles van Rees, post-doc at University of Georgia

Dr. Charles van Rees is a post-doc at University of Georgia working in aquatic ecology and conservation biology. Charles was an intern in the Avian Ecology program in 2011 and is returning to study if “insects from aquatic food chains, which are known to be nutritionally superior to terrestrial insects, provide a nutritional subsidy to Florida Scrub-Jays”. Charles also noted that “This concept raises the intriguing notion that disruption of aquatic ecosystems at large scales, for example groundwater depletion for irrigation or the disruption of river flows by dams, might disrupt important subsidies and have population-level impacts on songbirds, which have shown substantial declines in recent decades.” Charles is constructing hydrological models using machine learning tools that can predict water levels in our seasonal ponds across years and seasons. He is also using stable isotopes to detect the different isotopic signatures of aquatic and terrestrial foods in scrub-jay nestlings and compare with their subsequent growth and survival rates.

Dan Petticord, PhD student at Cornell University

Dan Petticord is a PhD student at Cornell University where he studies biogeochemistry in agricultural systems. In a collaborative project between Archbold, Cornell University, and University of Florida, scientists are seeking to reduce high soil Phosphorus (P) loads, which would eventually “leak” into the watershed, by growing productive forage crops, such as Bahia grass. Dan’s work is conducted in the Agroecology Program at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. Dan said, “Fungal associates, called mycorrhizae, are known to affect the way a plant uses soil P, some can increase or decrease P loss, with implications for downstream water quality.” Dan’s work will attempt to figure out how plant-fungal associations impact soil P loss at Buck Island Ranch by assessing how these associations change both across species and within species along a nutrient gradient. As Dan says, “We are trying to find ‘the best plant for the job’ based on its surrounding soil environment.”

Karma Thomas, Master’s student at Syracuse University

Karma Thomas is a Master’s student at Syracuse University studying the ecology and evolution of insects and their interactions with plants. Moths, in particular, are declining globally, yet their roles as pollinators are understudied. She has been working with Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program to understand how fire influences these pollinator-plant interactions. Karma observed that “Increasing wildfire frequency has negatively impacted the abundance and species richness of lepidopteran communities worldwide, and I am investigating the influence of time-since-fire on the community structure and floral visitation of nocturnal moths in rosemary scrub habitat. I also aimed to evaluate the role of these moths as pollinators in this threatened plant community. This past June, I captured and identified 1,530 moths which represent at least 30 families, 50 subfamilies, 162 genera, and 276 unique species of which I have so far determined roughly 76% of assessed moths were acting as pollen transporters.” Karma’s research will shed light on nocturnal pollinators, and allow us to better understand their relationship with fire.

Mark and Nancy Deyrup Celebrate 40 Years at Archbold

Dr. Mark and Nancy Deyrup. Photo by Dustin Angell.

August 30th marked Dr. Mark and Nancy Deyrup’s 40th anniversary at Archbold Biological Station. Dr. Deyrup was hired as the Station’s first entomologist in 1982 by then Station Director Dr. Jim Layne. Nancy, who has a Zoology degree, was assured by Dr. Layne that there would also be plenty of work for her as he was committed to long-term studies. Over the past 40 years, Mark and Nancy have made many contributions to the Station’s legacy.Dr. Mark Deyrup is a dedicated and hyper-curious scientist, with many interests in the fields of entomology and ecology. Mark spent his career studying the insect community of the Florida scrub, has discovered new species, and published numerous scientific journal articles. In 2017, Deyrup published his book, Ants of Florida, Identification and Natural History, which summarized his vast knowledge of the more than 200 species of ants known from Florida. Dr. Deyrup once shared, “If there were a zoo for Florida ants, here are a few species that might be on display, with the appropriate signs by their exhibits. It would be a miniature zoo, as the animals are only 2-4 millimeters, or 1/8th-1/4th of an inch, in length.” “Dr. Deyrup’s accomplishments are too numerous to list in this article,” said Dr. Zach Forsburg, Archbold Communications Coordinator. Forsburg continued, “yet Dr. Deyrup is the most down-to-earth scientist I’ve ever met, pun intended since he is often seen walking around looking at the ground for insects. He is a walking encyclopedia, always willing to share his knowledge with anyone with questions.” Mark has greatly contributed to the Station’s natural history collection over the years, which now includes more than a quarter million pinned insect specimens, many of which have now been digitized thanks to Nancy Deyrup.Nancy Deyrup has done it all, from data collection for Archbold’s Plant Ecology, Entomology, and Limnology programs to weather collection, education, and photography. Archbold’s trove of weather data is thanks to people like Nancy who did the meticulous collection before automation. Dustin Angell, Archbold’s current Director of Education explained, “In 1989, the Archbold Board of Directors decided to offer local school children the opportunity to learn about science and the remarkable animals, plants, and habitats found in Highlands County. Nancy pioneered Archbold’s Florida Scrub Education program by implementing a curriculum which includes field trip of the Station and still serves the elementary school children of Highlands County. She also initiated the popular ‘Scrub Camp’ back in 1992 that continues to this day.” Deyrup and Charlotte Wilson co-authored Discovering Florida Scrub, a curriculum of environmental science activities for grades 3-5, again still in use to this date. Nancy shared, “It was so inspiring to introduce Highlands County children to the natural history of the Florida scrub they had been traversing their entire lives.  The education program gave me an unexpected new area of personal fulfillment. And, our own three children had the benefit of Florida scrub immersion. All three went on to careers in biology.” As adults, the Deyrup children have worked on the Station as well: Deyrup reports, “Our son Leif visited the Station and helped write papers on insects that visit palmetto flowers (there are more than 300 such insects on the Station) and on the diet of Narrowmouth Toads (they eat almost nothing but ants captured at night). Our son Stephen brings college classes to study the chemical ecology of local plants and animals.”Mark and Nancy are both officially retired, though they are enduring fixtures at the Station. Nancy continues to volunteer in the ‘bug lab’ and was instrumental in completing a major project, getting the data from tens of thousands of pinned insects in the Archbold natural history collection online and available via the Internet. Mark, now Emeritus Entomologist, continues searching for new patterns and species in the hidden world of Florida scrub ecology.  The Station celebrated Mark and Nancy, along with Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer, for their momentous anniversaries in June with a small cake and ice cream social for staff. Hilary Swain, Archbold Executive Director added, “The Deyrups have also generously funded Archbold’s Visiting Scholar Program, helping to bring talented early career scientists to the Station and Ranch. The Deyrups have contributed to our mission in so many ways over the years, and we are so grateful that the Deyrups who have continued to dedicate their lives to Archbold.”

(L to R) Dr. Mark Deyrup, Fred Lohrer, and Nancy Deyrup during their anniversary party. Photo by Dr. Zach Forsburg.

Droughts and Deluges – how do changing rainfall patterns affect ranchland?

Installing rainout shelter plots. Photo credit: Lydia Landau

The amount of water we get during the wet season here in south Florida can be unpredictable. The intensity of our wet and dry seasons is influenced by the El Niño and La Niña climate patterns that occur in the Pacific Ocean and affect weather worldwide. Episodes of El Niño or La Niña typically last 9-12 months but can sometimes last for years. Last winter (2021) and this winter (2022), we experienced the effects of a strong La Niña, causing a drier dry season and delayed wet season. “Forecasters estimate a 61% chance of a La Niña ‘three-peat’ for fall and early winter 2023. We’ve had La Niña for three winters in a row only twice before: 1974-1976 and 1998-2001,” states Emily Becker from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center and University of Miami/CIMAS.

Residents of Highlands County have seen the short-term effects of two consecutive strong La Niña seasons with dry, crunchy lawns, and low lake levels. Changes in rain quantity and timing could also impact native plants adapted to historic precipitation patterns. To address this question, Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, working in collaboration with Dr. Jiangxiao Qiu from the University of Florida, and with funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has initiated a project to explore short-term impacts of altered precipitation patterns on Florida’s subtropical grasslands. 

Lydia Landau, a Research Assistant at Buck Island Ranch, says the project will explore, “How precipitation quantity and seasonality as well as grazing-intensity might impact forage and the types and numbers of plants growing on cattle ranches here in south Florida.” To reduce the rainfall that an experimental area receives, Landau designed 80 “rainout shelters” using polycarbonate roofing panels mounted on U-posts that were installed in plots across the ranch. “We are collecting the rain from these shelter roofs into tanks,” Landau explained. “This diverted rain is then pumped to irrigate other neighboring plots to simulate additional rainfall.  With this design, we can look at the impacts of both reduced quantity and increased quantity of rainfall.”

Research Assistant Emily Anderson started on the project during the first grazing event of the experiment. “To stimulate grazing, we move our 10 head of steers in and out of the pasture areas that have the rainout shelters and the irrigated plots. We mimic high and low grazing pressure treatments,” Anderson said. “It’s a lot of work to maintain the shelters and care for the cattle, although I think it’s really interesting to see climate shift scenarios physically implemented on the ground,” she continued.

Dr. Betsey Boughton, Director of Archbold’s Agroecology Program, said, “We are collecting quite a bit of data from the plots. We are recording the height, growth, number of plants, and forage quality of the vegetation in our experimental plots.” Collaborators from the University of Florida are focusing on measuring belowground processes such as decomposition, soil chemistry, and root growth. Dr. Boughton explained, “The group hopes that the results of this study will help inform management strategies that Florida ranches can use to adapt to a changing climate and precipitation patterns.”

The Precipitation Manipulation experiment is on-going and will continue into 2024. Stay tuned to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch as we continue to collect and analyze the data!

Cattle grazing the precipitation manipulation plots. Roofs were taken off during grazing so cattle wouldn’t damage them. Photo Credit: Amanda West

Archbold wins 2nd place for Bear Necessities story map at world’s largest GIS conference

Florida Black Bear M34 in Highlands County, Florida. Photo by R. Pickert.

Authors: Angeline Meeks and Joseph Guthrie

Last month, Archbold Conservation Cartographer Angeline Meeks attended the Esri User Conference, the largest GIS (geographic information system) mapping conference in the world. Held in San Diego, thousands of cartographers and GIS professionals from around the globe attended the conference to learn, reconnect, and discover the latest advances in GIS technology. Conference attendees were able to submit their mapping products under various categories in the official Map Gallery to be judged by experts in the field. Angeline Meeks submitted her story map ‘Bear Necessities’ to the Education Category and won 2nd place! Story maps combine text, media, and maps to tell an engaging and interactive story. The ‘Bear Necessities’ story maps tells the tale of a young male Florida Black Bear named M34.

In 2009 working with a research team from the University of Kentucky, Joe Guthrie, now Archbold Predator-Prey Program Director, radio-collared a two and half year-old male Florida Black Bear in a small nature reserve outside of Sebring, Florida. Named M34 by the biologists, the movements of the young bear were tracked via a satellite transmitter mounted on a collar that was programmed to drop off after nine months of collecting data. Based at Archbold Biological Station, the biologists received hundreds of text messages from the radio collar, transmitting M34’s location, from which they could review and map the locations of M34 over the nine months.

For the first seven months, M34 roamed along the edge of the Lake Wales Ridge, east of Sebring. In 2010, early in the breeding season, M34 made an abrupt exit from his home range and crossed the 106,000-acre Avon Park Air Force Range in a matter of hours. Over the next two months, M34 travelled hundreds of miles, making multiple attempts to cross I-4 near Orlando, down the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, west nearly to Fort Myers and then he ultimately returned to the Highlands-Glades bear population of his birth. ‘Bear Necessities’ brings M34’s story to life by animating the movement data from his collar, allowing you to follow along as he travels through Florida’s Heartland.

M34’s journey became a crucial piece of evidence just at the point when National Geographic photographer Carlton Ward, Jr., Tom Hoctor of the University of Florida, and Richard Hilsenbeck of The Nature Conservancy were taking the first steps to unveil the Florida Wildlife Corridor vision.  Inspired by M34’s movements, over the last decade Carlton Ward, Jr., Joseph Guthrie, and Mallory Lykes-Dimmit set out on a series of expeditions to share the concept and vision of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. In 2021, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act formally recognized the geography of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The realization of the Florida Wildlife Corridor dream is due in no small part to M34, the young Florida black bear that set out on a journey to find his home, and in doing so, inspired a movement to protect wild Florida.

Congrats to Angeline & Joe for so wonderfully illustrating the epic journey of M34! The full interactive ‘Bear Necessities’ Story Map can be viewed online:

Travel path of Florida Black Bear M34.

Florida Ziziphus: the race to save an ancient lineage

Florida Ziziphus germinant (left) being prepared for introduction to a new population; and ziziphus recently planted at an introduction site (right). July 2022. Photos: Sterling Herron.

Author: Sterling Herron

Deep in the sandhills of the Lake Wales Ridge lies a mysterious denizen of this ancient landscape: Florida Ziziphus (Ziziphus celata), also known as Florida Jujube. What makes this plant so special? It is one of the rarest plants in Florida, with only a handful of populations known to remain in the wild, a number of those occurring in our own Highlands County. In fact, Florida Ziziphus was once thought to be extinct, but through the discovery of hidden populations and conservation efforts of numerous biologists and citizens alike, the species has crept back from the edge of disappearance. As its name suggests, it also holds value as a wild relative of the cultivated jujube fruit (Ziziphus jujuba). Like its edible cousin, Florida Ziziphus produces a large crop of grape-sized orange fruits in early summer. It is the only ziziphus species native to Florida, with its closest relative native to California and Mexico (Ziziphus parryi), an indication of the long-ago connection between that region and our own.

At first glance, Florida Ziziphus is just another scraggly shrub dotting the scrub. Yet, a closer look reveals its unique qualities. Archbold Plant Ecology Research Assistant Dr. Sterling Herron, who helps lead Archbold’s Ziziphus research, notes: “Each winter, ziziphus plants shed their leaves and produce a constellation of tiny, star-shaped, fragrant flowers. Plants grow back vigorously in late spring / early summer, producing a rich foliage of small, shiny, round leaves, guarded by a legion of tiny thorns. Given the appropriate conditions, it can also produce a crop of small orange-colored fruits. It is perhaps most easily confused with Tough Buckthorn (Sideroxylon tenax) or Scrub Plum (Prunus geniculata), two other zigzagging, thorny scrub plants.”

While the plants themselves are physically robust, Florida Ziziphus as a species lacks genetic diversity. While hundreds of individual plants are known, many of these are actually natural clones of the same individual, having the same genetic makeup. In total, only about 40 genetically distinct individuals, or “genotypes”, are known from the wild. Furthermore, not just any two plants can cross to produce fruit – only certain combinations of genotypes are reproductively compatible.

So what does the future of Florida Ziziphus look like? Once bleak, the efforts of numerous scientists and citizens alike have improved the outlook of ziziphus. An Archbold-led collaboration to preserve this species spans many organizations and agencies, including Bok Tower Gardens, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and others. There are currently eight introductions on protected lands, and wild populations have been fortified with additional plants. “Florida Ziziphus now has a fighting chance,” says Dr. Aaron David, Archbold’s Director of Plant Ecology. He continues, “Nevertheless, ziziphus is not yet at the point where it can be self-sufficient, and still relies upon conservationists. It cannot be overstated how important each new genotype is to the persistence of this species. Thus, the discovery of new individuals and populations is a key component of the ziziphus recovery plan.”

Saving Florida Ziziphus also lies in the hands of citizens. While scientists are always on the lookout for plants in the wild, they cannot survey every inch of the Lake Wales Ridge. Although rare, this plant has historically been found in highly human-influenced habitats. In particular, a number of wild populations have been discovered in cattle pastures, likely because of the lack of heavy development and thus long-term preservation of this land. Much of the Lake Wales Ridge was once prime ziziphus habitat, that is, yellow sand scrub and sandhill, so it could pop up almost anywhere. You may have this Florida treasure in your own backyard! If you do observe a Florida Ziziphus plant or population, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the biologists at Archbold Biological Station.

While it comes with challenges, the recovery of Florida Ziziphus is within our grasp, and it provides a case study of hope for other plant species on the verge of extinction.

Florida Ziziphus flowers blooming mid-winter (left; photos: Reed Bowman); and ziziphus with ripe fruit in early summer (right; photo: Stephanie Koontz).

Archbold Art on Display at Wild Space Gallery

Author: Laura Reed

Archbold scientists and their collaborators provide scientific evaluation for which lands and waters are vital to connect landscapes and protect wildlife corridors—with the goal to save wildlife, wild places, and the natural ecosystems upon which the world’s future depends. Archbold partners with The Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Wildpath to preserve the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which serves as a model for other wildlife corridors worldwide.

Now, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Archbold are collaborating on a different level…art…? ART from a scientific research station? YES! Several of Archbold’s staff members and volunteers are talented artists, and Archbold has hosted outside artists-in-residence over the years, resulting in an impressive gallery of works in various media. Last month, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation hosted a modest exhibit of these works in the new Wild Space gallery, located at their offices at The Factory, St. Petersburg. The inaugural exhibition displayed woodcut prints of scrub plants by former Artist-in-Residence, Mollie Doctrow, and photographs of Archbold scientists by Archbold’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell.

Inspired by Archbold’s scientists, Angell has been taking photo portraits and action shots of researchers, along with other professionals and volunteers, in his ongoing Florida Stewards Project since 2014. This project, now including more than 100 portraits, aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the Headwaters of the Everglades. Most are associated with Archbold, but others are with state and federal agencies, other non-profits, or work independently. Each subject is photographed in their work clothes and holding the tools of their trade. Angell seeks to highlight both researchers and the habitats where they work.

Mollie Doctrow is Curator Emerita at the South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art & Culture in Avon Park, Florida. She created a series of classic black and white prints during her Artist Residency at Archbold Biological Station. She chose woodblock, the oldest printmaking process, in which the artist carves the image directly from a block of wood. The sharp contrasts of light and dark, and the twisting, graphic quality of Doctrow’s lines, express both the harshness and the beauty of Florida’s ancient terrain.

From the Corridor Foundation: “Wild Space is dedicated to showing visual art that focuses on Florida’s rich and diverse natural environments and the people who caretake its lands and waters. Exhibitions will feature artists whose work addresses the conservation of species and habitat, the understanding and promotion of the importance of nature, and its connections to our collective wellbeing.”

Archbold staff attended a reception showcasing the first Wild Space exhibit and a screening of the newest Florida Wildlife Corridor film, Home Waters, at the gallery on June 9. The office and gallery space are still under construction, with the official opening to display a larger selection of Archbold artworks expected in late 2022 to early 2023.

Wild Space is a project of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation in collaboration with Genevieve Lykes Dimmitt, and is curated by Noel Smith.

A selection of portraits from Dustin Angell’s ‘Florida Stewards Project’ on display at the Wild Space gallery. Photo by Laura Reed.

Plant Mating Systems in the Scrub

Scrub Spurge flowers can be male (left), female (middle), or bisexual (right). Photos by Scott Ward.

Author: Aaron David

When you look at a flower, chances are you’ll see both female and male parts. The female parts typically include the pistil in the middle of the flower, while the male parts include multiple stamens surrounding the pistil. However, while this example of a ‘bisexual’ flower (also called a ‘perfect’ flower) is common for many plant species, it is not always the case. In fact there is a large diversity of what biologists call ‘mating systems’ in plants. According to Dr. Aaron David, Archbold Plant Ecology Program Director, “the Florida scrub is host to dozens of rare plant species unique to the Lake Wales Ridge, and several have unique and fascinating mating systems.”

Sometimes plants have ‘imperfect’ flowers that only contain either male or female parts. Dioecious plants are those with two sexes, male and female, and their populations generally require individuals of both sexes to be successful. Florida Rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) is one example of a dioecious species found in the scrub. In fact, both sexes of this shrub are typically found growing in close proximity to one another.

Scrub Spurge (Euphorbia rosescens) also has male and female individuals, though individuals can also have bisexual flowers with both male and female parts. Scrub Spurge is a state-listed endangered species whose populations are limited to Highlands County, and several populations only exist as mostly female plants or male plants, with a only few bisexual plants. The question for biologists is whether populations can persist in this manner. In the short term, the answer seems to be yes. They can reproduce clonally belowground and maintain the population without producing seed. But in the long term, populations need to reproduce sexually, and we don’t know how long they can hang on. It may be that the occasional occurrence of a bisexual plant is enough to help these populations persist.

Lewton’s Milkwort (Polygala lewtonii) has bisexual flowers with three types of flowers. First, chasmogamous flowers that are large, showy, and pollinated by insects. Second, cleistogamous flowers are tiny and don’t actually open; instead, they fertilize themselves and therefore don’t require cross-pollination with other individual plants. Even stranger is that Lewton’s Milkwort, like some other milkwort species, produces a third type of flower that is found underground! It’s thought that having these three different types of flowers help the plant species hedge against the numerous dangers it faces including being eaten or lack of neighboring plants with which to cross-pollinate.

Finally, Florida Ziziphus (Pseudoziziphus celata) has a mating system with a complex wrinkle – rather than having different sexes with male and female parts, it has compatible and incompatible mating types which are referred to as ‘genotypes.’ Plants cannot mate with themselves or other plants of the same genotype, but can cross pollinate with certain other genotypes although many combinations of genotypes simply do not produce viable seed. It is not entirely clear what drives differences in genotype compatibility, and biologists are still working to answer this question. Because Florida Ziziphus is one of the rarest of the rare species found on the Lake Wales Ridge, Archbold, together with other conservation partners including, including Bok Tower Gardens, has conducted more than a dozen plantings into the wild to improve its conservation outlook. “It’s important that we know that we are putting out compatible plants when we conduct this work to ensure that the new populations can be maintained into the future,” says Dr. Sterling Herron, Archbold Plant Ecology Research Assistant.

The wide range of plant mating systems showcases the diverse strategies for persisting in the harsh scrub habitat, and understanding these mating systems helps biologists better conserve them.

Three types of flowers on Lewton’s Milkwort. Large, showy chasmagomous flowers (left), tiny, closed, cleistogamous flower (middle), and underground flowers (right). Photos by Devon Picklum (left) and Stephanie Koontz (middle, right).

Animal Agriculture Conference visits Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch

8th International Greenhouse Gas & Animal Agriculture Conference: group photo of the field trip to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, June 8, 2022. Photo by Haoyu Li.

Authors: Grégory Sonnier and Hilary Swain

The 8th International Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference (GGAA) was held in Orlando June 5-10th 2022. The conference is the primary venue for scientists in the field of Greenhouse Gases from Animal Agriculture to present work to their colleagues. In addition, the meeting is known as an opportunity to share changes and advances in government policies about greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. GGAA 2022 was a great scientific conference for networking, keeping up with the latest scientific research, and seeking international collaborations. There were more than 400 delegate attendees from more than 40 countries including: academic scientists from universities and non-profit research institutes, post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students from disciplines related to agricultural and environmental sciences, governmental research institutions working with greenhouse gas emissions, and governmental policy makers and regulators in the agriculture sector. The conference featured prominent keynote speakers and a series of talks and posters addressing the latest research on greenhouse gas emissions in the field of animal agriculture.

Since this was the first year the international conference was held in the U.S., it provided an opportunity to explore the impact of this field of research on the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy. Technical field trip visits were offered to attendees, showcasing Florida agricultural systems and the sustainable management of the state’s natural resources. One of these field trips was to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, in Highlands County, Florida. This event on June 8th 2022, brought a large group of international researchers, students, and animal science technicians. Twenty different countries were represented on the tour, including Brazil, Belgium, Bangladesh, Congo, and of course the U.S. “Organizing this event was both exciting and daunting; with nearly 90 visitors, this is the biggest event we have ever had to organize on the Ranch” said Dr. Elizabeth Boughton, the Agroecology Program Director at Buck Island Ranch. There was strong interest in this field trip as Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a prominent part of the Archbold Biological Station/University of Florida site in the national US Department of Agriculture Long-term Agroecosystem Research LTAR Network. Visitors were especially interested to learn about scientific research on Florida’s grazing lands focusing on greenhouse gas research and put that research in the context of sustainable agricultural production systems that integrate environmental and socio-economic needs and that scale from local, to regional, to national scales.

Early morning, on the tour bus drive to Buck Island Ranch from Orlando, Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director, and Dr Alia DeLong, Postdoctoral Fellow at Buck Island Ranch, served as tour guides on the buses, giving passengers a real time narrated tour of the Florida landscapes they could see from their windows. They started with intense urbanization in Orlando, crossed pinelands, wetlands, prairies and ranchlands viewed from the Turnpike, and pointed out interesting features like crossing the Kissimmee River restoration project at Bassinger, all en route to Buck Island Ranch. This set the scene for when visitors arrived at Buck Island Ranch where Dr. Grégory Sonnier, Assistant Research Biologist at Buck Island Ranch, and Dr. DeLong had arranged the complicated logistics for the day.

The visitors were rotated around three trip elements.  First, in the Ranch office, Dr. Sonnier and Dr. DeLong presented an overview of past and current research at the Ranch. “For us, it was a great occasion to share not only our research on greenhouse gas conducted with our partners from University of Illinois, but also our research on ecosystem services provided by pastures and wetlands. We were also fortunate to have Dr. Vaughn Holder join us from Alltech to explain our joint research projects on the potential role of animal feed supplements and enzymes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions” said Dr. Sonnier. “One aspect of our presentation that led to several questions was our current effort in involving ranchers and other stakeholders in determining future research” added Dr. DeLong.

Second element the visitors enjoyed was a short tour of the ranch on a swamp buggy. During the tour, Dr. Swain and Dr. Amartya Saha brought them to research pastures and introduced them to the multiple sensors collecting crucial environmental data, particularly the very advanced ‘eddy flux towers’ that track emissions of CO2 and methane, both greenhouse gases. Of course, the tour was also the occasion for visitors to observe typical Florida wildlife including many bird species, American Alligator, White-Tailed Deer, and feral pigs. Visitors from Europe found the landscapes quite exotic—especially the presence of palm forests and alligators in ditches—two Danish researchers commented they, “felt they were on a safari trip, and had no idea that a cattle ranch could appear so wild and support a wide range of reptiles and birds.”  Most participants said the buggy trips were a memorable, unique experience

Third element of the tour was the visitors got to meet with a Florida cattleman, Gene Lollis—Archbold’s Ranch Manager—and listen to his accounts of Ranch operations as one of the top 20 beef cow/calf producers in Florida. For international visitors, this was the occasion to learn more about what a cow-calf operation is and how a typical Florida cattle ranch is managed. Gene brought visitors to the cow pens and answered questions related to day-to-day management of a cattle ranch. Discussions arose on the public’s conception of beef being environmentally harmful, with a message that it depends on the source of the beef, and how free ranging livestock is raised on natural grasslands can be better than irrigating and heavily fertilizing these same lands to grow crops. Staff’s impression was very few conference attendees knew about ranching in Florida before the meeting and left with a new appreciation of the role of grazing lands in Florida in agriculture and conservation.

Dr. DeLong expressed great appreciation to all the Archbold staff who also assisted. Dr. Saha, Haoyu Li, and Lacey Leitner helped with the swamp buggy tours, and ranch and station facilities staff prepared the space and managed all the refreshments and a cheerful bag lunch. Various colleagues from University of Florida also participated including Dr. Rosvel Bracho and Dr. Marta Kohmann, who joined us from the University of Florida Range Cattle Research Center in Ona.  Dr. DeLong added, “It was a wonderful opportunity for us all to meet and interact with such an international crowd of fellow researchers, attendees, and experts. We were able to create new relationships, share what we do at Buck Island Ranch, and enhance the attendees’ knowledge of greenhouse gases and animal agriculture. We have a fairly international staff here at Archbold and it was exciting to make connections with researchers from so many other countries.”

Dr. Nicolas DiLorenzo, from the University of Florida IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center in Marianna, and one of the main conference organizers sent a kind acknowledgement to Archbold, “Thank you and all of your staff for an outstanding tour! I have heard a lot of compliments about the tour and the conversations generated around that it that were excellent. It was a great experience for our international participants at the conference, but also for me since it was my first time at the Archbold Biological Station.” Dr. Swain added in response, “Organizing this tour was a valuable experience for us and our participation has spread the message of our important, relevant research, increasing recognition for Archbold and Florida working landscapes around the globe.”

Fred Lohrer Celebrates 50 years at Archbold

Fred Lohrer in the Archbold Library 1972

Author: Joe Gentili

Do you remember where you were on June 1st, 1972? Maybe you were thinking about the upcoming Nixon v. McGovern Presidential Election? Perhaps you were listening to “A Horse with no Name” or “Lean on Me” on your favorite AM radio station. Many of you may have not been born yet or were not living in Highlands County, Florida. However, if you were Fred Lohrer, Archbold Librarian Emeritus, on this date, you would be heading in to meet with Richard Archbold, and beginning your first day as the new Librarian and Research Assistant at Archbold Biological Station.

Fred earned a Master’s degree in Ornithology in 1972, under the tutelage of Dr. Glen Woolfenden, at the University of South Florida. Woolfenden was in the very early stages of a project which is now in its 53rd year, studying the Florida Scrub-Jay at Archbold. Fred was first hired shortly after completing his degree and has performed dozens of jobs for Archbold over the past 50 years, always with the organizations principles foremost in mind. He has been a face to the community, meeting thousands of school children over the years. He has answered research questions from interested individuals in every medium from typewritten letter, to rotary phone call, to high speed email; and all in between. If you have a need for information regarding Archbold you can count on Fred to have the answer. 

L-R: Martha Noble, D. Bruce Barnour, Glen Woolfendon, and Fred Lohrer attend an intern seminar in the Archbold Library in 1972.

He has a love for, and a professional background in, ornithology. Some personal accolades relating to this work include publishing 46 scientific papers, along with editing seven other scientific works. He is a life member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, American Ornithological Society, and Florida Ornithological Society (of which he is also a founding member). He also was Associate Editor of The AUK, one of the most prestigious ornithological journals. Fred has studied shrikes, kites, owls, and more. His knowledge of the bird communities of Florida is vast and he has participated in many projects to disseminate this knowledge to others.

As Archbold’s first librarian he built and oversaw a collection with few parallels at any American field station. Circa 7,500 volumes were present upon his transition to Librarian Emeritus in 2018, the overwhelming majority added during his time. There are also thousands of bound journal subscriptions which he added to the stacks as well, providing a wealth of easily accessible and cataloged materials. Especially in a pre-internet era this trove of publications was a welcome sight for Archbold employees and collaborators, and many issues are still in use today. Fred has also been an invaluable mentor and friend to the current Archbold Librarian.

Fred is well known for saving anything of historical value for posterity. He once said, “In the “museum” (now the Archbold Avian Ecology Lab), where Richard Archbold was the collections manager, I saw a letter from Ernst Mayr, stating that Leonard Brass’s expedition narratives were so valuable for New Guinea exploration and ecology that he should reprint them for the general scientific community. I was not then smart enough, or bold enough, about Station history archives to have either snatched the letter or copied it, and the letter eventually disappeared.” Even decades later, Fred’s remembrance of this event, and regret at the loss of the item, perfectly encapsulates how he feels about the history of Archbold.

Fred Lohrer represents the last 50 years of Archbold as well as anyone could. He has dedicated his life to teaching others about the ecology of Central Florida, to collaborating with hundreds of scientists on dozens of research projects, and to assisting any and all who come to him in need of knowledge. In his illustrious career he has helped countless individuals achieve their goals, while himself conducting rigorous research. Congratulations on 50 years Fred!

Fred Lohrer in the Archbold Library

Flight of the Kite

A large kettle of migrating Swallow-tailed Kites flying high above Big Pine Key, FL. Photo by Kevin Christman.

Author: Brian Cammaranao

It’s spring in Florida, the air is warm and the dry season is nearing its end. Occasional tropical showers hint at the coming wet season and migrant birds are on the move. One species in particular, the Swallow-tailed Kite, unmistakable with its contrasting black-and-white plumage and deeply forked tail, catches the eyes of anyone who sees them gracefully flying past. The undeniable elegance of a Swallow-tailed Kite as it effortlessly glides overhead is incomparable to any other bird of prey in Florida. Swallow-tailed Kites return to their breeding grounds, including Highlands County, as early as mid-February. Upon their arrival, they’ve successfully completed their annual migratory journey from their South American wintering grounds. Brian Cammarano, a research intern in the Archbold Avian Ecology Program, excitedly yelled “They’re back, they’re finally back!” to his fellow interns as he pointed out the first pair of the season circling above.

“Every spring, these gregarious raptors migrate in large groups, sometimes numbering in the thousands, as they make their way back North to their breeding grounds,” Brian explained. “Although their breeding range within the States is shrinking due to habitat loss, Florida remains a stronghold for nesting Swallow-tailed Kites,” continued Brian. Highlands Hammock State Park, a local park known for having more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, provides excellent habitat for these birds during the breeding season. The kites are busy nest building and caring for young during the months of March through June. A typical Swallow-tailed Kite nest is made up of carefully selected twigs lined with Spanish moss built high up in the crowns of bald cypress trees or pines. Nearby open areas where the birds can hunt for prey are essential for successful nesting. “Something I find fascinating about these birds is their ability to eat on the wing, meaning they capture and consume their prey such as flying insects while soaring high in the sky,” shared Brian.

“As an avian ecology intern at Archbold, I am conducting an independent research project that relates to Florida Scrub-Jay nest predation,” said Brian. Although snakes are the primary Florida Scrub-Jay nest predator within the scrub, Swallow-tailed Kites have been documented to prey on Florida Scrub-Jay eggs, nestlings, and recent fledglings. It may appear as if the kites might have a negative impact on scrub-jay nest success, but not all predation attempts are successful. Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program, recalled capturing one such unsuccessful attempt on video, “The Swallow-tailed Kite swooped down onto the nest, but the female scrub-jay stayed put, protecting her young. The male scrub-jay landed on the back of the kite and viciously pecked its head. The kite finally had enough and abandoned its predation attempt.” Predation is a natural and common event in the wild. Species like deer or even cows, which we think of as grazers, might opportunistically chow down on some bird eggs if they come across a nest. Swallow-tailed Kites are just one of many predators within the natural order of a self-sustaining ecosystem.

As fall approaches, thousands of kites begin their journey back South to the humid lowland forests of South America where they’ll spend the winter. “I was fortunate enough to witness this spectacle last fall working at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a long-term research effort committed to monitoring bird migration through the Florida Keys. It is known for being The Peregrine Falcon migration capital of the World, with a record high of 1,506 individuals counted in a single day,” explained Brian. For the first time in the project’s history, monitoring began on August 1st to target the early migratory movements of Swallow-tailed Kites. “We were thrilled to report the season’s total tally of 1,619 migrating Swallow-tailed Kites,” said Brian. So as summer approaches and the kites are still around, keep your eyes to the sky in hopes of seeing these stunning birds in flight as they pass over your backyards!

A Swallow-tailed Kite in flight. Photo by Brian Cammarano.

Archbold’s Drone Program

Authors: Julie Sorfleet & Vivienne Sclater

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as ‘drones,’ can be used for many things, including photography, search and rescue, and fishing. The Archbold Drone Program primarily supports the organization’s scientific research projects and the needs of state and regional conservation organizations and agencies. Archbold flights are limited to those over Archbold properties, or over partnering agency lands, respecting the privacy of private property owners. Drones are becoming more accessible and thus have been increasingly used for ecological research. Drones are able to collect information from areas that are difficult to access while also minimizing disturbance, so they have become important tools to monitor wildlife and map areas for land management.

Drones come in many shapes and sizes, from small quadcopters that can fit in the pocket of your cargo shorts, to fixed-wing drones that look like miniature planes. In the past, Archbold primarily used a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, a quadcopter about the size of a shoebox, that’s equipped with a camera that captures imagery as sharp as many traditional ground cameras. According to Julie Sorfleet, Archbold GIS Research Assistant and Drone Pilot, “The series of still images captured using drones are combined into a single large image to create aerial maps. These aerial maps provide a bird’s eye view of the ground that can be used to identify or classify areas of interest.”

Imagery from the DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone has been used to map prescribed burns and general land cover classes, as well as capture imagery of pasture productivity. Currently, it is also being used to track the movements of Gopher Tortoises for Archbold Research Intern Jack Christie’s independent research project. The drones are capturing high resolution imagery of each tortoise three times a day so Jack can analyze the habitat use and movements of the tortoises within the study.

Recently, with the help of gracious donors, Archbold acquired a DJI Matrice 300 drone, a workhorse drone, which can be customized with different cameras and sensors. Archbold is currently using a multispectral MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor attached to the Matrice 300 drone. During one flight, this sensor can capture true color red, green, and blue images along with images in the red edge and near infrared wavelengths that can be used to generate different indices. These indices are images that are produced by using a mathematical equation to combine the pixel values from the different images into a single image to highlight a specific phenomenon that is present in the environment. For example, the normalized difference between the red and near infrared can be used to quantify green vegetation as it measures the difference between the wavelengths of light that vegetation reflects and absorbs. These indices could be used to detect changes in water levels in seasonal ponds, categorize the health of vegetation, determine burn severity in a variety of habitats ranging from pastures to scrub, and determine leaf nitrogen and biomass content. Drone data do need to be calibrate in the field (are they measuring representative data) but they allow for analyses over a large spatial scale way beyond the typical small plots of intensive vegetation sampling, without having to collect extensive field data.

Archbold’s Matrice 300 drone in flight.

Other attachments that could be added in the future to the drone include LiDAR sensors. These use a laser to measure the time it takes for the reflected light to hit an object and return to the sensor. LiDAR is great for creating three dimensional representations of areas and measuring vegetation height. Sorfleet, remarked, “If we had access to a LiDAR sensor, we could couple high resolution multispectral imagery like that captured with the MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor with height information to gather a full three-dimensional vegetation picture from the air”. Drone technology today leads to endless possibilities for the everyday person to see the world from a different perspective, the photographer to capture unique shots, the search and rescue team to cut down on their response times, and the researcher to capture new data in new ways. Drone technology is for everyone!

A map of relative chlorophyll content derived from the MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor.

Archbold’s FUNgarium

A cluster of Honey Mushrooms (left) and a Lactarius mushroom producing liquid latex (right). Photos by Elan Tran.

Author: Elan Tran

It may come as a surprise that fungi are integral parts of our natural environment and our industrialized society. In the natural world, fungi exchange nutrients with plants, breakdown organic matter, and act as a direct food source for many animals including humans. In our built ecosystem, fungi are used to derive medicine, create building materials, and develop food products including cheese, bread, and wine.

Elan Tran, a post-baccalaureate research intern in the Archbold Plant Ecology Program, has worked on the curation of the Station’s fungi for the past seven months. “I started studying fungi through their relationships with plants”, she explained. Elan continued, “Understanding both beneficial and pathogenic relationships is important to native plant conservation and agriculture. Since the start of my position, I have become fascinated with the fungal community at Archbold and in the surrounding area. Cataloging the species of fungi we find, the habitats they survive in, and nearby plants helps us to uncover how fungi may be contributing to the ecology of the scrub ecosystem.”

According to Dr. Aaron David, Archbold Plant Ecology Program Director, “The Lake Wales Ridge is such a special place for biodiversity, however, unlike the plants and animals, the fungi are largely unknown and undocumented here.”

Tran has spearheaded an expansion of Archbold’s fungal collections, known as a fungarium. The purpose of the fungarium is to collect, document, and preserve mushrooms on the Lake Wales Ridge. The high-quality specimens collected will be available for future scientists to view, borrow, and study. Importantly, Tran is sequencing the DNA of the specimens in collaboration with Professor of Mycology Dr. Matthew Smith at the University of Florida. She explained, “the purpose of obtaining DNA sequences is to verify the identity of the specimens we collect and to let us know if we have discovered any new species”. The DNA sequences are also stored in online databases, where researchers worldwide can use them.

Archbold’s fungarium currently has more than 130 specimens, though is expected to rapidly grow with the upcoming wet season. On average, mushrooms are made up of 90% water, which is why they thrive during the humid and moist weather of summer and fall. “We tend to see fewer mushrooms popping up during our dry winters than during the rainy season,” Tran commented. She went on to explain that different species of mushrooms, much like plants, have their preference for certain weather and soil conditions. “This really leads into how much variety there is in the fungal community at Archbold,” said Tran.

“We have found quite a few edible Honey Mushrooms, which belong to the genus Armillaria, as well as some very toxic species belonging to the genus Amanita,” Tran explained. She continued, “We also have some fun, colorful mushrooms like Chanterelles, which tend to be orangish-red, and Southern Jack O’lanterns, which have luminescent gills”. However, the collection doesn’t end there. In the brief time Tran has been collecting, the fungarium has received puffballs, jelly fungi, and specimens from the Lactarius group which produce liquid latex when cut.

Tran says, “we are just scratching the surface of what’s here and it’s likely that we will come across undescribed species as we continue curating the fungarium at Archbold. It has been an exciting process so far and I can’t wait to see what we find during the upcoming wet season.”

Three Southern Jack O’lantern mushrooms found at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Elan Tran.

Happy Birthday Richard Archbold

Richard Archbold aboard the Guba

Richard Archbold (April 9, 1907-August 1, 1976), founder of Archbold Biological Station and world renowned conservationist, philanthropist, aviator, and scientific explorer, would have turned 115this past Saturday. He spent his life travelling to new uncharted regions, learning about previously unknown plants and animals, and using his resources to further understanding about the natural world. As a young man, Richard participated in a scientific expedition to Madagascar and then led three long expeditions to New Guinea during the 1930’s. With the onset of WWII in 1939, Mr. Archbold had to put his explorations on hold. As a result, he began a search for an area in the USA that could be his scientific base of operations. This search eventually led him to Highlands County, FL where he established Archbold Biological Station in 1941.

Richard Archbold remained at Archbold Biological Station as its full-time resident, and very active leader, for the next 35 years. Throughout the years, Richard built a tradition of scientific excellence, inviting scientists from around the world to visit, and sponsored seven more expeditions to the South Pacific. Richard also invested in conservation and stewardship. Beginning in 1967, the Station started mapping fires systematically and the scientific data began to reveal that fire is vital for scrub species and crucial to the stewardship of the land. In 1973, Archbold purchased 2,773 acres of adjacent land, adding important scrub habitat. During the time that he lived in Florida [1941-1976] he was also active locally. He was a founding or participating member of a variety of Highlands County and Lake Placid Civic Associations. He spent time and money on firefighting equipment and crews which were used to fight many local fires. In Mr. Archbold’s lifetime he was known in Highlands County for many of these initiatives but, if you asked an old-timer about “the man on Red Hill”, there is one community achievement in particular that they would probably mention first and foremost. It is very likely that they would know him as one of the men who helped bring electricity to their homes.

When Archbold first moved to Highlands County in 1941, most of the area did not yet have access to electricity. He made rural electrification a top priority. In his mind it was crucial that all families in the area had access to safe, affordable, reliable electricity. Though the mechanism to start a rural electric cooperative had existed since the 1930’s Highlands County residents had not had any luck working with the Federal government to create one. It was no secret in the community how Mr. Archbold felt on the subject and according to Ralph V. Wadlow the first Secretary-Treasurer of Glades Electric Cooperative, “local people went to Archbold for help and he responded by prodding the federal government into providing the needed assistance to form the Glades Electrical Cooperative.” Creation of the Cooperative began in earnest in 1944 and according to Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer, “Richard Archbold was a leader in this effort and one of the founding Directors. In the early days of the Cooperative, he personally traveled through Highlands and Glades counties signing-up residents for membership.” He received the “30-year Director Service award” on December 4, 1975 for service in the “Florida Rural Electric Cooperative: Director, 1945-1975.” He was the very first Vice-President as well and served as either President or Vice-President of the Cooperative until his death.

In the spring of 1976, while hospitalized in Palm Beach County facing terminal cancer, Richard typed a new will that transferred the land, buildings, and his personal fortune to support Archbold Biological Station. His sister, Frances Archbold Hufty, agreed to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Archbold Expeditions. Guided by the Archbold family and all the past and present members of the Board of Directors, the organization continues Richard Archbold’s legacy and traditions. Since founding, Archbold has achieved formidable growth thanks to increasing public support of its important programs—helping to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect Florida and beyond. Cheers to Richard Archbold!

Dr. Jim Layne, Research Biologist and Archbold’s first Executive Director from 1976-1985, holds a Gopher Tortoise alongside Richard Archbold in the 1960s.

Archbold Hosts Florida Wildlife Corridor Science Exchanges

Author: Josh Daskin

Archbold Biological Station, a research institution just south of Lake Placid, recently hosted three online meetings to organize science for conservation of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor is an 18-million-acre patchwork of public and private land stretching from the Everglades north to Georgia and west to Alabama. It is primarily designed to protect connections between wildlife habitats. Last year, the Florida legislature unanimously passed and Governor Desantis signed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, formally recognizing the geography and providing funds for state land conservation activities. Along with two other groups, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Florida Wild, Archbold is championing the Corridor vision—to conserve natural and agricultural lands of value to wildlife all across the state.

The recent meetings, dubbed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Science Exchanges because they were meant to promote exchange of scientific needs and information among attendees, were organized by Archbold’s Director of Conservation, Dr. Joshua Daskin, with other Archbold staff, plus close partners from the University of Florida and Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Daskin said the Science Exchanges will seed new connections among researchers and conservationists to help achieve the Corridor goals. “The Science Exchanges are about catalyzing the information sharing and research needed for effective, efficient land conservation in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The aim is to identify what we know and what we still need to study.”

Thirty-five to fifty invitees from state and federal environmental agencies, universities, and conservation organizations attended each Exchange. Facilitators from the Consensus Building Institute helped keep the meetings interactive with surveys, breakout groups, and creative ways of posting questions.

The first Science Exchange in mid-January focused on prioritizing lands in the Corridor; which are most critical for conservationists to work on protecting first. Daskin said, “this means balancing the few remaining parcels providing habitat near fast-developing urban areas with more rural properties that may not be developed imminently without conservation efforts, but which are critical to protecting wildlife in the long term. A key takeaway from the day’s discussions was that science and data can help the state’s many accomplished conservation groups and government agencies select priorities depending on their own values.”

Dr. Reed Noss of the Florida Institute for Conservation Science spoke about the history of the Corridor, which dates back to science conducted in the 1980s and Dr. Gary Tabor, a world-leader in conserving connected areas for wildlife and people and the President of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, described the Corridor as a national leader in statewide conservation efforts.

In March, two Exchanges focused on water resource protection in the Corridor and how Corridor land protection can help make Florida communities and farms more resilient to sea level rise and changing economies. “We are partnering with the University of Florida’s Water Institute to resolve some really key questions about Florida’s water supplies and wetlands, and specifically how the Corridor can and cannot contribute to their sustainability,” said Daskin. Participants in the water Exchange stressed that it is key not to oversell the benefits of the Corridor—because it is primarily designed to conserve wildlife, it is not expected to solve all the rest of Florida’s environmental concerns, too.

Still, the Exchanges revealed there are many benefits of land conservation. “In Highlands and other central Florida counties, some of the best tools we have for saving the Corridor are aimed at saving ranches; a working Florida cattle ranch provides so much benefit to wildlife, so we are doing all we can to keep ranching profitable and active. Elsewhere, in the panhandle, conserving the Corridor means protecting key coastal habitats that buffer communities from storm impacts.”

Going forward, the discussions held at the Science Exchanges will allow Archbold, its partners, and other attendees to focus their research on the most important topics for advancing conservation of Florida wildlife habitats.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor map vision: dark green areas have already been protected within the Corridor, while light green areas still need to be protected. Map by Angeline Meeks/Archbold Biological Station based on the Florida Ecological Greenways Network Priorities 1-3 (2021) developed and maintained by the University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning. Conserved Lands, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, May 2021.  

Indigo Your Own Way

Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon couperi, recently spotted at Archbold by research intern Jack Christie. Photo by Brian Camarrano.

Author: Jack Christie

“Driving through the Florida scrub at Archbold one afternoon, my thoughts were elsewhere,” recounts Archbold Herpetology Program research intern Jack Christie. “Though they snapped right back to the present when I saw the long shape of a snake stretching across the road in front of me. There was something unusual about this one. As I got closer, the snake sensed my presence and turned back the other way, returning to the thick vegetation. I jumped out of the vehicle and caught up with it. Surrounded by the buzz of insects and the hot Florida air, a six-foot long Eastern Indigo Snake looked back at me, waiting to see what would happen next.”

“I couldn’t believe how lucky I was,” said Jack. He has some good reasons to be excited. Adult indigo snakes can grow up to more than eight feet in length, making them the longest native species of snake in North America. Indigos get their name from their iridescent black scales, and often have coral to crimson coloration on their chin, making them beautiful to behold. “They lead exciting lives, too,” explains Jack. “They travel long distances while foraging and seeking mates, and they’ll eat just about anything. Humans however, have nothing to fear. Indigo snakes aren’t venomous and have a reputation for being gentle.”

Much of the pioneering indigo snake research was conducted here in Highlands County by the first Archbold Director of Research, Dr. Jim Layne, and his research is still influential today. The Archbold Herpetology Program continues to document sightings and collect data from the few individuals we find each year. “When we started to measure the snake back at the lab, we found something interesting,” says Jack. “We found a large bulge in the middle of its body– indicating the snake had eaten recently. They’ll eat just about anything they can swallow, including rodents, birds, frogs, and even young Gopher Tortoises and other snakes.” Indigo snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem as an apex predator. Their flexibility in diet is important too. For example, if there were fewer frogs one year, they might be able to eat more mice instead, helping bring balance to the ecosystem they’re a part of.

Their movements are just as wide-ranging as their diet. Indigos make some of the longest movements of any snake, crossing through a variety of habitat types. They need large swathes of land, with especially wayfaring individuals using over 1000 acres in a single year, according to scientific studies done here in Highlands County. All this moving takes them across roads and other man-made structures, putting them at risk of being hit by cars or being killed by fearful humans. Highlands County has some of the most intact indigo habitat left in Florida. To protect indigo snakes means protecting where they live, and the ecosystem that they’re a part of.

“After we finished collecting data on the indigo snake, we release her back into the scrub,” said Jack. As Jack watched the snake disappear back into the thick brush, one thing became clear; while the scrub may have abided a few hours without its resident hunter, it would be a less resilient, less special place if they were to disappear for good. To learn more about the Archbold Herpetology Program, please visit our website:

Eastern Indigo Snake showing the characteristic dark orange to crimson chin. Photo by Rebecca Tucker.

Mosquitofish: A tiny fish with a mighty job

Standing water, like this old cattle pond at Archbold Biological Station in the scrub, is the perfect environment to collect eastern mosquitofish for research. Photo by Dr. Jessica Judson.

Author: Dr. Jessica Judson

On a warm, humid day in central Florida, the air buzzes with thousands of wings of adult mosquitos. If you find yourself outside near a still body of water, you may become victim to a female mosquito as she relentlessly searches for her next meal. Once she has that meal, she finds a pool of water to lay her eggs, and the mosquito lifecycle begins. However, for these eggs to make it to adulthood, they have to survive the many predators of Florida waters, and this is where the mosquitofish comes in.

Mosquitofish are small, unassuming fish that can be found in almost every body of fresh water in central Florida. “I would always call small fish like these ‘minnows’ when I was a kid. You can take a net and scoop up dozens of them off the docks at local lakes, like Lake Istokpoga. Mosquitofish can even be found in roadside ditches!” says Dr. Jessica Judson, a researcher from Michigan State University working at Archbold Biological Station. “Mosquitofish are one of the most abundant freshwater fish species in Florida. They have an amazing tolerance for high temperatures, like we sometimes see in ponds in the scrub at Archbold, and they can even tolerate salty brackish waters.”

Mosquitofish get their name because they are ravenous predators of mosquitos and their larvae. In central Florida, mosquitofish have no problem finding plenty of food. “They will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths, including insects and aquatic plants,” Dr. Judson adds. As mosquitos can carry West Nile virus and Zika virus, mosquitofish have been introduced to bodies of fresh water around the world in an attempt to control the mosquito populations, albeit with mixed success. “Unfortunately, we have found that mosquitofish don’t control mosquito populations as well as hoped in other countries. Instead, native fish usually do as well, or better, at controlling mosquitos than mosquitofish, and mosquitofish tend to have a more varied diet than their name suggests. Here in central Florida, however, mosquitofish are an important native species in freshwater ecosystems. They eat insects and plant material, and in turn mosquitofish are a staple in the diet of larger fish we like to catch in our Florida lakes.”

How do you know if you’ve netted a mosquitofish? Mosquitofish are silvery to dark grey in color and less than 3 inches long. Male mosquitofish have a longer fin on their belly, called a gonopodium, and females are larger than males and have a black spot on their belly to indicate they are pregnant. “Another cool fact about mosquitofish is that they are live-bearers, meaning that instead of laying eggs like many fish, they give birth to live young which are immediately ready to swim,” says Dr. Sarah Fitzpatrick, a professor at Michigan State University who studies mosquitofish and grew up near Archbold. Dr. Fitzpatrick is interested in understanding the negative effects of inbreeding, which is when close relatives produce offspring. Inbreeding often happens when population sizes are very small and is one of the drivers of biodiversity loss. “We are currently using mosquitofish to study the effects of small population size and inbreeding at Archbold. Mosquitofish are great fish for experiments where we need to manipulate things like population size, and Archbold has everything we need to keep these fish happy and healthy.”

Male (top) and female (bottom) eastern mosquitofish collected from Lake Istokpoga. Males have an elongated fin on their belly, called a gonopodium, while females have a black spot on the belly when they are pregnant. Photo by Dr. Jessica Judson.
Shade structure at Archbold Biological Station where Dr. Jessica Judson tends to an experiment using mosquitofish to understand inbreeding and small population sizes. Photo by Dr. Jessica Judson.

Soil Seed Banks

An interior scrub sample site from Ella Segal’s soil seed bank study. Photo by Stephanie Koontz.

Author: Ella Segal

The life of a plant in the Florida scrub can be stressful, as plants routinely face heat, fire, intense wet and dry seasons, and animals that eat them. Still, plants find ways to survive despite these obstacles, including re-sprouting after fire, orienting leaves away from the sun’s direct rays, and producing chemicals to deter hungry animals. There are times, however, when conditions are so stressful that plants cannot cope and die. Soil seed banks, natural accumulations of seeds in the soil, are important safeguards that ensure entire populations don’t perish with individual plants.

“When plants produce seeds, they don’t all germinate into seedlings as soon as they reach the soil,” explained Ella Segal, the Vaughn-Jordan Plant Ecology research intern at Archbold. She continued, “for many species, the majority of seeds get buried in the soil and remain there until conditions are right for them to germinate into plants. The collection of seeds underground is what’s known as a seed bank.”

Seed banks in the Florida scrub may persist for decades and seeds often germinate after fire and other disturbances. “These disturbances kill the nearby plants, so if you’re a seed, it’s a great time to sprout and start your life as a young plant! You’ll have more sunlight, water, and nutrients than you would competing with older, larger plants. And from a population perspective, this mechanism is critical for renewing plant numbers just as they decline, keeping the population stable over time,” Segal said.

Supported by the Vaughn-Jordan Foundation, Segal has been investigating the seed banks at Archbold. Her research addresses how seed banks are influenced by both disturbance, namely fire and roadside disturbance (sandy tracks and trails), and by soil depth. “At the Station, roadside sands turn over as trucks drive by, and interior habitats (away from roadsides) regularly experience fire. I’m curious how each affects seed bank structure and whether structure then corresponds to aboveground plant density,” Segal said.

To test this, Segal collected soils in both roadside and interior habitats surrounding two scrub endemic plants, Scrub Hypericum (Hypericum cumulicola) and Papery Whitlow-wort (Paronychia chartacea). Each sample collected was divided into 2 cm ‘depth categories’ to consider effects of depth. To quantify the number of seeds of her target species, she has been watering the soils to prompt germination of any seeds present in the sample. She is also examining seeds from the samples under a microscope. Though the study is ongoing, preliminary results suggests that most seeds are found near the surface, and that seed banks are more prevalent in the natural (interior) scrub compared to roadsides.

“Seed banking is an important strategy for how plant species deal with challenging environmental conditions and maintain their populations through time,” says Dr. Aaron David, Direct of Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program. “Ella’s research helps explain the spatial structure of these seed banks, and sheds light on the hidden, underground components of these rare species’ populations needed to prevent their extinction.”

A sandy roadside sample site from Ella Segal’s soil seed bank study with soil corer in the foreground. Photo by Ella Segal.

Decades Long Collaboration Continues at Archbold

L-R, Dr. Pedro Quintana-Ascencio, Dr. Warren ‘Abe’ Abrahamson, & Dr. Eric Menges at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Marina Quintana-Ascencio.

Author: Zach Forsburg

This January, Archbold welcomed back three friends and colleagues to the Station. Dr. Eric Menges, Archbold Emeritus Research Biologist and former Plant Ecology Program Director, Dr. Warren ‘Abe’ Abrahamson, Archbold Research Associate and Emeritus Professor at Bucknell University, and Dr. Pedro Quintana-Ascencio, Archbold Research Associate and Professor at University of Central Florida. They returned to continue their decades long collaborations in the Plant Ecology Program. As plant ecologists, these scientists enjoy discovering pieces of the giant puzzle that is the complex web of life on our planet. Each discovery is like finding another piece and fitting it into the right place. These friends and colleagues have been working on the puzzle of life at Archbold for decades and have fit many pieces together.

Abe first visited Archbold Biological Station in 1972 as a graduate student at Harvard University and has been returning nearly every year since. Shortly after he started as faculty at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, Abe became a Research Associate at the Station. With a background in ecology and evolution, he was interested in studying the ecology and demography of plants in the Florida Scrub and the role of fire in this unique ecosystem. One of his many interesting long-term projects at Archbold focuses on the growth of Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens). Over the course of many years, with the help from field assistants including his wife Chris Abrahamson, he showed that Saw Palmettos only grow an average of a half inch per year, can take 200 years to mature, and that individual clones may be thousands of years old!

Eric arrived at Archbold in June 1988 to start as the Plant Ecology Program Director. This position allowed him to study an ecosystem with many rare plants, and how the ecosystem and plants responded to disturbance from fire and climate. He served as an outstanding scientist and leader of scientific research, conservation, and education activities at Archbold until his retirement in 2021. Under his leadership, the Plant Ecology program trained 33 Research Assistants and 127 Archbold research interns, nearly all of whom have gone on to great careers across the nation and internationally.

Pedro started at Archbold as a visiting researcher in 1994 while working on his Phd Thesis (Eric served on his dissertation committee), later becoming a post-doctoral fellow at Archbold from 2000-2003. After he started as faculty at the University of Central Florida, Pedro continued his collaboration with Archbold, and has visited every year since. His interests include understanding the ecological role of disturbance in ecosystems, and the Florida Scrub at Archbold is a perfect place to conduct his research. A recent collaboration utilizes Archbold’s long-term plant demography data sets to understand and predict plant responses to fire and the climate.

With a combined 112 years of research in the Florida Scrub (Abe: 50; Eric: 34; Pedro: 28), ‘long-term’ is an apt adjective to describe their science and relationship, long-term data, long-term collaborations, and a long-term friendship. We hope they continue to collaborate, continue to collect long-term data, and continue to be friends to each other and to Archbold, with many more visits to come. 

Cowboys and Scientists as Fashion Models?

The Dickies crew interviews Buck Island Ranch Manager/Model Gene Lollis. Photo by Mary Margaret Hardee.

Author: Zach Forsburg

Last month, Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch looked like a scene from New York’s ‘fashion week.’ Famed photographer and videographer Hollis Bennett turned the Ranch into a working set for a Spring marketing campaign photo shoot. Texas based Dickie’s Apparel® reached out to Archbold’s Director of Philanthropy, Deborah Pollard, in search of an authentic work-life situation, and Buck Island Ranch was the perfect fit to feature their Spring clothing line. Pollard explained, “Dickies wanted to highlight a real life working sustainable ranch in their upcoming Spring marketing campaign, so we were delighted to partner together. Archbold is always up for new and exciting concepts, especially when it comes to showcasing the Ranch and our work, so when tasked with asking the Ranch and science staff to become fashion models, we stepped up to the challenge.”

Professional photographer Hollis Bennett spent a week on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, and operations staff and scientists took a brief break from their typical workdays to model. Donning clothing from Dickies soon to be released Spring line, Archbold staff and collaborators modeled the fashions while conducting their authentic daily tasks. From working cattle, to shoeing horses, to fixing fences, the Dickies photographers were immersed in ranch life. Mary Margaret Hardee, Archbold Ranch Operations Data Assistant, said, “It was an exciting experience to try out the clothing and give our input on whether they fit comfortably and were functional for everyday wear on the Ranch.”

“We are very proud that a ranch from Highlands County will be featured in national ads throughout the US and in major retailers. This is a great way to highlight the importance of working lands, like ranches, in protecting wildlife as integral pieces to wildlife corridors, like the Florida Wildlife Corridor—a network of connected public and private lands in Florida,” stated Pollard. “We are also very grateful for a generous donation Dickies made to the Ranch, which will help us continue our mission and our important scientific research to make ranching and agriculture more sustainable,” continued Pollard.

Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a full-scale cow-calf operation with approximately 2,800 cows on 10,500 acres and serves as a real-world laboratory for agroecology research. Research focuses on water management, understanding how grazing and fire affect grassland and wetland forage production and species diversity, as well as the ranchland ecosystem carbon cycle. Archbold’s Buck Island has also been featured in two documentaries. Follow the links to learn more about the visionary marriage of Florida ranching and science as cowboys and scientists work together to advance scientific discovery on a ten thousand acre working cattle ranch. Bridging this cultural divide has resulted in a series of transformative discoveries that have begun to reshape our misconceptions about agriculture, sustainability, and conservation in the 21st century. ‘Cowboys and Scientists’ by Grizzly Creek Films and ‘The Science of a Florida Ranch’ by Into Nature Films.

Archbold Educator Wins Second in ‘Faces of Biology’ Contest

Award-winning photo of Chelsea Moore scoping a Gopher Tortoise burrow. Photo by: Dustin Angell

Authors: Katie Caldwell and Dustin Angell

When you think of a ‘scientist,’ your first thought might be someone in a lab coat holding beakers; however, the ‘Faces of Biology’ photography contest seeks to break those stereotypes. This contest—sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology—integrates art with science to illustrate the range of research practices. Additionally, creative mediums, such as photography, allow scientists to connect with the public and policymakers to showcase the importance of their work. Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell, won second place in their tenth annual competition. First place went to Christopher Brown’s photo showing college students waist deep in a pond learning how to catch sunfish with a net.

Angell’s winning photograph depicts research assistant Chelsea Moore ‘scoping’ a Gopher Tortoise burrow. Moore uses a scope with attached camera because burrows can be up to 30 feet long. In this photo, the scope wasn’t necessary since the tortoise greeted her at the entrance! Gopher Tortoises are an important keystone species, as their burrows are home to variety of insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Moore’s work is part of more than 50 years of ongoing tortoise research at Archbold.

“I use photography primarily to teach about local science and conservation. It is rare for me to submit photos to competitions, but this was the second time I entered Faces of Biology,” Angell states. “What they are trying to do, showing what scientists and science really look like, aligns exactly with what I’ve been doing here in Florida. I’m so grateful that this photo of Chelsea will be seen across the country. I hope it inspires people to go outside and experience nature, and maybe even become researchers or volunteers themselves.”

Inspired by Archbold’s researchers, Angell has been taking photo portraits and action shots of researchers, along with other professionals and volunteers, in his ongoing Florida Stewards Project since 2014. This project, now at over 100 portraits, aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the Headwaters of the Everglades. Most are associated with Archbold, but others are with state and federal agencies, other non-profits, or work independently. Each subject is photographed in their work clothes and holding the tools of their trade. Angell seeks to highlight both researchers and the habitats where they work.

Archbold’s natural laboratories and research have inspired other artistic projects in recent years, too. Michele Oka Doner, best known for her 1 ¼ mile installation ‘A Walk on the Beach’ at Miami International Airport, first visited Archbold in 2019.  Within a year of that visit, she had completed a large drawing of slash-pine tree rings using red iron oxide and based on a cross-section borrowed from Archbold. Fine artist, Deborah Mitchell partnered with Archbold to put on a virtual art event in 2021 called Wild Observations at Archbold Biological Station.’ The live-streamed presentation included Deborah’s interviews with Archbold researchers as well as her multi-media art based on science and conservation in Florida. And in 2018, Robert Chambers created an entire art exhibit based on Archbold’s research. ‘Serepens: Serenoa repens’ was held at Everglades National Park and even included a 3D printed saw palmetto.

 Angell explains that all this art is for a purpose. “Ultimately, I wish for future generations of Floridians to share and pass along a home that is alive with wild places and healthy ecosystems. These portraits are for them: a reminder of the community of people who, at a critical time in our history, oriented their lives and careers toward the stewardship needed to deliver that future,” Angell explains. Angell’s winning photo will be featured in the upcoming April issue of BioScience.

A portrait of Dustin Angell, with his ‘tools of the trade.’ Photo by Bill Parken

2021 at Archbold: the year in review

Day breaks over the Archbold scrub: the dawn of a new day and year. Happy New Year to all from Archbold! Photo by Rebecca Windsor.

Author: Zach Forsburg

2021 was a year of continued adaptation at Archbold. Research programs maintained their long-term studies despite ever changing COVID-19 updates. There was a robust cohort of post-baccalaureate research interns who were eager to explore that natural laboratory that is the Florida Scrub and the unique ecosystems on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. The Archbold intern experience usually ends with a capstone seminar in the Learning Center, however this year the program continued virtual seminars broadcasted live on Facebook. The Education Program unveiled the Archbold 2021 Virtual School Year website and resumed virtual scrub tours and lessons. These virtual events reached more people from across the globe, and it was exciting to grow these programs, reaching even more people in the future.

This year was also a year of exciting news and growth. Dr. Eric Menges, Archbold’s Director of Plant Ecology, retired after a remarkable 33 years of service. Dr. Aaron David, a former Plant Ecology Program intern, returned to Archbold to assume the position of Director of Plant Ecology. Thanks to a generous donor, a Director of Conservation was hired as well as a Conservation Cartographer, and a Communications Coordinator. Archbold constantly increases outreach and turns science into conservation action. The online social media presence grew, reaching broader audiences through national media outlets. Conservation successes were celebrated with collaborators, partners, and government agencies, including the passing and signing of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, as well as the budget allocation of $400 million toward land conservation by the Florida House and Senate. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch continues to lead in Agroecology with sustainable agriculture and ranching research. Gene Lollis, Ranch Manager, completed his year as President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, connecting the industry with science and the public. Protecting more wild areas and working lands, like ranches, in Florida is integral to protecting wildlife and ensuring Floridians can enjoy the great outdoors for many generations to come.

Archbold would not have been able to accomplish so much this year without loyal supporters, donors, Board members, and dedicated staff. Archbold is grateful for the generosity received throughout 2021, most notably a year-end donation match made by a loyal and generous Board member, and a $2 million gift from philanthropist K. Lisa Yang, establishing the John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology, in honor of former Executive Director and current Board Member Dr. John Fitzpatrick.

Archbold staff also received several well-deserved awards this year, highlighting their dedication and efforts in the science community. Dr. Reed Bowman, Archbold’s first John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology, received Audubon Florida’s 2021 Guy Bradley Award, and shared a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Honor Award with Research Assistants Rebecca Windsor and Greg Thompson, and the entire Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group Team, for their work with Florida Grasshopper Sparrow conservation. Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain and Archbold Data Manager Shefali Azad were both recognized at this year’s annual scientific meeting by the US Department of Agriculture Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR) for their contributions to the Network. Swain received the LTAR Founders Award in recognition of long-term leadership contributions that have influenced the vision and direction of the LTAR Network, and Azad received the LTAR Network Impact Award in recognition of individual and group network-level accomplishments that enable the LTAR Network to advance a vision for the sustainable intensification of US agriculture. Dr. Eric Menges, Emeritus Director of Plant Ecology, received the 2021 Mentor Award from the Florida Native Plant Society.

Although Archbold Biological Station remains closed to the general public ‘drop in’ visitors for now, the K-12 schools’ programs, college classes, and visiting scientists have restarted as well as planned public hikes and tours. The Station and Ranch continue to produce research and provide educational opportunities. Archbold staff and Board wish all readers, “A safe, happy, and healthy New Year!”

Gift to establish John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology at

Archbold Biological Station

Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick and Dr. Reed Bowman, the first John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology at Archbold. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Archbold Biological Station soars to new heights with a generous $2 million dollar gift from philanthropist K. Lisa Yang, establishing the John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology. The gift was announced to the Board of Directors and staff along with the appointment of Dr. Bowman, who recently celebrated 30-years of service to Archbold, as its first recipient. The endowment will enhance bird research at Archbold, with a focus on the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay.

“Our staff, board, and supporters are deeply touched by Lisa Yang’s generous gift, which establishes the first endowed position at Archbold,” said Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director. “Her gift builds on Archbold’s 50-year investment in Florida Scrub-Jay research, which has advanced studies of animal behavior and ecology around the world. It will generate annual funding that will enhance bird research at Archbold and propel our science into the future. Long-term studies of animals constantly transform, drawing from legacy data and new technologies across generations of scientists. Lisa Yang’s enduring gift will facilitate this evolution of knowledge and bear future scientific fruits we cannot possibly foresee today.”

The endowment honors Archbold’s former Executive Director, current Board member, and Research Associate Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, who recently retired after 26 years as Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His lifetime vision, passion for ornithology and conservation science, and inspired leadership have earned him global recognition and countless awards and accolades. Since 1972, a significant part of Fitzpatrick’s work has been studying the behavior, ecology, and conservation genetics of the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay together with colleagues at Archbold. He continues actively studying scrub-jays with Dr. Bowman.

“I am thrilled and honored beyond words to have this program directorship bear my name. Archbold Biological Station is among the most important places in the world for me and my entire family,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Yang visited Archbold with Fitzpatrick in 2019. Witnessing the charismatic Florida Scrub-Jays first-hand gave her a front-row seat to Archbold’s commitment to conservation and science and inspired her gift. She was fascinated by the enduring nature of this work, the longest continuous study of marked (banded) birds in North America.

“Traditional methods such as bird banding, combined with new technology and techniques, such as DNA sequencing and habitat mapping using drones, allow our research group to study changes over decades, enhancing conservation of this threatened species,” said Dr. Bowman. “Lisa’s generous gift will allow us to continue our cutting-edge efforts.”

Lisa Yang holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University and a B.S. from Cornell University, where she serves on the board of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a Life Member of the Cornell University Trustee Council, and member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School. Yang serves on the boards of Autism SpeaksThe McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, The Devereux Foundation, the Stanford Neurodiversity Project Advisory Board at Stanford University School of Medicine, is an active ambassador of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and also sits on the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows. A native of Singapore, Yang worked primarily in finance and Wall Street before retiring in 2001 and now is a full-time private investor and active philanthropist.

Investing in science, research, neurodiversity in the workplace initiatives, and conservation is not new to Yang. Yang founded the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University (2015). She is the co-founder of the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at MIT (2017) and a sister center at Harvard (2019), and K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Molecular Therapeutics Center at MIT (2020). She also founded the K. Lisa Yang Bionics Center at MIT (2021) and the K. Lisa Yang Integrative Computational Neuroscience Center (ICoN Center) at MIT (2021). This year, Yang made a transformational gift of $24 million to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, establishing the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics and its John W. Fitzpatrick Directorship.

Today, we celebrate Lisa Yang for tying together the threads of her philanthropic generosity in such a remarkable fashion,” said Dr. Swain. “She loves birds. She holds Dr. John Fitzpatrick in the highest esteem. She is committed to science and technology. And she has a burgeoning interest in the work conducted by Archbold. We offer Lisa our eternal gratitude, and we are excited that her generosity will inspire others worldwide to support and sustain Archbold’s work. Truly her gift to Archbold is a gift that will keep on giving: she couldn’t be more inspirational.”

Archbold Biological Station is an independent, not-for-profit research facility whose mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters of the heart of Florida and beyond. Lying within the Headwaters of the Everglades, Archbold is one of the most renowned resources for field study of the natural environments in the world. For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Philanthropist K. Lisa Yang. Photo Credit: Caitlin Cunningham, McGovern Institute.

Small ants, big heads

Seaside Big-Headed Ant (Pheidole littoralis), is a species found in Florida coastal and inland dunes. The jaws of the larger individuals are adapted for grinding small seeds. Drawing by Mark Deyrup.

Author: Mark Deyrup

Big-Headed Ants probably live in almost every backyard in Florida; however, their strange appearance and interesting behavior are seldom noticed. This is because they are small (usually no more than 1/8 inch long) and spend most of their time below ground. Unlike some small ants, they don’t get our attention by biting or stinging.

Most people are happy to ignore these ants, but at Archbold Biological Station there are few kinds of animals, even small innocuous ones, that are beneath the attention of curious researchers. The ten species of Big-Headed Ants living on the Station have been studied by both resident and visiting biologists. According to Archbold entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup, “Biologists can easily find the ants because the ants (and often the biologists) are strongly attracted to rich cookies, such as pecan sandies, which provide the tempting trifecta of sugar, fat, and protein.” Deyrup continued, “One of the discoveries resulting from baiting with cookie crumbs is that Big-Headed Ants are amazingly common in all natural terrestrial habitats, but different species are usually confined to particular habitats such as open sandy areas or dense scrub oak thickets.”

Big-Headed Ants belong to the ant genus Pheidole (pronounced Fie doh’ ly), a huge group of more than 900 species, most of them tropical. The name Pheidole means ‘thrifty’ in Greek, referring to the many species in the genus that harvest and store seeds. The entomologist who first named Pheidole ants in 1835 was impressed by a colony whose members were hauling damp seeds out of an anthill after a rain, laying the seeds in the sun to dry, then carrying them back down, showing “a perseverance offering a useful lesson to humanity.”

The diligence of Pheidole ants can be easily observed by setting out tiny piles of cookie crumbs on a warm day in almost any upland habitat in Florida. The speedy discovery of the crumbs by wandering scout ants is quickly followed by trails of ants recruited to retrieve the treats. This suggests that every inch of most Florida habitats is patrolled by ants.

An unusual feature of Big-Headed Ants is that their workers come in two sizes, one much bigger than the other and with a disproportionately massive head. These larger workers have specialized tasks such as seed milling or colony defense, while smaller workers tend to larvae in their nest and scout for food in the surrounding area. When he was making drawings for an identification guide to Florida ants, Dr. Deyrup had to draw both the big workers and the small ones of each species because they look so different.

The common little Big-Headed Ants working in their efficient teams at the l Station and throughout Florida must have an outsized effect reducing numbers of small insects and seeds that are gathered and consumed. These ants are just part of a menagerie of little creatures that manage the world beneath our feet. Just as a huge diversity of bacteria helps balance our digestive systems a huge diversity of tiny insects helps balance the natural world upon which we live.

Versatile Big-Headed Ant (Pheidole dentata), is a common predatory species of both open and forested habitats. It has a complex series of defenses against fire ants. Drawing by Mark Deyrup.

Plastic Poses Additional Risk to Threatened Species

A bundle of mylar/helium balloons caught in Lyonia and palmettos in the Archbold scrub. Photo by Tori Bakley.

Author: Tori Bakley

Among the wall of green oak leaves and palmetto fronds, a silver shimmer catches the eye of Tori Bakley, a research assistant at Archbold Biological Station. Torn and tangled in the scrub oak branches, a deflated balloon still manages to shine in the afternoon sun—the third released balloon she’s found in the field that week.

As the saying goes, what goes up must come down, and this has become clear to Bakley during her time working outdoors. She says, “I’ve worked at research sites around the world and no matter how far I get from a city it seems like I can never escape the litter.” While balloons can drift miles through the air, other debris can travel surprising distances in wind or water if not disposed of properly.

Earlier this year while traveling through the scrub to collect data on Florida Scrub-Jay nests, Bakley stumbled across Gopher Tortoise droppings that appeared peculiar. Upon a closer look, the droppings contained pieces of mylar balloon. A wild tortoise had eaten a balloon that had floated into the scrub. Although the tortoise was able to pass pieces of the balloon, Archbold researchers don’t yet know if the tortoise will suffer from related complications, such as reduced nutritional intake or internal injuries. It is difficult to process findings like this since habitat is diligently managed for these endangered species and something as small as a single balloon can still threaten their lives. While Bakley is the first to document evidence of Gopher Tortoise plastic consumption, there are several reports of other species of turtles and tortoises consuming debris found in their habitat.

Greg Thompson, Archbold’s Red-Cockaded Woodpecker researcher based at Avon Park Air Force Range, was traveling through Longleaf Pine habitat when he, too, came across something unexpected. Attached to a lifeless balloon was a note written by a family from Plant City, Florida, roughly 50 miles away. They were hopeful their letter would travel to somewhere interesting, so they included their contact information in hopes of hearing back about the fate of their balloon. Unfortunately, its final destination happened to be one of the last remaining stands of Longleaf Pines, which the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker calls home.

Thompson took this opportunity to educate the family on the dangers of intentional balloon releases. He wrote back to update them on their balloon’s journey and to bring them into the conversation of humans’ direct impact on wildlife. He said, “It’s discouraging how often I come across mylar balloons and other plastic debris while out doing fieldwork. I don’t think people fully realize how much litter is created just by releasing balloons.”

Intentionally releasing balloons is illegal in several states, including Florida. Similar to littering, releasing 10 or more helium balloons is punishable by law and should be avoided. As we learn more about the hazards of balloon releases, their popularity in celebrations and memorials should diminish all together. Being mindful of the impacts our actions have on the world around us will help protect the threatened species and natural spaces we love so dearly.

A sample of Gopher Tortoise scat dissected to reveal many pieces of plastic and vegetation. The plastic was determined to be from a balloon using a small label that was still legible on one of the pieces. Photo by Tori Bakley, previously published in Herpetological Review.

Archbold Educators Invited to Science Teacher Conference

Dustin Angell and his trusty selfie-stick return this month with Nature Wonder Alive with Mr. Dustin. Visit to register. Photo by Emily Angell.

Authors: Katie Caldwell and Dustin Angell

Last month, Dustin Angell, Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education, and Katie Caldwell, the Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern, were invited to present on Archbold’s virtual education projects for the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST) conference by the Florida Department of Education’s STEAM team (science, technology, education, art, and math).

“This was our first time attending and presenting at FAST,” explains Angell. “We have always focused on serving local schools, but virtual programing is bringing us new audiences and partners. The STEAM Team is helping us find our niche in the Florida classroom, which looks to be sharing how the practice of science works with examples from Archbold research.”

Prior to 2020, the vast majority of environmental education at field stations across North America was occurring onsite. In Angell’s presentation, ‘The Virtual Field: Remote Learning at Field Stations in Florida and Beyond,’ he explained how some of these institutions reinvented their education programs during the pandemic and come together to create The Virtual Field (, a website where students can remotely visit biological field stations around the world to develop their field skills and environmental literacy. Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain, is a project leader for this growing initiative. 

In addition to the field station collaboration, Angell outlined what Archbold is providing for Florida elementary school classrooms. Private virtual classroom visits bring Archbold to the schools with two class options available: the ‘Snakes and Skulls’ classroom visit introduces students to a live Florida snake and a variety of animal skulls.

“The snake seems to be a favorite,” Caldwell notes. “Some students are a bit wary, but some are just so excited. It’s great to see that the students are still engaged and curious even over a Zoom call. They’re in the chat asking questions and giving us fun facts that they already know about Florida wildlife. It’s really fun for us as educators and for the students.”

The other virtual classroom visit is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style presentation. This format allows students autonomy to pick where they go on the trail, the questions they ask the scientists, and what to look at in greater detail.

Nature Wonder Alive with Mr. Dustin is a monthly interactive livestream show that takes viewers into various Florida habitats throughout Archbold’s 20,000 acres—from hiking in the endangered scrub to kayaking on Lake Annie. Since the program is live, the audience is able to participate and ask questions by typing in the chat box. Each episode features a guest scientist who showcases their research at Archbold.

Caldwell, who started in October and is the third consecutive education intern to work during the pandemic, is excited about the rest of the school year. “The virtual programs are game-changers for Archbold, but now we are scheduling in-person field trips again, too. This is exciting, because during my internship we are promoting both formats with the local schools. Dustin and I will be able to meet students virtually and take them for in-person tours,” Caldwell states.

Archbold Biological Station, located in Venus, Florida, is still closed to the public, but in-person guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more. To learn more about Archbold’s education programs, visit: or call (863)465-2571.

Archbold Director of Education Dustin Angell and Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern, Katie Caldwell at the FAST Conference, October 2021. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Inventorying the plants of Carter Creek

Scott Ward with the 600, new vouchered specimens from the Carter Creek. Photo by Aaron David.

Authors: Scott Ward and Aaron David

It may be hard to believe, but biologists still do not know many of the details of where individual plant species occur. Mapping these occurrences, or ‘species distributions,’ is particularly important for threatened and endangered species, to ensure they receive the management needed for their protection. Biologists document the occurrence of plant species in several ways including collecting specimens for local herbaria and reporting species as part of statewide inventory lists. For extremely rare species, of which Highlands County has an extraordinarily high number, documenting their distributions at regular intervals can help biologists understand how populations change over time.

Here in the botanically diverse Lake Wales Ridge, Archbold Biological Station’s Plant Ecology Program documents the species present in the Carter Creek tract of the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area near Sebring. Research Assistant Scott Ward has led the project since 2019, diligently exploring nearly every corner of the property for species that are previously unknown to occur there or are not represented in the Archbold Herbarium.

“Various generations of field biologists at local agencies, including Archbold, have documented where the rarest known species occur at Carter Creek,” says Ward. “But with any complete floristic inventory, it’s the species that are or aren’t ‘supposed’ to be there that make these projects interesting.”

The Carter Creek inventory project directly informs land management. Declining or disappearing populations of certain, often rare, plant species can indicate lacking or unsuccessful management. Conversely, these types of plants tend to persist or thrive when the habitat is managed well, which, on the Lake Wales Ridge, often involves prescribed burning.

“Herbarium collections and floristic inventories, such as the one Scott Ward has compiled for the Carter Creek tract, are important components used to evaluate habitat management activities and inform future management plans,” says Matt Vance, the Lead Area Biologist of the property for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Good habitat managers know the value of these records and how they speak to habitat quality.”

“Without an active prescribed fire program at Carter Creek, there are many species that we would likely not be observing in their current state,” says Ward.

In total, Ward has added over 600 vouchered collections from Carter Creek that will be housed in Archbold’s herbarium.

“Maintaining and updating collections is a critical aspect of biological research,” says Dr. Aaron David, Program Director of Plant Ecology at Archbold. “Our collections, which focus on the Lake Wales Ridge and nearby areas within the region, are especially important for documenting the high plant diversity we find here.”

As taxonomic science progresses, collections are increasingly being used for novel research techniques such as describing new species, measuring morphological traits, delineating species distributions, and sequencing DNA. They also are critical for training and teaching new biologists the flora of the region. Most importantly, collections help to provide as best of a snapshot as possible of a given natural area at a given time. The addition of these plant specimens into Archbold’s herbarium represents a glimpse into the state of Carter Creek in 2021. 

“Hopefully in 2121, people will still be able to walk around Carter Creek and document some of the same unique plant species I’ve observed,” Ward concludes.

Archbold Plant Ecology Program Research Assistant, Haley Dole, holds a recently mounted specimen of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, collected from Carter Creek. This species is currently being studied due to unique plants that can only be found in Central Florida, thus, collections will be crucial for future taxonomic research. Photo by Scott Ward.
A finalized herbarium voucher of Horned bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta) collected during the Carter Creek floristic inventory. The barcode ensures this specimen will always have a unique identifying number while housed at Archbold, and the label describes the species, habitat, location, and date of the collection. Photo by Scott Ward.

Cabbage Palms and Corridors Contribute to Combating Climate Change

Cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) line the Archbold Expeditions Plaza at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Laura Reed.

Author: Zach Forsburg

As you read this, world leaders are meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. This conference, known as COP26, is the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties. This inter-continental collaborative effort aims to combat global climate change and accelerate action toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change. One of the main goals of the Paris Agreement is to keep the rise in mean global temperature less than 2 oC (3.6 oF) above pre-industrial levels, with an ideal limit of 1.5 oC (2.7 oF). The Agreement also outlines the need to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible, with the goal of net-zero emissions by the middle of the 21st century. To help achieve the increasingly adopted goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, countries are looking for solutions to sequester, or store, carbon from the atmosphere.

To help achieve net-zero emissions, there has been growing interest by urban planners in Florida to plant more trees in cities, thus increasing carbon sequestration (carbon storage). In theory, the more trees there are in a city, the more carbon is being stored, moving the city closer to achieving net-zero emissions. However, not all trees are equal when it comes to storing carbon, and recently there has been a move to plant more native oak trees rather than native palms in Miami Beach. The city’s ‘Rising Above’ plan includes a goal that no more than 25% of the public tree population should consist of palms. The plan makes the case that Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) should be planted in lieu of palms as they sequester far more carbon per year, and in their lifetime, than palms, and are less costly to maintain throughout the year. While it is true that oak trees sequester far more carbon than palms, there are many benefits to the continued inclusion of palms in urban planning.

Native palm trees are adapted to Florida environments and provide benefits to wildlife and humans, while contributing to carbon storage. Palm trees can thrive in many habitats and are suited to conditions in coastal areas including salt-laden coastal winds, although they are susceptible to rising sea levels. Palm trees can be grown in narrow spaces that might not be suitable for other trees, such as oaks. Palm trees also provide shade for humans and shelter for wildlife, particularly when planted in groups. Cities often cut off old fronds, trim fruit, and remove the boots from Cabbage Palms (Sabal palmetto), resulting in palm trees being more expensive to maintain throughout the year. To reduce this cost, palms should simply be left as they are, and not manicured. Not only does this save money, it also is more friendly to wildlife, providing more places to shelter, nest building material, and food. Native palms are highly beneficial to wildlife, should be included in city landscapes, and conserved in wild areas and working landscapes, like ranches.

COP26 recognizes and brings awareness to the need for collaborative efforts that encourage countries to protect and restore ecosystems and make infrastructure and agriculture resilient to climate change. Planting more trees in urban areas will contribute to achieving net-zero emissions, while protecting and restoring ecosystems can move the needle further. Recently, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act was signed into law, helping to protect natural areas and working lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a network of connected public and private land in Florida. Protecting more wild areas and working lands in Florida will complement efforts in urban areas, coupling rural conservation with urban conservation, and contributing to overall carbon sequestration, helping us move toward net-zero emissions by 2050.

Calling all Scrub-Jays

Q-YA (upper left) and -HRQ (lower right), a breeding pair of Florida Scrub-Jays from the territory ROSE. Their perch in a Lyonia spp. allows their band combinations to be easily recorded by an observer during census. Photo by Tori Bakley

Authors: Meredith Heather and Reed Bowman

Peanuts are tossed in the air by Archbold scientists making a loud “schuuuup” call, one the Florida Scrub-Jays recognize as a dinner bell. The birds swoop down to the sandy lane to grab one while researchers record the individual color band combinations on each bird’s leg. As soon as the entire family group is seen, they move on to the next, until all the jays are either seen, or recorded as missing. Once a month, Archbold Biological Station’s Avian Ecology Program staff and interns census the entire population of Florida Scrub-Jays living within the ‘demography study tract,’ a study area that encompasses about 2/3 of Archbold’s scrub habitat.

Tori Bakley, a research assistant in the Avian Ecology program, said, “I enjoy census because I love visiting all of the jay families and collecting the inside scoop on what’s happening among them. If a jay is missing from the group, or a new bird has joined, we learn how family dynamics change over time.” Every researcher carries a printed hard copy of the census that lists each member of every different family group in the study area. Meredith Heather, a graduate student in the program, noted, “The call we make imitates a scold call that draws the attention of all nearby jays. The scrub-jays at Archbold are conditioned to come to the sound for a peanut reward. Archbold scientists only use peanuts occasionally, and only for research purposes, enabling science such as the monthly census. Peanuts are not offered as food items and are undesirable in comparison with natural food items like acorns.”

Scrub-Jays are highly territorial, and each territory and family group is given a four-letter name. Territories are often named after a local attribute (such as XRDS for a crossroad), someone in the Avian Ecology Program, or sometimes just something fun. Bryce Loschen, a post-baccalaureate intern in 2021, found the nest of a new breeding pair in an area of scrub dense with vines. That made it very difficult to access, so VINE seemed an especially appropriate name to describe the local habitat. Because scrub-jays mate for life, are long-lived, and their territories can be inherited by their offspring, some territory names have persisted for more than 40 years. New territories also form all the time: in 2021, there were eight new territories named.

How do Archbold scientists tell individual birds apart during the census? Each jay at Archbold is banded with a US Fish and Wildlife Service metal band with a unique identifying number, as well as two to three colored bands. The different colors, the order of the bands on the leg, and which leg the bands are on, help researchers identify individual birds by sight, and that combination serves as a unique ‘ID.’ For example, the birds in the photo are known as Q-YA and -HRQ, from the territory ROSE. The order of bands on the legs is specific to each year and can also be used to determine the age of a bird. However, the age of jays that immigrate into the Archbold population is often unknown, and these birds are given their own unique color band order to identify them as immigrants. Every 10-years, as color combination options run out, Archbold scientists have to re-use band combinations. A few jays can live as long as 14-15 years, so their combinations have to be retained and excluded from the re-issued combinations to avoid two birds with the same band combinations alive in the population at the same time.

Conducting a census of more than 200 individually banded birds in 75-85 family groups in a couple of days is no easy task and probably impossible for most bird species. It is possible with the jays because they are gregarious and social, they are trained to expect peanuts when they hear a specific call, and they arrive as a group to be observed. The habitat is open and the jays perch so that their leg bands are easily read. Yet even with these advantages, it takes 5-6 people two mornings to conduct a census, which over a year is a large investment of workforce. The census has been conducted monthly since 1971 without missing a single month. That is more than 600 monthly censuses spanning 50 years and nearly 16 generations of scrub-jays.

So why invest all this effort? Dr. Reed Bowman, the Director of the Avian Ecology Program explained, “The monthly census pulls all our jay data together. We find and monitor nests, we band birds, we map territories, but it all makes sense because we conduct censuses. From the censuses, we can determine survival rates for adults and juveniles, for breeders and non-breeders, for males and females. We can determine when young leave the home territory, at what age, where they settle, and with whom they mate. We can determine how jays respond to management or natural disturbances such as fire or storms. We begin to understand how populations fluctuate over time, including the factors that can lead to growth or declines. These insights inform management and increases the probability of conserving this threatened bird. Our long-term data, based on our censuses, is viewed as the gold standard for long-term studies throughout the world.” Dr. Bowman is the second generation of scientists leading the jay project at Archbold. The jay census data has been at the core of the incredible range of science published from this study over the years and will continue to be central to future science: Archbold plans for the census to continue for generations more of scientists as it has for generations of jays.

Tori Bakley scans the scrub for incoming Florida Scrub-Jays after calling them to census. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Down the Gopher Hole…

Who’s studying who? Chelsea Moore, Archbold’s 2021 Tortoise Conservation Intern, demonstrates use of a customized burrow scope, but in this case the resident juvenile Gopher Tortoise came up to investigate. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Authors: Chelsea Moore, Betsie Rothermel, and Alonso Reyes

To us surface-dwellers, the humble home of a Gopher Tortoise looks like just another hole in the ground. But in upland natural areas, Gopher Tortoises serve a vital role as ‘ecosystem engineers’ simply by doing what they do best…that is, digging. These expert excavators use their strong front legs to dig burrows that can be more than 40 feet long. Though the primary motivation for these terrestrial turtles is to avoid temperature extremes and stay safe from predators, their extensive burrowing is a boon to the rest of the community.

The Gopher Tortoise is considered a keystone species whose presence boosts the number and diversity of other wildlife. Their burrows are used by more than 300 other animal species, including mice, rabbits, frogs, lizards, snakes, and a host of invertebrates, some of which are quite rare and entirely dependent on tortoises for their survival. While some species take up residence alongside the tortoises, others use the burrows as occasional refuges from predators or fires. This is important because frequent prescribed burning is needed to maintain upland habitats in all six southeastern states where Gopher Tortoises occur.

“One of the most amazing things I’ve learned and had the chance to observe while working in tortoise habitat at Archbold is the variety of animals that depend on tortoise burrows. Some of the coolest animals we have seen in burrows this year have been the Gopher Frog, Whip Scorpion, Eastern Coral Snake, and Florida Scarlet Snake. The number of insects that I have seen coming out of the burrows at night is amazing, too,” says Alonso Reyes, a research assistant in the Archbold Restoration Ecology & Herpetology Program.

Although tortoises are surprisingly tolerant of most of these visitors, they rarely share burrows with each other and will evict unwanted intruders by ramming and shoving them. It is not uncommon for a tortoise to reinhabit a previously abandoned burrow after several weeks or months, or use a burrow previously occupied by another tortoise. Archbold researchers are just beginning to analyze long-term data on individually marked tortoises to uncover the rules governing this game of ‘musical burrows.’

Wildlife biologists can learn a lot about a tortoise population just by surveying for burrows. The earlier long-term research conducted by Dr. James N. Layne and colleagues at Archbold established important findings, for example: the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the resident tortoise. Even hatchling tortoises can dig their own burrows soon after emerging from their underground nests. Though the hatchlings themselves are very good at staying hidden, the presence of burrows less than 6 inches wide tells us at least some adult tortoises are successfully producing young. With experience, one can learn to distinguish the half-moon-shaped burrow of a tortoise from the round or oval-shaped burrows made by rodents and armadillos.

“However, we can’t simply count burrows to find out how many tortoises live in an area, because each tortoise creates many burrows throughout its life and may use several burrows during the year,” explains Archbold Herpetology Program Director Betsie Rothermel. “This is where our customized burrow scope comes in. The scope consists of a long hose with a camera and a light on one end. The other end connects to a video monitor aboveground so we can guide the hose down the burrow as far as it will go…or until it runs into a tortoise! Fortunately, tortoise burrows only have one entrance.”

Various other clues can indicate whether a burrow is currently occupied. Archbold research intern Chelsea Moore has been tracking juvenile tortoises twice a week for a project supported by Disney Conservation Fund. She notes, “On tracking days, I visit close to 30 burrows. I decide if a burrow is active by looking for tortoise tracks or slide marks made by their shell. It’s always fun seeing other animal signs, too, like opossum tail drags or snake trails! The sand keeps a good record of visitors.”

Numbers of Gopher Tortoises continue to drop throughout Florida as their habitats are bulldozed and divided by roads. The species is designated as Threatened and protected under State law. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations specify: “…No person shall take, attempt to take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport any gopher tortoise or parts thereof or their eggs, or molest, damage, or destroy gopher tortoise burrows, except as authorized by Commission permit…” ( As demonstrated above, protecting tortoise burrows also keeps many other animals from losing their homes.

Burrow of an adult Gopher Tortoise at Archbold Biological Station. The bare mound of sand, intact opening, and tracks indicate the burrow is probably occupied by a tortoise. Photo by Betsie Rothermel.

Camera trap technology advances Archbold mammal research

A pair of Bobcats ‘caught’ in a camera trap.  Photo courtesy of US Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Authors: Joe Guthrie and Zach Forsburg

Some of what we know about the ecology of the Bobcat emerged from Archbold Biological Station and its history of mammal research. As the Station’s first Director of Research, Dr. James N. Layne conducted studies on many mammals known to Archbold, including a long-term study on the behavior and movement of Bobcats. Dr. Layne’s archive, which is maintained at Archbold and includes his published manuscripts, data, and decades of detailed field notes, is an invaluable source of information for those at work at Archbold today.

Archbold biologist Joe Guthrie is a frequent visitor to the Layne archive, where he says he searches for records of familiar animals like Bobcat and Florida Black Bear, as well as the less frequently seen animals, like Spotted Skunks. Guthrie oversees the Station’s Predator-Prey Program.

“Today we can use those records to design a sampling grid or track survey on the exact location where Dr. Layne and his team would have surveyed forty years ago. Even the anecdotal information, like a conversation he had with a neighboring landowner about River Otters, for example, can be a starting point for a project we might design,” says Guthrie.

Today Archbold scientists are utilizing a variety of new technologies to grow the organization’s body of research.  The Predator-Prey Program is designing several projects for a community of mammal species, both predators and prey, with the intent to study how carnivores such as Bobcat have adjusted to survive in south Florida’s largely agricultural landscapes. Guthrie and colleagues are using remote camera traps to monitor wildlife at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, with plans to expand monitoring to other research sites in the region. Another animal of interest to scientists working with the Buck Island Ranch camera data is the feral hog.

“Archbold has to deal with feral hogs, like a lot of landowners in Florida,” Guthrie says. “We know they cause property damage; they outcompete other animals for food, and like every warm-blooded creature they’re hosts for a number of zoonotic diseases. So, our program is continuing a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study their basic biology and find solutions to help us bring their numbers down and reduce their impacts.”

The camera trap data may help Archbold researchers address more questions than just those to do with feral hogs. Camera traps ‘capture’ lots of wildlife beyond feral hogs, while avoiding the risks involved in physical capture of animals. Each photograph represents a point of data, through which biologists may be able to tell the sex of an animal, or its reproductive status. Over time, repeated observations (photos) and distinguishing marks visible in the photos may allow researchers to identify individuals, which begins to reveal more information about a given population of Bobcats. For example, how long do individuals survive? How many young Bobcats survive to adulthood? Deriving these kinds of data with other methods, like tracking with GPS radio-collars, or by observing in-person, is costly and often impractical for secretive, solitary mammals.

Understanding ecological corridors (also frequently known as wildlife corridors) is a theme across several programs at Archbold. Archbold scientists in the Agroecology and Avian Ecology Programs are working to understand how natural processes (like the flow of nutrients in water, or the dispersal of Florida Scrub-Jays, for example) piece landscapes together, and which parcels might connect distinct geographic features like the Lake Wales Ridge and the Kissimmee River. This information helps landowners and land managers decide where to use which management tools to achieve more conservation.

For Joe Guthrie, there is a link between the work he and his colleagues are doing, and the work done by the scientists who led Archbold research in the past.

“The anecdotes and observations in the Layne archive go beyond the mundane recording of bits of data. There are letters from colleagues and neighbors, with the names of the people he spoke to and knew, the trees and plants he knew, and the animals Dr. Layne knew and was interested in. It’s a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in the land and its stories,” Guthrie shared. “It also tells us something about what makes a good biologist, and for me what comes through most clearly is his affection for this place.”

Read more about the James N. Layne collection on Archbold’s ‘Scrub Blog’ here:

A Bobcat ‘caught’ in a camera trap.  Photo courtesy of US Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

New Herd Allows Greater Control in Grazing Research at Buck Island Ranch

Agroecology research assistant Lydia Landau walks ‘The Boys’ to a new experimental pasture. Photo by Jacey Ridgdill.

Author: Lydia Landau

You might not look twice at this small group of ten steers at Archbold Biological Station’s Buck Island Ranch. This motley crew of young steers are mostly Florida Cracker Cattle, except one Watusi—discernible by his massive horns compared to the rest and named “Bunny” for his sweet demeanor.  One expects to see cattle on a ranch, but these steers have a unique job: they are grazing for science.

Archbold’s Agroecology Research Lab at Buck Island Ranch is working with the University of Florida on a new experiment to better understand how different rainfall scenarios and high vs. low intensity grazing combine to impact pasture health. “Most of our previous experiments have compared ungrazed vs. grazed treatments and did not attempt to experimentally implement different grazing intensities,” explains Dr. Betsey Boughton, Program Director of the Agroecology Lab. “Having controlled, quantitative grazing will give us a clearer idea on the effect of grazing on pasture grasses and soils,” she adds.

Lydia Landau is a research assistant in the Agroecology Lab and is managing this experiment and the ten steers. “The trick with this highly-controlled grazing approach is that it needs to be consistent across all experimental areas,” she explains. The initial plan was to simply leave the gates open to the fenced-off experimental areas and let the regular ranch cattle come in and graze as they pleased, “but the problem with that approach,” Landau says, “is that we would have a very difficult time keeping grazing consistent. One group of cows might never venture into an experimental area while another group on a different part of the ranch might graze non-stop in their experimental area for a full week. That made the data much harder to interpret.” The solution to this problem was to get a small, dedicated research herd that would be managed by the Agroecology Lab. This herd could graze inside the experimental areas and be moved easily between areas on a set schedule.

“I’m really excited to have these research steers so that we can graze our rainfall manipulation experiment with real cattle. Other studies like this have used clipping or mowing to simulate grazing, but we know that is not a good representation of what grazing is really like. In reality, when cattle graze they are quite picky, so grazing has a different impact than a lawn mower,” adds Boughton.

To build the herd, Buck Island Ranch’s Operation and Research Resource Coordinator, Laurent Lollis, suggested bringing in “retired” roping steers and he helped Landau source them from another Florida ranch. “The idea was that roping steers have had more consistent human contact and are more used to going through gates, loading onto a trailer, being held in smaller areas, etc.—all of which will come in handy for the very hands-on management we will need to do with them,” explains Landau. Although ‘The Boys’—as the Agroecology Lab has lovingly nicknamed them—were a little shy at first, “they were all literally eating out of the palms of our hands within a few weeks,” says Flynn Hibbs, an Agroecology intern working closely with Landau on this project. Food is the main factor in their training, and they are hand-fed a small amount of grain several days a week. “The bottom line is that they need to be safe and predictable—friendly but not pushy—so that anyone, regardless of livestock experience, can be trained to work with them,” Landau says. Landau worked as a farmhand on dairy and meat farms and ranches for five years before going back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree and starting a new career as a scientist. “It was so bittersweet to leave farming,” she says. “When I transitioned to science, I never expected I’d be managing a small herd again one day! It’s been a really pleasant surprise.”

The steers arrived in July and have been getting acclimated and trained. They will begin their research grazing in February. The hope is that this experiment will continue for several years, and The Boys will be used for other targeted grazing experiments in the future. “The research steers open up a new frontier for us so that we can impose different grazing treatments in our work,” says Boughton.

Bunny (left) and Rudy (right), two members of Buck Island Ranch’s new grazing research herd. Photo by Lydia Landau.

Archbold Scientists Study How Fire Affects Trees to Improve Habitat for Threatened Woodpeckers

A grass-stage Longleaf Pine. Longleaf Pines can remain in this stage anywhere from one to more than fifteen years before initiating upward growth. Photo by Greg Thompson.

Author: Greg Thompson

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is native to the pine forests of the Southeast. Once critically endangered by the broad-scale loss of these forests, the birds have rebounded due to management efforts on public and private lands. The Avian Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station has been studying Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Avon Park Air Force Range for more than 25 years, and this study population, like the species, has rallied in recent years. In south-central Florida, the critical pine species for these woodpeckers is the Longleaf Pine. Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program said, “Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are the only North American woodpecker to nest in living pine trees. The Longleaf Pine, once tapped to harvest its copious resin to make turpentine, also provides the means to protect the nests of this bird. Because the trees are living, snakes can climb the bark but the woodpeckers chip dozens of small holes around their nests, causing the trees to exude resin that forms a sticky barrier which prevents the snakes from reaching the nests. The health of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and of Longleaf Pines are inextricably intertwined.”

The Longleaf Pine is part of a southeastern ecosystem that relies on frequent fire. Historically, these fires were started naturally by lightning. Today, because forests are more fragmented by roads and development, land managers are responsible for igniting most of these fires. These human-ignited fires for the purposes of habitat maintenance are called prescribed fires. Greg Thompson, an Archbold research assistant who has been leading the work on Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, notes, “For the Longleaf Pine, fire is necessary for survival but also creates a series of challenges that the trees must overcome. On one hand, fires create conditions where Longleaf Pines can grow. However, fires can also kill the trees under certain situations.” The Longleaf Pine has a unique life cycle that is intimately linked to fire, and biologists and land managers are always working towards improving their understanding of this life cycle to appropriately manage the forests.

Fire plays a crucial role throughout the Longleaf Pine life cycle starting with their seeds. Fires, fueled in part by the highly flammable pine needles that have fallen to the ground, consume the grasses and woody shrubs, exposing the soil and creating conditions where the pine seeds can sprout, or germinate. The young Longleaf Pines do not immediately start growing upwards. Instead, they grow into something that looks more like a clump of grass than a tree, referred to as the ‘grass stage.’ There is no trunk nor branches, just a thick pom-pom cluster of pine needles growing at ground-level. Belowground, a long taproot forms, growing deep into the soil, storing energy that the young pine will eventually use to fuel rapid upward growth when the time is right. At the ‘grass stage’, the young pine is mostly protected from fire. The bud, which is where new growth originates, is nestled at the center of the clump of needles. Around the pine are grasses and palmettos, all of which are highly flammable but burn quickly. When a fire occurs, it passes rapidly over the young pine, singeing the dense needles without killing the bud. After the fire, the bud produces a new cluster of pine needles.

The young Longleaf Pine can remain in the grass stage for years, but eventually it transitions into the next phase of its life cycle. Fueled by the stored nutrients in its taproot, the bud pushes its way up out of the protective cloak of pine needles and begins rapid upward growth in what is referred to as the tree’s ‘rocket stage.’ At this stage, the pine is vulnerable to fire until it grows tall enough that the bud is out of reach of the flames and the bark has grown sufficiently thick to shield the inner wood from the damaging heat. This usually takes one to three years. Fires can occur in longleaf habitats as frequently as every one to two years, and many trees do not make it past the ‘rocket’ stage. However, this process also thins the pine stands, reducing competition for light, water, and nutrients for the pines that survive. This release of competition is an essential stage for a mature healthy forest.

Once a Longleaf Pine reaches about eight feet in height, it has developed substantial resistance to fire. Still, it is not invincible. Even fully mature trees can be weakened or killed by a particularly intense fire, though these types of fires are rare in forests that are burned frequently. In general, it is in the early stages of Longleaf Pine development where fire has the greatest impact. Archbold researchers conduct habitat assessments to determine the relationship between fire and the abundance of young pines at Avon Park Air Force Range to develop recommendations for best management practices. Thompson noted, “It’s the young pines that are the future of these forests. A forest must contain trees from every age class in order to persist through time. Promoting healthy forests with strategic prescribed fire practices is essential for the long-term health of the Longleaf Pine forest and the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that rely on it.”

Having completed its rapid upward growth ‘rocket’ phase, this Longleaf Pine sapling is putting energy into developing branches in addition to continued vertical growth. Photo by Greg Thompson.

Archbold Receives Two Awards from the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network

Dr. Hilary Swain, 2021 recipient of the LTAR Founders Award. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Authors: Zach Forsburg, Shefali Azad

Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain and Archbold Data Manager Shefali Azad were both recognized at this year’s annual scientific meeting by the US Department of Agriculture Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR) for their contributions to the Network. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, partnered with the University of Florida’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center, is one of 18 sites nationwide selected to form a science network for cross-site experiments and interdisciplinary research. The goal of the LTAR Network is to understand how we can sustain food production while decreasing environmental impacts and maintaining rural prosperity.

Dr. Hilary Swain received the LTAR Founders Award in recognition of long-term leadership contributions that have influenced the vision and direction of the LTAR Network. Dr. Swain was nominated by the Central Plains Experimental Range site because “Hilary has exemplified the true essence of network-centric focus in her long- term leadership contributions to LTAR that have been highly instrumental in the vision and direction of this network.  Hilary’s steadfast commitment to cross-site and network-level research, products, and impact are a testament to her unwavering foundation to prioritize the “WE” (LTAR) not the “ME” (individual site).” This was a particularly relevant theme at LTAR’s 2021 Annual Meeting, which focused on developing partnerships with other science networks in North America and Europe, while simultaneously enhancing engagement with local stakeholders.

Reflecting on this honor, Dr. Swain said “I am deeply honored by the Founders Award. LTAR has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career and has made a huge impact on science at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch and the Archbold-UFL LTAR site in Florida. I treasure my interactions with colleagues across the network:  I have learned far more from the LTAR community than I will ever be able to contribute. My sincere gratitude to all.”

Shefali Azad received the LTAR Network Impact Award in recognition of individual and group network-level accomplishments that enable the LTAR Network to advance a vision for the sustainable intensification of US agriculture. Azad was nominated by the Central Plains Experimental Range site because, “Shefali’s exceptional leadership in data management has had transformational impacts on sharing data within the LTAR Network.” According to her colleagues, “Shefali’s outstanding commitment to leading network data management activities focused on making data findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable in a coherent data model for use by LTAR scientists and beyond.”

When asked for details on the effort, Shefali said “This was definitely a ‘cat herding’ kind of project! We had to ask every LTAR site to rummage through decades of crop harvests or grazing records or weather data, repackage it into a meaningful common format, add land management notes and geospatial references, and finally publish it online for posterity. The work still isn’t complete, but it’s been a joy working with a diverse group of people that are committed to the same ultimate goal of data accessibility. I hope the lessons we’ve learned make the process smoother for future groups, and I’m excited to report we’ve already been approached by multiple scientists interested in using these datasets for their research.”

Archbold is deeply proud of Hilary Swain and Shefali Azad for being recognized for their leadership, commitment, and dedication to the US Department of Agriculture Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network.  An important role that Archbold plays is sharing the knowledge generated at Buck Island Ranch with the public and policymakers to ensure that everyone understands the enormous value of Florida ranchlands, including food production, biodiversity, water conservation, and carbon cycling. This helps ensure that that ranching remains a vibrant part of Florida’s economy, culture, and heritage. To learn more about agroecology research at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch and LTAR, please visit the website: and LTAR’s website:

Shefali Azad, 2021 recipient of the LTAR Network Impact Award. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Flying South

A Scarlet Tanager perches in a mulberry tree. Scarlet Tanagers are long-distance migrants between the eastern US and South America, feeding on berries and insects. If you see mixed flocks of songbirds, keep an eye out as tanagers often join them. Photo by Meredith Heather.

Authors: Zach Forsburg, Angela Tringali, Meredith Heather, Greg Thompson

Fall bird migration typically starts mid-August in Florida and lasts through November. During late summer and into fall, billions of birds start making their journey from their northern breeding grounds southward to where they’ll spend winter. One of the main reasons birds migrate is to move from areas of low resources to areas with high resources. Two of the main resources birds seek are food and nesting sites. Birds that nest in the north during the summer will migrate south, when the weather gets cooler and food sources decrease, to warmer areas where food is more abundant. For example, by the end of August, Swallow-Tailed Kites have usually moved on from their breeding sites in Florida to spend the winter in warmer areas in South America. The final destination depends on the species, of course.

Fall migration is typically at its peak here by September, and it’s a great time to dust off those binoculars and get outside to search for species that are only seen during migration. If you live in inland Florida, you may notice more species of warblers and flycatchers in your backyards, while those living near the coast will see more wading and shorebirds. October brings more migrating songbirds and by November, waterfowl and more shorebirds will be migrating. By December, many species of waterfowl that spend their summers in Canada and the Northern United States arrive in Florida to spend their winters, much like the human ‘snowbirds.’ If you check out the BirdCast website, you can get a daily synopsis and beautiful maps of where birds are migrating across North America. These forecast maps, produced by Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, show predicted nighttime bird migration three hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. On the night of Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021, a very large migration, about 512 million birds, are predicted to be flying south with many of them heading to the Gulf coast and to Florida.

Birds join the hemispheres, northern and southern, and at a time when many people are feeling isolated, can provide both a feeling of connectedness and a rewarding hobby. “Serious birders frequently travel to find specific birds and grow their life list,” notes Meredith Heather, a research assistant in Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program, “but during migration the birds come to us, and we don’t have to travel to enjoy them.”

Bird watching has long been a popular outdoor hobby. Bird watching reduces stress and can be enjoyed alone and at home. There are lots of resources available to people interested in birds. “Right now, I am using three free apps on my phone,” says Dr. Angela Tringali, assistant research biologist in Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program. “To help me identify birds I see, I use Merlin, which asks about the bird’s size, color, and activity to produce a list of likely species based on location. To identify birds I hear, I use Merlin and BirdNET. Both apps let me record sound on my phone, select and play back the song in question, and then tell me which bird it is. Between video conferencing with Greg (Thompson, Avian Ecology research assistant) and quizzing myself with these apps, I am getting better at recognizing calls. Finally, I record all the birds I identify using eBird, which submits that information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where it can be shared with scientists and bird lovers across the globe.”

Find free birding apps like Merlin, BirdNET, and eBird in your phone’s app store or visit to start growing your life list today!

A Cape May Warbler rests at Archbold during its cross-country migration. Cape May Warblers migrate primarily along the Atlantic coast in the fall, feeding on insects and nectar as they head to the Caribbean. A small population may winter in South Florida. Photo by Meredith Heather.

See you in September

Lake Placid Scrub Balm (Dicerandra frutescens). Photo by Zach Forsburg.

Author: Zach Forsburg

Fall is just around the corner and with it brings a flush of flowers in the scrub. Three of our rare, local plants typically in bloom in September are Lake Placid Scrub Balm, Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot, and Scrub Blazing Star. These three plants are found only in Florida and, specifically, the Lake Wales Ridge, a ribbon of ancient sand dunes forming a backbone down peninsular Florida.

Lake Placid Scrub Balm (Dicerandra frutescens) is in the mint family, grows up to 0.5 m tall, and flowers from September to October. The ‘minty’ chemical compounds in its tissues deter herbivores and give the plant its spearmint smell. The species’ range is extremely limited, as all known populations are only found in Lake Placid or Venus, Florida. Scrub Balm is found almost exclusively on well-drained, xeric (dry) yellow sands, in Florida scrub.

Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot (Eryngium cuneifolium) is in the carrot family, grows up to 0.6 m tall, and flowers typically from August to October. This plant prefers dry open sandy areas and rosemary balds, often producing a large woody taproot which is why it is often called ‘snakeroot.’ It is found only in the southern half of Highlands County, Florida, with fewer than 20 populations known. Biologists attribute its persistence in the wild to its long-lived ‘seed bank,’ meaning that its seeds can lie dormant in the soil for years until the right conditions for germination arise.

Scrub Blazing Star (Liatris ohlingerae) is in the aster family and one of 14 species of blazing star in Florida. It produces a non-flowering rosette of narrow, elliptical leaves at the ground level, from which stems (~3 ft tall) bear flowering heads with 20-25 showy, rose-pink star shaped flowers that attract butterflies.  Scrub Blazing Star typically blooms from June through September, occurs almost exclusively on xeric white sands in rosemary and oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods, and is only found in Highlands and Polk Counties in Florida. Unlike the Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot, Scrub Blazing Star’s seeds germinate readily and cannot form a seedbank; instead, its seeds are equipped to float through the air and germinate away from their mother plant.

These three species of rare flowering plants are all state and federally listed as endangered and part of the long-term plant demography research in Archbold Biological Station’s Plant Ecology Program. Archbold’s plant ecologists have intensively monitored over 20 species found on the Lake Wales Ridge and use these data to assess the viability of populations and aid in their conservation. Archbold’s plant studies go back as far as 1988 and span tens of thousands of individual plants across hundreds of populations. Most of these species are federally or state listed endangered plants that are narrowly endemic to Florida scrub, an ecosystem threatened by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and fire suppression.

“Archbold is one of the premier research institutions for rare plant population and conservation research,” says Dr. Aaron David, Archbold’s Program Director of Plant Ecology. “The data we collect have helped biologists all over the world understand how populations stay viable in the wild and have helped biologists here in Highlands County understand what it will take to keep them viable in the future.”

Florida Blister Beetle (Epicauta floridensis) on Scrub Blazing Star (Liatris ohlingerae). Photo by Zach Forsburg.