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.
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.
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.
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…” (https://myfwc.com/license/wildlife/gopher-tortoise-permits/). As demonstrated above, protecting tortoise burrows also keeps many other animals from losing their homes.
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:
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.
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.”
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: https://www.archbold-station.org/html/research/agro/agroovw.html and LTAR’s website: https://www.ltarnetwork.org
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 https://birdcast.info, 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 www.allaboutbirds.org to start growing your life list today!
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.”
Among the global challenges of the 21st century is growing food economically for an increasing population, while also sustaining biodiversity and nature’s services such as maintaining clean water, healthy soils, fisheries, wildlife, and recreation. In Florida, cattle ranching is a key industry for maintaining these valued outcomes. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a full-scale cow-calf operation with approximately 3,000 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. A major multi-investigator initiative in which Archbold is deeply involved is the US Department of Agriculture Long-term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR). Here the Ranch, partnered with the University of Florida 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.
Recently, Archbold scientists Dr. Betsey Boughton, Dr. Raoul Boughton, Dr. Amartya Saha, and Dr. Xukai Zhang along with their colleagues from the LTAR network published some of their findings in the journal Ecological Indicators (https://tinyurl.com/BIRLTAR). Their work compared different ways to look at crop and forage phenology and growth and created a framework that can assist ranchers, farmers, and agricultural research institutes to monitor agricultural production. According to Dr. Saha, “phenology refers to the change in leaf growth and color through the seasons; leaves are green when the plant is growing rapidly and get yellow as the plant growth slows. At Buck Island Ranch, cameras dubbed ‘PhenoCams’ take pictures of a pasture daily and the greenness of these images is related to growth and productivity.” Dr. Zhang explained productivity as “an estimate of the amount of energy and material entering the terrestrial ecosystem. Accurate estimates of gross primary productivity help us understand the carbon cycle from the atmosphere to plants and soil, and back up to the atmosphere. It is also important to inform sustainable ranchland management.”
According to lead author, Dr. Dawn Browning of the ARS Range Management Research Unit in Las Cruces, New Mexico, “Understanding how higher temperatures, more frequent drought and flooding events, and shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall influence the seasonal dynamics of forages and crops can guide decisions about best practices to adopt or adapt to decrease risk of loss and sustain yield.” This new framework for monitoring agroecosystems will inform management decisions to help maintain sustainable agriculture in the future in the face of climate change and other environmental changes.
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.
Archbold scientists Dr. Angela Tringali and Dr. Raoul Boughton joined over 200 scientists to test a new way of measuring conservation success. Tringali says, “Historically, there has been emphasis on quantifying threats to rare plants and animals. It is very important to identify which species are at-risk of extinction and take steps to protect them, but that should be accompanied with an assessment of the impact of those actions.” The research paper ‘Testing a global standard for quantifying species recovery and assessing conservation impact’ was published in the July issue of the journal Conservation Biology. The paper focuses on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) new ‘Green Status of Species.’
The original Red List of Threatened Species was established by the ICUN in 1964 and is a list of animal, plant, and fungus species and their respective conservation status. There are currently more than 134,400 species worldwide on this list, with nearly 30% of them categorized as threatened with extinction. In 2012, the IUCN started developing a ‘Green List of Species,’ which has evolved into the IUCN Green Status of Species. This list proposes a standardized method to determine current species recovery status and application of that method to estimate past and potential future impacts of conservation based on several metrics. The ‘Green Status of Species’ is meant to be an assessment tool for conservation and does not have any state or federal regulatory implications.
Said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Molly Grace of the University of Oxford: “The IUCN Red List tells us how close a species is to extinction but is not intended to paint a full picture of its status and functioning within its ecosystem. With the IUCN Green Status, we now have a complementary tool that allows us to track species recovery and dramatically improve our understanding of the state of the world’s wildlife. The IUCN Green Status of Species provides evidence that conservation works, giving cause for optimism and impetus for stronger action.”
The paper outlines the preliminary assessments of the first 181 IUCN Green Status, including one for the Florida Scrub-Jay. Dr. Angela Tringali, of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program and Dr. Raoul Boughton, Archbold Research Affiliate, completed the Green Status Assessment for Florida Scrub-Jays. They used information about historic and ongoing threats and conservation actions to compare the current status of Florida Scrub-Jays with an estimate of population size had no conservation action been taken. “Comparing the current status of Florida Scrub-Jays to what their populations would look like without conservation was heartening,” says Tringali. “The assessment made it clear that previous and ongoing conservation efforts are working. The jays would be worse off had nothing been done.”
“Florida Scrub-Jays are a conservation-dependent species,” notes Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program, “and the Green Status assessment highlights that one of the biggest threats to Florida Scrub-Jays is inadequate habitat management. Jays depend on frequent fire to maintain low and open habitat. Fragmentation and habitat conversion has reduced the spread of natural fires; thus, jays are wholly dependent on periodic prescribed burning to maintain their habitat, which would rapidly disappear without fire.”
Dr. Boughton emphasizes, “The rapid growth of human populations is increasingly being felt by species worldwide. To be involved in the assessment of the Green Status of Species using the Threatened Florida Scrub-Jay was a daunting and very fulfilling task. The Green Status of Species has developed an international standard for measuring the effectiveness of conservation actions using a science-based metric. It provides a well thought out tool for planning and evaluating the efforts of conservation. To me the tool provides a measurable way forward for each species, creating positive action-based management rather than doom and gloom, even for critically endangered species.”
“The Green Status of Species provides a rigorous science-based measure of how far conservation efforts are working. It will allow conservationists, governments, and others to see over time what a particular species needs, how it can recover fully, and how much it depends on conservation action now and in the future to thrive,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, Vice President of Species Conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director added, “Archbold is pleased to have contributed our knowledge of Florida Scrub-Jays to evaluating this tool and we look forward to exploring its use to assess the positive impacts of the extensive public and private efforts to protect all the other threatened and endangered species associated with the Florida scrub ecosystem, both regionally and statewide.”
While it may still feel like summer in Highlands County, some of the changes autumn brings are already underway. You may have noticed the local oak trees, including scrub oaks, are already becoming heavy with acorns. Many animals rely on these acorns as a food source, including bears, deer, and birds, particularly during cooler months when other food sources are less abundant. Squirrels are commonly seen gathering acorns to store them to eat later, though many other animals, including Florida Scrub-Jays, store acorns as well.
Florida Scrub-Jays eat a diverse diet of insects and small vertebrates but rely on acorns during winter and early spring. To prepare for these cooler months, individual jays will collect and bury between six and eight thousand acorns, a behavior called ‘caching,’ from September to November. According to Dr. Angela Tringali, research biologist in the Archbold Avian Ecology Program, “The acorns are an important food, especially when other sources of food such as insects and lizards are scarce.”
Because acorns are an important resource to Florida Scrub-Jays, scientists studying the jays at Archbold are interested in the number and distribution of the acorns that are produced each year. Florida Scrub-Jays defend their home territories and the resources on them. Every year scientists conduct acorn surveys within these territories to see how many acorns are available in a given year and estimate how many acorns each territory holds.
From August through September, when the acorns are mature and still on the oaks, scientists and research interns in the Avian Ecology program don their plant ecologist hats and conduct acorn counts. At each plot, they measure a sample of permanently tagged oaks from 5-6 species, recording their shrub height of approximately 2 to 10 feet. Scientists also record how many stems the shrubs have, and the number of acorns each stem bears. This provides information about oak shrub survival, growth, and reproduction, as well as estimates of the acorn resources available to scrub-jays and other animals.
By studying systems like caching, we gain insights into both plants and animals and how the environment influences both, and their interactions. Long-term data are a hallmark of biological field stations like Archbold and provide insights into how relatively small and slow changes affect not only populations, but communities and ecosystems. By studying these interactions, we can help preserve scrub oaks, the jays, and all the other plants and animals in the Florida scrub that interact and rely on both.
One other important aspect of collecting acorn data is that research interns gain valuable field training in ecological surveying methods and data collection. Many of the research interns in Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program have not had previous experience with systematic sampling methods. Counting thousands of acorns each season, in some years upwards of 10,000, is no small task. Research interns hone their organizational and data collection skills during the annual acorn count, preparing them for the future.
Dustin Angell, Archbold’s Director of Education, is an environmental educator and conservation photographer living and working in the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades. He builds community relationships and interprets ecological research for audiences of all ages. Dustin’s photography documents the science and conservation challenges of the region and the people trying to solve them.
Since 2014, Dustin has been photographing conservation workers from across Florida, including biologists, artists, and even cattle ranchers for his ‘Florida Stewards Project.’ This photo project aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the headwaters region of the Florida Everglades. To that end, the subjects each pose in their work clothes while holding the tools they use. Due to the importance of conservation to the community, these settings are subjects, too, and include: grasslands, scrublands, pinelands, ranchlands, wetlands, and others. Dustin stated, “Photographers have done this with many subcultures. After moving to the area in 2012, I found myself incorporated into a community built on science and conservation. And these people made up not just my professional network, but almost my entire social life, too. I felt that because of my photography skill set and access to their world, I had a responsibility to future generations to document their stories.”
Dustin’s portraits, now numbering 104, are featured in the August-September issue of Heartland Living Magazine (https://heartlandlivingmagazine.com/). Many of the portraits featured in the magazine are of employees, interns, or volunteers at Archbold. Describing his photographs, Dustin stated “They are modern, secular versions of Renaissance saint depictions, something you might see in a European art history book. Many elements of the portraits, like setting and lighting, postures and expressions, and even the angle I photograph from (usually kneeling on the ground) are intended to highlight the heroic aspects of the subjects. After all, these stewards spend hundreds or thousands of hours in Florida’s hot and humid interior.”
To learn more about Dustin’s ‘Florida Stewards Project,’ visit his website at: https://www.dustinangellphoto.com/florida-stewards. Dustin reflected, “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.”
Archbold Avian Ecology Director Dr. Reed Bowman and research assistants Rebecca Windsor and Greg Thompson received a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Honor Award this past June, along with the entire Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group Team, affectionately known as ‘Team Sparrow.’ These awards recognize “extraordinary performance in a job, team, or volunteer assignment, demonstrated through exceptional innovation or ability.”
For 20 years, the Working Group has been dedicated to saving North America’s most endangered bird from extinction. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is geographically restricted to Florida and is resident year-round. Like most grassland birds in the US, these birds have experienced dramatic population declines. As of 2020, there were fewer than 200 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in the wild. The Working Group was established so that different agencies and organizations working with Florida Grasshopper Sparrows could share knowledge with each other. The working group includes state and federal agencies, managers, researchers, captive breeders, and NGOs, including Archbold Biological Station and Audubon Florida. Everglades Science Coordinator for Audubon Florida Dr. Paul Gray stated, “Audubon is a founding member of the Working Group, and it has been a long hard haul to get this far, but the partners stuck together, and there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel for the sparrow.”
Scientists in Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program have been members of the Working Group since its inception. Archbold researchers study Florida Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) in native prairies and on ranches, trying to understand how the sparrows respond to different prescribed fire regimes, predator communities, habitat structure, and grazing.
Reflecting on his work with the sparrows, Greg Thompson, Archbold research assistant and one of the recipients of the USFWS Regional Director Honor Award, stated, “It’s a dream of many early career biologists to be on the front lines of conservation, helping to save endangered species. Starting my career working with such a critically endangered species in my home state has been an amazing experience. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a project where I can put my skills to use for such an important cause. Receiving this award feels very validating. One thing that I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of different people with a lot of different skill sets to save a species. This award recognizes and celebrates our combined contributions.”
Andrew Schumann, Animal Collections Manager at White Oak Conservation and member of ‘Team Sparrow’ reflects, “Despite the threat of extinction looming in recent years, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group has been a source of hope and security because we are all working together to save the bird that represents Florida’s dry prairies. We are very proud to have received the USFWS Regional Directors Award with all of our partners and colleagues, and to continue our efforts to bring the buzz song of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow back to the prairie.”
You may have seen it along the roadside or even on your own property, the climbing vine known as Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium microphyllum) that quickly overtakes native vegetation. First introduced to Florida as an ornamental vine around the turn of the 20th century, Old World Climbing Fern is native to Australia and was first observed to have become established in 1965. It invades a suite of habitats, including tree islands in the Everglades, cypress swamps, pastures, and flatwoods, making many of Florida’s natural areas and working lands potential targets. It is now one of Florida’s most invasive plant species.
Removing Old World Climbing Fern is easier said than done. Herbicide application temporarily kills the aboveground vegetation, however the plant can regrow from its belowground root system in as little as six months. At Archbold, Old World Climbing Fern can be found in most of the forested wetlands. According to Land Manager Kevin Main, “Even with persistent control efforts, Old World Climbing Fern, a fern that grows like a vine climbing trees and shrubs, can be near-impossible to eradicate. We have treated populations of climbing fern with herbicides for many years, and follow-up treatments are always necessary.” Despite it being difficult to eradicate, there may be hope to control it, thanks to a few tiny creates and an approach called ‘Biological Control.’
Biological control, or controlling a specific plant or animal with another, offers a long-term, sustainable solution to managing invasive plants like Old World Climbing Fern. The goal of biological control is to reduce the invasive plant to levels where management is minimal, but not to necessarily eradicate the plant. To do this, biologists seek out specialist herbivores, typically insect plant eaters, from the geographical range where the plant originated. These herbivores are selected because they feed on the invasive plant species and nothing else. Given that there were early mistakes with biological control across the world that often caused more problems, insect species that are deemed specialists for biological control nowadays go through a lengthy regulatory approval process before they can be released in the US.
“Biological control is a safe, sustainable tool for managing invasive plants,” says Dr. Aaron David, the Program Director of Plant Ecology at Archbold. “Controlling invasive plants is a daunting task, so by letting the plant’s natural herbivores do some of the work for us, we can hope to achieve a long-term practical and cost effective solution.”
There are two approved, established biological control agents for Old World Climbing Fern – the Lygodium Brown Moth and the Lygodium Mite. The moth’s larvae can cause widespread ‘brownouts’ when feeding on the aboveground leaves and stems, and the mite can mangle the growing tips of the vine and slow the plant’s growth. Archbold partners with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service’s Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, FL to release these insects on the Archbold property.
“These biological control agents can cause impressive levels of damage to Old World Climbing Fern, and we are in the process of evaluating just how effective they are,” says David.
“It’s important to keep in mind that biological control is no silver bullet that automatically controls the plant, but instead is often most effective when used with other management activities such as herbicide treatment or fire.”
David added, “Biological control is one tool of many that we can deploy to help curb invasive species.”
Highlands County, Florida is home to some amazing wildlife. Several species in this region are found nowhere else in the world, and many are threatened or endangered. Unfortunately, you can drive any road through Highlands County and be sure to see roadkill. Mortality from vehicle strikes is a major cause of death for some species, including the state-threatened Gopher Tortoise. Animals aren’t the only ones that suffer when animals are hit by vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, approximately 4-10% of wildlife-vehicle collisions result in human injuries. While roadkill is a problem that can never be fully solved, there are ways to reduce your chances of hitting an animal, helping you and preserving your neighborhood wildlife.
Reptiles and amphibians can be seen crossing roads fairly frequently, and Highlands County is home to many. In fact, 48 species of reptiles and 21 species of amphibians have been recorded at Archbold Biological Station alone. Freshwater turtles and Gopher Tortoises are usually easy to see on a road as they move about during the hotter parts of the day. If you see one on a road 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 the Softshell Turtle 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. Dustin Angell, Archbold’s Director of Education, reminds us, “Some Gopher Tortoises at Archbold have been recorded as living for more than sixty years, so that tortoise you saw crossing the street may have been traveling back and forth on that same route for decades, possibly before that road was even laid down or became highly trafficked.” He also emphasizes that anyone wishing to help an animal cross or move off the road only do so when it is safe.
Snakes are also more active during hotter parts of the day and may look like cracks, sticks, or other debris in the road. Archbold is home to 28 species of snakes, most of which are not a threat to humans, and all of which play vital roles in the ecosystem. However, some snake species are venomous, and others may bite when they feel threatened. As such, Archbold does not advise picking up snakes; instead, 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.
From armadillos to hogs, mammals are some of the more common roadkill here in Highlands County. Raccoons, opossums, armadillos, deer, and feral hogs are all likely to be most active in those low-visibility driving times of early morning and late evening. Virginia Opossums are one of the more prevalent road-killed mammals. Joe Guthrie, Archbold’s Predator-Prey Program Director, says that opossums “are a super valuable scavenger, cleaning up dead animals (hence why they are constantly standing around in roadways) and feeding on mice, rats, and cockroaches, all of which help prevent the spread of pathogens. They also can consume as many as 4,000 ticks a week! We should at least try to keep from killing them with our cars.”
Some local mammals at risk of roadkill are large species such as the Florida Black Bear (listed as threatened in the state) and the Florida Panther, which is federally endangered. Both species require large amounts of land for habitat and to roam (home range of Florida Black Bear ~10-40 square miles and Florida Panther ~275 square miles). Guthrie also notes: “We know auto accidents are a huge threat to the endangered Florida Panther, for example, in most years collisions with vehicles claim >10% of the estimated population (120-230 panthers).”
Highlands County is a spectacular place for birding with more than 277 species reported (see www.ebird.org) and great birding locations including Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Istokpoga, and Lake June-in-Winter State Park. The best strategy to employ when approaching a bird on the road, of any size, is to brake until you can be sure the bird is off road. One reason birds end up feeding in roadways is roadside litter and other roadkill. Avoiding littering and collecting litter, means fewer scavengers (mice, raccoons, etc.) are attracted. Moving roadkill well back off the road means species like vultures, owls, hawks, and crows lured in do not become roadkill in turn.
Wildlife will always surprise you on the road, and for the sake of safety, the animal’s well-being, and your vehicle it is prudent to have several avoidance strategies available. Carefully looking out on the road ahead of you allows you to see most animals and gives you time to brake or stop. Large animals such as deer or bear might cross the road quickly and unexpectedly, so it is wise to drive slowly at dawn and dusk when these animals are generally more active. Similarly, when driving in the dark or in fog make sure your stopping distance is within the area illuminated by your headlights; overdriving your headlights can create a blind ‘crash area’ in front of you. Drive particularly carefully in areas posted as wildlife crossings as these areas are known wildlife crossing locations with records of animal-vehicle collisions. Overall safer driving practices mean we can help protect animals and ourselves.
Despite these efforts, animals may still be injured on roads. If you do 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: https://myfwc.com/media/5423/licensedwildliferehabilitatorsbyregion.pdf. 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.
In the words of Joe Guthrie, “If we all slow down and raise our vigilance about animals in the road in these hotspots maybe we can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and make our own daily drive a little less hazardous.” Highlands County boasts a breathtaking diversity of wildlife, and this is one way we can all help to conserve our natural heritage for generations to come.
Meredith Heather, research assistant and graduate student in Archbold’s Avian Ecology program, emerged from the tall, dense Florida Scrub after observing a family of Florida Scrub-Jays for more than an hour. Ryan Howell, a research assistant and drone pilot in Archbold’s GIS Program, met up with Meredith carrying one of Archbold’s drones. They are using drones equipped with cameras and sensors to map Florida scrub habitat structure. They specifically measure the variation in height of the vegetation and how patchy the height is in the scrub.
Meredith explained, “We’re working towards getting a better idea of how vegetative structure has been influenced by fire and how this variation in structure may influence the behavior of Florida Scrub-Jays. Mapping vegetation height with a drone greatly reduces the time it would take to measure plants by hand. Without the drone, I wouldn’t be able to complete my master’s thesis in a reasonable time-frame.” For her thesis, Meredith is interested in how small-scale patches of vegetation and variation in vegetation height affect the jays’ foraging success and behavior. “After spending countless hours observing jays, I can overlay the locations where they feed, foraging success, and other behaviors onto maps that include habitat data to understand how jays use different habitat patches. I want to know whether they avoid, or prefer, some vegetation structure types, or if their behaviors differ in certain patch types,” Meredith stated.
Historically, lightning-ignited wildfires burned thousands of acres at a time in Florida’s scrub ecosystem. Archbold’s Land Manager Kevin Main explained, “Fires would have been frequent, multi-day events in which the fire was naturally ignited by lightning, might lower in intensity and creep around overnight, then pick up the next day and race across large areas in a different direction with a shift in the wind. Imagine this happening several days in a row, and you can get an idea of the scale and patchiness of natural fires.” These frequent fires created a very large-scale mosaic of patches with histories of burns at different times. When one patch was getting overgrown and due for a fire, another patch had burned, allowing jays to shift to recently burned optimal habitat.
Areas of scrub became smaller, and the scrub habitat became fragmented as land was converted to agriculture and urban development increased. Additionally, the natural wildfires important for the ecosystem were impeded by roads and infrastructure and suppressed by humans. You’ve likely seen some long-unburned, overgrown scrub patches in your neighborhoods. Numerous plants and animals that depend on scrub, including the federally Threatened Florida Scrub-Jay, rely on fire to periodically “reset” the scrub to a recently burned condition they prefer. “Species such as the Florida Scrub-Jays would have adapted to these post-fire conditions, responding to changes in the vegetation structure and the associated changes in food availability,” Kevin said.
Archbold, most public land agencies in Florida, and many private landowners utilize prescribed burning to mimic those natural processes and enhance habitat. Kevin Main creates an annual Fire Plan for Archbold Biological Station based on the fire history of different burn units on the Station, the appropriate fire return interval for the habitat type within each unit, and the research needs of the Station’s scientists. One challenge for fire managers is to mimic the historical large-scale fire mosaic at a much smaller scale—hundreds of acres rather than thousands. That means creating patchy fires and leaving patches of habitat with different fire histories and structure within relatively small areas.
Florida Scrub-Jays are habitat specialists and are non-migratory, meaning they occupy the same territory year-round. For them, optimal habitat is burned every five to fifteen years; however, we know little about how patchiness within territories might affect the jays. Avian Ecology Program Director Dr. Reed Bowman says, “Burns can vary greatly in intensity and behavior, which might be influenced by fire history, weather, scrub type, and slope, among many other factors. Time since fire is an imperfect surrogate for habitat structure, and jays are concerned about habitat structure. When scrub becomes too tall—usually about 20 years after a fire—the jays inevitably disappear. Meredith’s thesis work will help us understand the complex relationship between fire and the resulting habitat structure, how this affects jays, and how this might be relevant to land managers trying to make sure that Florida Scrub-Jays persist on their small preserves.”
Four earlier articles (7/8/20, 8/19/20, 3/10/21, 6/16/2021) were published in the Highlands News-Sun and this is Part 5 of that series.
The legacy of the Archbold Expeditions is ongoing nearly 90 years after Richard Archbold, founder of Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County, first commenced his explorations in the South Pacific. Thousands of specimens were collected, many hundreds of photographs were taken, and hundreds more scientific publications were produced to summarize what has been discovered. These materials continue to be studied well into the 21st century and inform scientific inquiries right up until the present day.
Archbold Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer described the legacy of Richard Archbold’s expeditions as follows, “The first three Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea were notable for their geographic scope, meticulous preparation, and support by airplanes on the second and third expeditions. The Archbold Expeditions after World War II were less ambitious in scope and did not use airplanes. Nonetheless, the combined results of the Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and Sulawesi were remarkable for the great number of specimens of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates they collected, and for the detailed ecological and geographical information, and photographs that accompanied the specimens. These collections included many new species in almost all taxa collected. Collections and activities of the Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and Sulawesi contributed entirely, or substantially, to 127 scientific publications in botany, 60 about invertebrates, and 135 about vertebrates.”
Dr. Bruce Beeler spent many years studying the birds of New Guinea. When he was asked by Archbold Librarian Joe Gentili about the legacy of Richard Archbold’s expeditions Beeler said, “I visited Lake Habbema in 1981, when it was still accessible only by foot traffic. Of course, now one can drive! I spent 6 days camped on the west margin lake. I found the (original) Archbold camp, on a small rise overlooking the north side of the lake on my hike back to Wamena via the Bele (Ibele) valley…I felt a very special feeling being at that spot! The 3rd Archbold Expedition was their greatest, no doubt. Besides all the novel species of plants and birds and other taxa, the transect they cut from the Idenburg River south across two mountain ranges and of course discovering the Grand Valley of the Balim, was stupendous…Lake Habbema is one of the most beautiful spots in all of beautiful New Guinea, with the open gladelike environs at high elevation, and the vistas of the complex lake and the great massif of Puncak Trikora (Mt. Wilhelmina) to the south… where they discovered the Snow Robins up on the rocky scree–the highest-living songbird in New Guinea.”
‘The Archbold Collections at the American Museum of Natural History, 1928-1980’ is the official designation given to the total materials from all the Archbold Expeditions, housed at the Museum. Richard Archbold was a Fellow of the American Museum of Natural History, and his expeditions were sponsored in conjunction with the Museum. According to the Museum, the collection “is comprised of material that documents the expeditionary fieldwork of Richard Archbold and the Archbold Expeditions. It is housed within the AMNH Department of Mammalogy Archive, and encompasses a variety of formats, including photographs, slides, film, scrapbooks, correspondence, financial records, and field documentation such as catalogs, specimen lists, field notes and journals. These describe both the day-to-day activities of the expedition participants as well as the study of the scientific collections.” In total these materials comprise 56 linear feet of archive space.
Housed at the American Museum of Natural History, the specimens and expedition collections are actively used by museum scholars to the present day. In addition to work done by Dr. Lauren Oliver on the frogs of New Guinea (mentioned earlier in part 2 of this series), further work was conducted in 2014 in the mountains of New Guinea. According to an American Museum of Natural History article, “[Researchers] returned yesterday from their satellite camp at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) elevation and reported species not found here at 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). This is typical for montane faunas, where species drop in and out according to their elevational requirements. Comparing the picture today with data collected in historic expeditions like the Museum’s Archbold Expeditions (a series of seven expeditions to New Guinea conducted between 1933 and 1964) can give us insight into the possible effects of climate change in the tropics. For example, we know that the highest peaks of Papua New Guinea were once topped with glaciers that have disappeared in recent times.”
Richard Archbold’s legacy lives on in tangible ways here in Venus, Florida as well. There are several individuals like Fred Lohrer who knew Richard Archbold while he was still alive. These people continue his legacy through the stories they tell about his life. This living connection to Archbold is an invaluable resource when one wants to learn more about this fascinating individual, and the explorations he led and sponsored.
Since the first satellite was launched into orbit in 1957, satellites have been integrated into our everyday lives, even though they are in orbit hundreds or even thousands of miles above us. Daily satellite applications assist by providing the first weather forecast in the morning to know how to dress up, navigating your trip to a beautiful but strange place, and even help with paying for your coffee with your debit card through a satellite link between the coffee shop and your bank. In addition to these daily applications, some satellites equipped with sensors (special cameras) are also used by scientists to ‘sense’ things about the Earth, a science known as satellite-based remote sensing.
It would not be surprising if you have wondered how satellite-based sensors observe the Earth from space. Some sensors ‘see’ the same visible light that is seen by the human eye (red, blue, green, wavelengths), while other sensors also measure the ‘invisible light’ that is not detectable by the human eye (e.g. ultraviolet and infrared). The objective of satellite-based remote sensing is to help us understand the Earth better by recording and analyzing the energy from visible and invisible light or wavelengths reflected or emitted from the Earth’s surface. Satellite-based remote sensing has been used in a wide variety of fields, such as estimating yield from farm field crops, predicting the conditions in grass pastures, and monitoring active volcanoes.
Scientific research using remote sensing is accelerating at Archbold with data from both satellite-based and drone-based remote sensing. Archbold has been among the first to apply satellite-based remote sensing to study how much plants are growing every year (a measure known as gross primary productivity), in different types of cattle pastures in south-central Florida, where Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is conducting a project in collaboration with the University of Florida, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Cornell University. This research is contributing to the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The project is led by Dr. Betsey Boughton, Research Director at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, and Dr. Xukai Zhang, her Postdoctoral Research Associate. Dr. Zhang explained, “Gross primary productivity is an estimate of the amount of energy and material entering the terrestrial ecosystem. Accurate estimates of gross primary productivity help us understand the carbon cycle from the atmosphere to plants and soil, and back up to the atmosphere. My project is designed to help us better understand the carbon cycle in Florida’s grazing lands, contributing towards the science of estimating gross primary productivity on a regional scale. It is also important to inform sustainable grassland management. I find it rewarding to think about how to scale up the data from Florida to other sites in the USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network and help build the bigger picture nationwide.”
Dr. Zhang came to Archbold in March 2019 after graduating from Louisiana State University with 8 years of experience in remote sensing research. After two years of research at Buck Island Ranch, Dr. Zhang shared, “I was amazed by the beautiful scenery on my arrival at Buck Island Ranch. It was my first experience applying my research to a commercial size ranch and I felt excited by this opportunity.” One of the goals of Dr. Zhang’s research is to build a remotely-sensed gross primary productivity model and validate it using many years of plant data collected on the ground by Dr. Boughton and her research crews. Dr. Zhang built a model calculated from satellite data that produces a vegetation ‘index,’ integrating characteristics of the vegetation combined with the surface temperature of the land. He explained, “The ‘vegetation index’ is a mathematical term that combines information about two or more wavelengths measured by the satellite and reveals characteristics of vegetation. The vegetation index in the model I have produced helps us detect factors such as the beginning and end of the plant growing season and illustrates how much or how little photosynthesis is occurring in the plants.”
With a typical subtropical climate, grazing lands in south central Florida are a mosaic of improved or highly managed pastures, native grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands that provide a variety of ecosystem services, such as forage for livestock, maintaining plant and animal biodiversity, and taking up carbon as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis (often called carbon sequestration, or absorption of atmospheric carbon by soil and plants). The study spans a range of vegetation types from managed pastures and wetlands at Buck Island Ranch to native grasslands and woodlands at the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center at Ona, about 50 miles west of Highlands County. Dr. Boughton noted, “The mosaic of different land uses makes it both an opportunity and challenge for studying the subtropical grazing lands by remote sensing.” Dr. Zhang added, “Another major issue is Florida’s frequent cloud cover, that intermittently blocks satellite signals.” After overcoming mountains of technical and data difficulties, Dr. Zhang has finally improved the accuracy of estimating productivity for subtropical grazing lands by satellite-based remote sensing. Dr. Boughton remarked, “Estimating productivity of grazing lands is like feeling the pulse of grazing lands and is helpful to guiding the ranch management.”
Remote sensing is a discipline continuously in movement and the future is bright. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch not only hired its first postdoc researcher for remote sensing, but it also completed the first post-baccalaureate internship to study remote sensing: Anna Odell of Brown University. Working with Zhang and Boughton, she studied the classification of pasture types on the Ranch using remote sensing. As you are reading this article, more powerful and more accurate sensors are being developed and deployed. Myriads of scientists are currently working on new ways to analyze remote sensed data. In future we will be even better at documenting, understanding, and predicting changes in our farmlands and environments.
(originally published June 30, 2021 in the Highlands News-Sun)
June is Pride Month, and this year marks the 41st anniversary since the first Pride Parade was held in New York City to commemorate the historic Stonewall Uprising, a turning point in the Gay Liberation movement in the US. Pride is a time of visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, where everyone can be proud to be their authentic selves and celebrate self-worth. It is also a time to recognize and honor the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals within our science and conservation communities and throughout the world, including pioneering scientists like Alan Turing, a British mathematician who was a code breaker during WWII, and Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. While progress has been made towards equal rights and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there is still much progress to be made until everyone is truly treated fairly and equally.
Representation and inclusivity in the workplace, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) fields, is lacking. LGBTQ+ undergraduate students pursuing degrees in STEM are less likely to remain in STEM after graduation than non-LGBTQ+ students. According to a 2021 article in the journal Science Advances by the authors Erin A. Cech & Tom J. Waidzuanas, LGBTQ+ STEM professionals are more likely to be harassed and find it more challenging to advance in their careers compared to non-LGBTQ+ peers. Discussing his experience in STEM, Archbold staff Dr. Zach Forsburg said, “I’ve faced microaggressions in previous jobs and during graduate school because I’m openly gay, and I’ve heard many accounts of others being openly discriminated against because of being LGBTQ+. Sadly, many LGBTQ+ STEM professionals make the choice to not be ‘out’ in the workplace due to fear of harassment or discrimination, a clear indication that organizations and society need to do better.”
Archbold Biological Station proudly celebrates and supports our LGBTQ+ colleagues and friends. Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain emphasizes, “Archbold strives to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment and understands that we can do more to promote a more diverse workplace. Archbold’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee works to identify and remove internal barriers that hinder diversity and inclusion, and to increase opportunities, accessibility, and meaning for all. It is important for Archbold to address LGBTQ+ opportunities as an employer and a workplace in Highlands County. We also want to ensure that people of all backgrounds, including the LGBTQ+ community, feel welcome here. Once Archbold is fully open to the public post-COVID (please stay tuned), we want to ensure that our nature trails and other environmental opportunities are available to all, and that all are welcomed.”
Dr. Zach Forsburg said of working at Archbold, “I am out and proud at Archbold because I think visibility and representation are important. I am fortunate to work at a place where I feel safe to be my authentic self and where I am supported by my colleagues.” Dr. Forsburg works closely with Director of Philanthropy Deborah Pollard, who says of Zach, “It is my utmost privilege to work with Zach. He brings wholeness to the Philanthropy and Communications programs and thus, to the organization. He helps us to understand better how to consider all audiences when crafting a message and reaching audiences when we share the impact of our Science with others. Zach is thinking of everyone, and that is inclusivity. I am so grateful he is on our team.”
To quote the Reverend Eston Williams, Archbold would “rather be excluded for who we include than included for who we exclude.”
November 28th, 2020 was a conservation milestone for Florida. On this day Elizabeth DeLuca and family conveyed the 27,000-acre DeLuca Preserve to the University of Florida Foundation, with a conservation easement held by Ducks Unlimited. Just southwest of Yeehaw Junction, the Preserve protects a vast expanse of managed pastures and citrus as well as extensive dry prairies, innumerable seasonal wetlands, and longleaf pine savannas. The Preserve is adjacent to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to the southwest, which in turn is adjacent to Avon Park Air Force Range on the west side of the Kissimmee River. Just north of these three properties lies Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. In total, these properties protect a quarter million acres of native habitats at the center of the historic distribution of dry prairie in Florida. More properties are being considered for protection, many as private lands with easements, with the potential to eventually create a network of connected and conserved lands of more than 400,000 acres. Some will be working landscapes like the DeLuca Preserve and some managed wildlands, but all support populations of many of Florida’s most endangered species.
In 2014, a population of Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) was found on DeLuca Preserve. This subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow is geographically restricted to Florida and resident year-round. Like most grassland birds throughout the US, these birds have experienced dramatic population declines. As of 2020, there were fewer than ~100 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in the wild and about 33% of these occurred on DeLuca Preserve. It is also the only site in which sparrows occupy pastures grazed by cattle.
Since 2017, scientists in Archbold Biological Station’s Avian Ecology Program have studied these fascinating sparrows, trying to understand the potential risks and rewards of living on grazed pastures. Virtually all Florida Grasshopper Sparrows on protected public lands occupy native dry prairie where no grazing occurs. But if data from DeLuca suggest that pasture management can be compatible for both Florida Grasshopper Sparrows and cattle, then ranchlands may be essential to the long-term survival of the species. Virtually all native dry prairie that still exists is already protected, but ranchlands are mosaics of habitat, including managed pastures and native dry prairie, as well as other native habitats. If we can discover the appropriate management to support both FGSPs and profitable cattle operations, we could greatly expand the area of potential habitat for the FGSPs, and coupled with other land protections and conservation strategies, such as recent releases of captive-reared birds, greatly increase their numbers ensuring their long-term persistence.
This vision, to a great extent, depends on developing management plans that will not limit cultural and agricultural uses in working landscapes and maintaining profitable cattle production and thriving FGSP populations. Archbold looks forward to working collaboratively with University of Florida, Ducks Unlimited, and many other partners to see this vision fulfilled.
Three earlier articles (7/8/20, 8/19/20, and 3/10/21) were published in the Highlands News-Sun and this is Part 4 of that series.
After personally leading three expeditions to the island of New Guinea, Richard Archbold was forced to rethink his plans for future Pacific exploration. By the time he and crew returned to America in 1939, the world was on the brink of war. Imperial Japan had already invaded Manchuria in 1935 and because of the instability in the region he put his plans to explore on hold. In fact, he would never again go to New Guinea nor anywhere else in the Pacific. By the end of WWII, he was a 38-year-old who had lived in Highlands County for four years. A combination of factors led to Archbold’s decision to lead scientific expeditions no longer himself. However, before his death in 1976 he would sponsor six more expeditions to the South Pacific.
From 1948 through 1976 Archbold funded an expedition to the Cape York Peninsula in Australia, four more expeditions to New Guinea, and one to Sulawesi in Indonesia. He remained fascinated by the flora and fauna of the Southeast Pacific throughout his life and was a generous benefactor towards continued research in these locales. He mainly studied mammals while on expedition and ensured that these animals were researched in his absence. However, a variety of species of insects, birds, plants, reptiles, and amphibians were collected during every expedition.
When Archbold had to choose an expedition leader to replace himself he decided on botanist Dr. Leonard Brass. Brass accompanied Archbold on the first three New Guinea Expeditions, and he was tasked to lead the Australian and three subsequent New Guinea Expeditions. According to Archbold Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer, “Brass led the Australian Expedition, the Fourth New Guinea Expedition which included Eastern Papua on Cape Vogel Peninsula and Goodenough Island, The Fifth New Guinea Expedition to the Eastern Papuan Islands, and The Sixth New Guinea Expedition to Papua New Guinea; Eastern Highlands, including Mt. Wilhelm.” Brass spent many years during the period of 1948-1959 in Australia and New Guinea leading these expeditions. While in America however he lived and worked at the Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Florida. All told he led or participated in six expeditions to New Guinea and one to Australia, during his lifetime.
The Seventh and final New Guinea Expedition took place in 1964 and a new leader was chosen: Dr. Hobart Van Dussen, who was a mammalogist by trade. Archbold and crew first explored New Guinea in 1933, and finally 31 years later the last scientist in his employ departed the island.
The Sulawesi Expedition was led by Dr. Guy Musser, who was also a mammalogist. This expedition would be the last scientific exploration sponsored by Richard Archbold before his death. Lohrer said of Musser and the expedition, “The Sulawesi Expedition was 1973-1976…Musser continued to publish on Sulawesi specimens well into his retirement. His Sulawesi publications were certainly a great contribution to the taxonomy and systematics of Asian Mammalogy.” In the final installment of our series, we will dig deeper into the scientific legacy of the Archbold Expeditions, and how the specimens collected contributed to a variety of scientific disciplines.
Dr. Aaron David at the entrance to Archbold. Photo by Karen Rice-David.
Authors: Hilary Swain and Laura Reed
Since June 1988, Dr. Eric Menges has served as an outstanding scientist and leader of scientific research, conservation, and education activities in Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program. At last count, Dr. Menges has published 183 scientific papers and nearly 200 Technical Reports. Under his leadership, the ‘Plant Lab’ has trained and supervised 33 Research Assistants and 127 Archbold interns, nearly all of whom have gone on to great careers across the nation and internationally. On June 30, 2021, Dr. Menges will retire, assuming his new title: Emeritus Research Biologist on July 1.
A former Plant Ecology Program intern now returns to Archbold, as Dr. Menges prepares to retire after a remarkable 33 years of service. Dr. Aaron David assumed the position of Director of Plant Ecology on June 1, 2021. Dr. Menges first welcomed Aaron David to Archbold as an intern in 2009, serving as an inspiring mentor and introducing him to the world of scrub plants and field ecology. After his internship, Dr. David received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 2016, a Post-Doctoral Associate position at the University of Miami from 2016-2018, and a Research Ecologist position with the US Department of Agriculture Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Ft. Lauderdale since 2018. Dr. David shared, “I’m thrilled to be back at Archbold working in the Florida scrub. The station has meant so much to me over the years, and I’m honored to have this opportunity to continue the Plant Lab’s legacy.”
During the month of June, the two program directors will overlap and work with their research assistants and interns to ensure a smooth transition. Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain remarked, “Dr. Menges has been a wonderful scientist and mentor and leaves a living legacy of those he trained and supervised in the Plant Ecology Program. We are delighted to welcome Dr. David and fully anticipate his knowledge and skills will continue to expand the field of plant ecology at the Station, building upon Eric’s great success story.” Dr. Menges added, “It has been a privilege to work at Archbold and in the Florida scrub all these years. I am confident that Aaron will bring the Plant Ecology Program in some exciting new directions!”
Welcome, Dr. David, and best wishes for a long career at Archbold! Congratulations, Dr. Menges, and best wishes for the next chapter of your life!
Dr. Eric Menges in the Florida scrub at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Dustin Angell.
In the 1920s, people came to Florida for many of the same reasons they do today, seeking mild winters and the beauty of a Southern getaway. The Lake Placid Club of New York established its Florida resort on Lake Childs (renamed Lake Placid), and among its visitors were Margaret and John Roebling. Margaret’s tuberculosis led to the Roeblings’ decision to settle just south of Lake Placid and build their estate on a property called Red Hill. Construction of their estate began in 1929, during the Great Depression. The construction of the estate continued despite Margaret’s untimely death in October 1930, and the estate buildings were completed in 1935, after which John decided to sell or donate the Red Hill Estate.
There was little interest from buyers, but a chance meeting between John’s son Donald and Richard Archbold (an old school friend) in 1940 was a catalyst for a great transition. The onset of World War II meant that Archbold would no longer be able to conduct his overseas expeditions to the Pacific. He was seeking a US base to continue his biological research. In July 1941, John Roebling deeded his Red Hill Estate to Richard Archbold for $1.00, trusting that he would be “sensitive to the unspoiled beauty of the land.”
As World War II raged in the Pacific, Richard Archbold began to implement his ideas for a biological field station, and by the end of the war, he was fully committed to Archbold Biological Station. Richard remained on site 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. The list of scientists who stayed at the Station reads like a who’s who of mid-century ecologists. 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.
In the spring of 1976, facing terminal cancer, Richard Archbold was hospitalized in Palm Beach County. With the future of Archbold Expeditions and the Station unclear, Archbold personally typed a new will that ensured the land, buildings, and his personal fortune would be dedicated to the Station. His sister, Frances Archbold Hufty, agreed to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Archbold Expeditions. So began the next era of Archbold Biological Station. Cheers to the past 80 years and cheers to the next 80 years!
If you live in or near a city or town, chances are the night sky you see is not as dark as it should be. The reason for the disappearing night is ‘Light Pollution.’ A growing problem across the globe, light pollution is the excessive use of artificial light that alters natural light/dark cycles in the environment. It is estimated that more than 80% of the world’s population lives in areas polluted by light, and nearly 99% of the continental United States is exposed to some level of light pollution. There are several categories of light pollution, including ‘glare’ due to excessive brightness, ‘light trespass’ when light illuminates areas where it is not intended or needed, and ‘sky glow,’ the brightening of the night sky. Though first recognized as just a nuisance in the 1970’s by astronomers, only recently has light pollution been recognized by scientists as a significant threat to biodiversity. Light pollution has become one of the most chronic human-caused disturbances to the environment, having far reaching effects on wildlife.
Until the invention of lightbulbs, wildlife evolved and adapted to ‘day and night’ light cycles, so it is not surprising that light pollution negatively impacts wildlife. Many physiological and behavioral traits are tied to natural light and dark cycles, which are disrupted or altered when light pollution is present. For diurnal species, melatonin and serotonin levels may drop during nighttime hours if excessive human-caused light is present. Songbirds in the city or rural areas exposed to light pollution will start their morning calls before the sun rises and might even start laying eggs too early in the season, because their sense of time and season is disrupted by constant light exposure. Constant light effectively eliminates night, disrupting nocturnal species like frogs and salamanders. Frogs in areas of intense light pollution experience increased stress, which can negatively impact growth and mating and diminish their ability to cope with diseases or predation. Nocturnal salamanders exposed to light pollution will continue to hide after dusk and reduce the number of hours spent foraging. Many people are aware of the disorienting effect that heavily lit beaches have on sea turtle nestlings and this example provides the easy solution to light pollution.
There are several ways you can help reduce light pollution in your area, and in doing so help reduce the negative impacts it has on wildlife. The first, and easiest, way is to simply turn off outdoor lights when they are not necessary. If lights must be used outside, make sure to install light fixtures as low as possible. Tall light posts contribute to light trespass and sky-glow by illuminating more than the intended area, so using shorter lamp posts or footlights along a path reduces the amount of wasted light. Additionally, motion sensors, dimmers, and shields can be used to reduce light pollution and focus the light to where it is needed. Lastly, using longer-wavelength LED lights rather than bright-white or blue heavy LEDs helps reduce the negative impacts of light pollution, as animals, including humans, are more sensitive to blue-white light (think TVs and smartphones).
When Archbold Biological Station built two state-of-the-art buildings, known as the Adrian Archbold Lodge and Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, the decision was made to install wildlife friendly lighting. Archbold installed low footlights along the sidewalks with shields directing the light toward the ground, lights on motion sensors, and lights on the buildings that have shields to reduce or eliminate light trespass. Read more about the Lodge and Learning Center on the Archbold website: https://www.archbold-station.org/html/education/aac.html
Remember, don’t be like Tom Bodett, and DON’T leave the lights on!
It’s that time of year again! Archbold Biological Station is gearing up for the 30th year of Ecology Summer Camp and again the camp has evolved. Last year, Archbold offered virtual week-long science camps. This summer, as the country reopens, the Archbold Education Program presents a hybrid experience called the ‘Summer Ecology Club.’ This is not a membership club, but a new format for camp: For just $35, campers ages 7-12 can register for four weeks of activities either June or July and participate from anywhere. While most activities are virtual, campers are invited to an in-person Seasonal Pond Investigation event, as well. Thanks to donors, families can apply for financial hardship sponsorships that cover the camp’s registration fee. There is no limit per family, and many sponsorships are available.
The online component of camp includes variety of activities, such as: multi-week at-home projects, book clubs, science demonstrations, and nature film viewings. Meetings usually happen twice a day over Zoom and campers are welcome to pick which programs they would like to attend. “We wanted to create an educational experience that works with campers getting back into their regular summer fun,” says Margaret Davenport, Archbold’s Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern. “Have plans to spend your afternoon swimming with friends? No problem, just hop onto our morning virtual nature walk! Busy in the mornings? Book club is at 1 PM for 7-9 year-olds and 3 PM for 10-12 year-olds! Our hope is to get students involved in science without forcing them to sit at a screen all day or ruining their summer plans.”
Virtual programs are also a great way to try something new. Archbold’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell explains, “Research has shown how important time in nature is for physical and emotional health, but many children don’t have the chance to receive those benefits. Maybe they or their family members worry about bugs or bad weather, snakes and alligators, or that they don’t belong. Virtual is the chance for them to give it a try without leaving their comfort zone.”
Angell is also proud of the improvements to the program, saying: “If you attended Archbold’s virtual camp last year, this summer’s program is the 2.0 version: new and improved. We have staff members from all different departments creating fun actives to teach about Florida Scrub-Jays, Gopher Tortoises, Florida Panthers, and local history. Plus, we are using immersive 360° imagery that campers can interact with on a mobile device, computer, or virtual reality headsets!”
The most exciting improvement of the ‘2.0 version’ of virtual camp: the ‘Summer Ecology Club’ is not completely virtual this year. Our campers will be the first groups to visit Archbold for a guided tour since March 2020. These events will be limited to 10 campers at a time, with multiple opportunities to get as many campers involved as possible. Participation is included at no extra cost.
Angell believes the Summer Ecology Club continues the spirit of Archbold’s three decades of camp. “Our summer programs have always been a VIP experience of our organization, and this year is no different. The children receive a behind the scenes look at research and conservation in Florida and make connections with the plants and wildlife that make it such a special place.”
Authors: Chelsea Wisner Folmar, Greg Thompson, and Angela Tringali.
Archbold Biological Station is renowned for its long-running internship program. In fact, Archbold’s Post-baccalaureate Internship program is one of only a few programs in the United States in which recent college graduates can gain research experience before they commit to continuing their higher education or other career choices. Internships at Archbold provide exceptional opportunities for those who intend on pursuing a career in ecological research. Archbold also offers seasonal full-time positions in endangered species management, land management, habitat restoration, agro-ecology, and environmental education.
Internships at Archbold typically require a candidate to commit to living on-site for six to nine months and devote half their time being mentored and assisting with data collection for long-term research projects. Interns are compensated for their part-time work as well support for room and board. Additionally, interns are also afforded the opportunity to develop and execute their own independent research projects under the mentorship of professional scientists. This process is an effective catalyst for acceptance into graduate school, a typical ‘first step’ in beginning a life-long career in scientific research.
For those with career interests other than graduate school, or those who are seeking full-time employment, Archbold regularly hires full-time seasonal (~6 month) Research Assistants. In the Avian Ecology Program seasonal research assistants support permanent staff during the bird breeding season, when most of the endangered species monitoring and management work occurs. Seasonal staff work full-time under the direct supervision of staff researchers. This allows the year-round staff to meet heightened labor demands during the busiest time of year, and seasonal staff to expand their expertise in avian ecology under the guidance of experienced biologists.
New interns and seasonal employees of the Avian Ecology Program already possess some skills, like working independently in the field, but specialized skills are taught by full-time staff during the duration of their employment. Because working with Threatened and Endangered species requires permits from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, seasonal staff shadow full-timers, allowing them the opportunity to learn and refine skills including capturing and banding adult and nestling birds, taking biological samples, and nest searching and monitoring, all under the watchful gaze of experienced biologists. These highly specialized skills often become the qualifying experiences that propel seasonal Research Assistants into permanent employment in wildlife monitoring and management.
Both internship and seasonal research assistant positions provide critical learning opportunities to early career professionals, and both allow for the opportunity to travel to Florida and become familiar with the plants and animals living here. Although these experiences appear similar on paper, they typically encourage different outcomes. Interns in the Avian Ecology Program often go on to graduate school to earn a master’s or doctorate degree whereas seasonal Research Assistants often pursue permanent employment in wildlife management, though some also choose to continue their higher education. Seasonal Research Assistant positions offered through the Avian Ecology Program provide a means of professional development that can be more accessible to a variety of applicants of diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially for those who are looking to gain full-time employment in wildlife monitoring and management. The Avian Ecology Program has nurtured the development of countless wildlife biologists working to conserve wild Florida as wildlife and land managers across the state. Do you know someone who has a future in wildlife conservation? Stay up to date on internship and employment openings at www.archbold-station.org!
Highlands County commemorated its 100th anniversary on Friday, April 23rd, 2021 with a Centennial Day celebration outside the Highlands County Government Center in downtown Sebring. Nine booths were arrayed representing entities that have played a part in the County’s history, and Archbold Biological Station was honored to be included as one of the nine.
Nearly 100 residents and visitors came to see the various displays. Archbold Librarian Joseph Gentili attended the Archbold booth for the event accompanied by Facilities Coordinator Laura Mitchell. Gentili stated, “The 100th anniversary celebration was a great chance to interact with community members and other organizations. Archbold’s booth contained three large displays which provide snapshots of the Station’s organizational history. One display featured the period of 1929-1941 when the Archbold grounds were known as the Red Hill Estate, the second discussed Richard Archbold’s life in Highlands County from 1941 until his death in 1976, and the final display highlighted the Archbold Family and in particular their history of philanthropy. As a decades-long member of the Highlands County community, it is always a privilege to share our story with the public.” Community members were encouraged to learn about Archbold’s rich history through viewing the displays and asking follow-up questions.
Archbold Biological Station has been a part of the Highlands County community dating back to John and Margaret Roebling’s original purchase of 1,050 acres of land near Hicoria in 1929. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the original Roebling buildings form the heart of the Archbold Biological Station campus. The Roeblings were generous members of the community and instrumental in the founding of Highlands Hammock State Park. They also helped with the purchases of multiple fire engines for the use in towns and cities in the County during the 1930’s. Richard Archbold continued this philanthropic legacy and contributed to the history of the county in numerous ways, perhaps most importantly by helping to found the Glades Electric Cooperative in 1947 and by serving as Glades Electric Board President or Vice President until his death. A long legacy of community engagement exists at Archbold and that tradition is proudly continued today with K-12 programs, summer camps and innumerable tours, talks and visits for the public.
Gentili, who serves as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission for Highlands County, noted, “A celebration like this one is a unique opportunity to look backwards on our collective past, while planning for what we all hope will be a brighter future. Archbold has been intricately linked with Highlands County for nearly all the last 100 years and enthusiastically anticipates being part of the county’s foreseeable future. It was my privilege to participate in this event while representing Archbold.”
Researchers in Archbold’s Avian Ecology program have been studying the habitat and management needs of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at the Avon Park Air Force Range since 1992. Throughout their range, researchers have focused on how management can save this species—and this management has been successful: the Red-cockaded Woodpecker was recently down-listed by the federal government from Endangered to Threatened status. However, studies of how to save this unique bird have also provided lessons that it is an effective conservation partner, and that, in their own unique ways, the woodpeckers help manage the forests to the benefit of many other species.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers exist only in high-quality yellow pine forests—in Central Florida these are Longleaf Pine and Slash Pine. The forests must contain old-growth trees suitable for the birds to excavate their nesting cavities, and the forests must be burned frequently (every 2-4 years) to maintain the grassy understory the birds prefer and to prevent oaks and other hardwood trees from crowding out the pines. Archbold research assistant, Greg Thompson, notes, “Because Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have such high standards for their pine habitat, their presence in an area is a sign to us that the habitat management is working.” Pine habitats in good enough condition to support Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are suitable to support many other species as well. In this way, the woodpeckers are considered an indicator species, or a species whose presence or absence is an indication of the condition of the environment.
Not only do the woodpeckers help researchers evaluate the success of their habitat management efforts, they also inadvertently create habitat for other species. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers excavate cavities in living pines for roosting and nesting. Many other species also rely on these cavities for shelter or nesting, and some are even incapable of making their own. With so many animals needing cavities and so few animals that make them, the cavities created by the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are in very high demand. Because of its role in providing homes for other animals, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is referred to as a keystone species. The part they play in the ecosystem is particularly important to the welfare of many other species.
Some species prefer Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities just the way the woodpeckers created them. Eastern Bluebirds, Southern Flying Squirrels, Corn Snakes, Barking Treefrogs, and many different insects are small enough to fit inside an unmodified Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity. Other woodpeckers, such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers must expand these cavities to make them suitable for their larger body sizes. These enlarged cavities can, in turn, be used by a different set of species, including Eastern Screech-Owls, honeybees, and various bats.
One particularly noteworthy species discovered recently to use Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities at Avon Park Air Force Range is the Florida Bonneted Bat. These bats occur only in the southern half of Florida and are among the most Endangered mammals in North America. The population at the Air Force Range was first discovered in 2013 when an Archbold researcher was conducting the annual census of Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities. It was the first known natural roost site for this rare bat—all other known roosts were in man-made structures. A total of five bonneted bat roosts have been discovered at the Range, and four of those are in woodpecker cavities. According to Kristopher Pitcher, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charged with monitoring the bat population at the Range, “Florida Bonneted Bats at the northern extent of their range at Avon Park Air Force Range seem to be almost completely reliant on abandoned, natural Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities in older Longleaf Pine trees that exhibit hollow cores due to heart rot. In short, without Red-cockaded Woodpeckers creating cavities, Florida Bonneted Bats at Avon Park would likely have no ‘front door’ to access their roosts in hollow Longleaf Pines.”
Archbold’s research focus on this keystone species has enabled significant progress towards the overarching goal of preserving biodiversity in general. It is a cross-species collaboration; biologists and Avon Park Air Force Range land managers ensure that Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have what they need to thrive, and the woodpeckers help to ensure that other species dependent on cavities have what they need for their survival. Pine forests in which Red-cockaded Woodpeckers still occur, like those at the Avon Park Air Force Range, are extremely valuable and must be protected and managed to benefit the woodpeckers and all the inhabitants of their ecosystem.
Earth Day is today, April 22nd, and April is National Native Plant Month. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, where 20 million Americans — one tenth of the U.S. population at that time — joined together across hundreds of cities to demand a new path forward for our planet. There were protests about declining air quality, reduced water quality, and loss of habitat and species, but Earth Day has also always been a celebration of nature, and an acknowledgement that nature is essential to a sustainable life on Earth. The first Earth Day is credited with galvanizing millions of people worldwide to help protect the planet.
One way we can help protect the planet is by using native plants in our landscaping. Last month, the 117th US Congress agreed to a simple resolution designating April 2021 as National Native Plant Month ( https://www.congress.gov/117/bills/sres109/BILLS-117sres109ats.pdf ). The resolution recognized “there are more than 17,000 native plant species in the United States, which include trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and wildflowers.” Native plants, indigenous species that have evolved and naturally occur in a particular area, are an important component of resilient ecosystems and natural areas. According to the resolution, “Native plants provide shelter as well as nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other wildlife in ways that non-native plants cannot.”
Back in 2011, when Archbold Biological Station added two state-of-the-art buildings to its facility, known as the Adrian Archbold Lodge and Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, the decision was made to ‘go native’ with the landscaping around the buildings. Bringing this Archbold inspiration to life was the work of Nancy Bissett of The Natives, located in Davenport, Florida. Together as a team, Bissett and Archbold Biological Station designed the entire 2-acres surrounding the buildings using only plants native to this region. Bissett also grew and planted a total of nearly 12,000 individual plants of more than 75 species for the project. The open vista of native plants surrounding the buildings is now a peaceful, aesthetic setting and serves as a beautiful living display to educate visitors.
In a 2018 interview, Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain remarked, “The inspiration for our native landscaping comes from the concept that we should use the right plants in the right places. We decided during the early planning phase of our new buildings to ‘go native’ by using only trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers found in natural areas in south central Florida and by planting them in the right spot in the lands around the buildings based on their unique light, water, and soil needs.” She continued, “Another reason we were enthusiastic about native plants is that the modeling estimates we ran during construction and design suggested we would save about ¾ million gallons of water a year because native pants do not need any irrigation after establishment.” The other benefit to ‘going native’ was that the native plants need no fertilizer. However, this approach is not maintenance-free. Swain notes, “The challenge for Archbold has been that the landscaping, which was planted on very disturbed soils, has needed almost continual weeding to keep non-natives, such as Natal Grass, and weedy native plants at bay. We appreciate the efforts of all our volunteers who have helped us with this job.”
To learn more about Florida’s native plants, visit the Florida Native Plant Society here: https://www.fnps.org/
On April 9, 2007, Archbold Biological Station founder, Richard Archbold would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Archbold Biological Station celebrated that centennial anniversary with the opening of the Richard Archbold mural in the town of Lake Placid, and with its first ‘birthday party’ in Mr. Archbold’s honor. Since then, Station staff, friends, and family have celebrated Mr. Archbold’s birthday with a celebratory dinner and happy hour. The closure of the Station to the public due to COVID concerns in March 2020 led to the difficult decision to cancel the 113th birthday celebration. For this year’s 114th birthday, the celebration was considerably different, but a welcome step on the path back to normalcy.
Many may not know that Richard Archbold was a man of strict habits, and he kept a schedule of meals that repeated each week. From Mr. Archbold’s journals, we can tell exactly what he and any visiting researchers to the Station would have been eating on a two-weekly schedule. A traditional Archbold birthday celebration features a dinner menu based on this schedule, with Mr. Archbold’s favored cocktails served beforehand. Festivities include storytelling and a recitation of all the plant and animal species named after Mr. Archbold (over 80 species of mosses, flowering plants, insects, spiders, birds, and more).
Since the Station’s kitchen and dining room are closed at this time, the 2021 birthday celebration organizers had to improvise with plated snacks served outdoors, and well distanced, in the breezeway of the Frances Hufty Learning Center. Archbold’s head of Human Resources, Sharon Hawkins said, “An important part of the Archbold experience is the culture of sharing time, space, and ideas with other staff and visiting researchers, and everyone has missed that ‘family style’ gathering tremendously over the past year. Our hope was to recreate a little of that camaraderie while maintaining our safety standards.”
Staff were invited to participate in contests virtually and in-person: the first-ever T-shirt design contest was held, with eleven designs submitted for printing new Archbold Biological Station and Buck Island Ranch shirts, and winners to be announced soon. Staff members also filled in a special Archbold-themed crossword puzzle online, available here: https://crosswordhobbyist.com/903525/ARCHBOLDS-BIRTHDAY
Finally, several members of Archbold and Buck Island Ranch staff competed for the title of ‘most original’ and ‘most Richard Archbold-inspired’ birthday cakes. Both edible cakes and ‘scrub-cakes’ made from materials found in the Florida Scrub were accepted. Interns Lydia Landau, Scott Dai, Alma Reyes Gonzalez, Nate Spicer, and Brittany Welch won both edible cake categories, with intern Margaret Davenport and executive assistant Laura Reed winning the scrub-cake prizes.
The evening ended on a high note, as Archbold communications coordinator Zach Forsburg described, “Every year we look forward to honoring our founder, Richard Archbold. This year was particularly fun as we had an energetic and socially distant game of Pictionary between staff and interns. The victory went to the staff after a heated head-to-head tiebreaker round.”
While 2021 was a different approach to the Archbold birthday celebration, it was certainly appreciated by those staff and interns who were able to attend.
It is not every day a National news network broadcasts from Highlands County.
Last week, Archbold hosted NBC Today Show correspondent Kerry Sanders. Sanders checked in live with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb to cover the weekend’s ‘March Madness’ activities, then spent the day filming in the Florida scrub at Archbold, learning about Florida Scrub-Jays and how wildlife and other environmental issues have been impacted by the global pandemic. Joining Sanders was Archbold Board member Dr. John Fitzpatrick, who is the Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain, and Director of Philanthropy, Deborah Pollard, also joined Sanders and crew for the episode focused on scrub-jays that will air this month as part of the ‘Today Goes Green’ series, honoring Earth Month and focusing on the environment, climate change, and changes you can make to help. Dr. Swain shared, “The issues our planet faces are extremely challenging, and I was impressed that the NBC Today Show have recognized that these complex issues are deserving addressing over ‘Earth Month’ rather than a traditional one-day Earth Day.”
Sanders’s mission was to see the charismatic Florida Scrub-Jay, a highly regarded study of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of Archbold’s flagship research programs. One curious jay took quite a liking to Sanders as the reporter learned how scientists have been studying the scrub-jay population at Archbold for more than 50 years. Sanders learned how jays are dependent on low and open scrub habitat maintained by fire and are the only species of bird found only in Florida.
The story will highlight how the Florida Scrub-Jay’s threatened status means we must work hard to protect habitats like Florida Scrub that support this iconic species and so many others like it. Habitat loss and fragmentation and lack of appropriate fire management are the primary threats to Florida Scrub-Jays. The loss of intervening scrub habitat that once provided connectivity leaves jay sub-populations isolated and living on disconnected ‘islands’ of Scrub. Florida Scrub-Jays, and other wildlife dependent on the Florida scrub, require connectivity among public and private conservation lands.
Be sure to watch Kerry Sanders onToday with John Fitzpatrick and Hilary Swain this April (currently scheduled for April 12). Follow Archbold’s social media (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter) for more details. And remember, help protect the future of wild Florida by protecting wildlife corridors: networks of functionally connected lands and waters. Share #OneGreenThing on Archbold’s social media so we can all learn from one another as we celebrate Earth Month.
Archbold volunteer Linda Gette has traveled south from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to Archbold for the past seven winters. She spends several months each year providing aid to all the Station’s research programs and more. She recently offered her reflections on the world of Archbold through the eyes of a volunteer.
Gette had thought about becoming a scientist early on, mentioning that, “On entering high school, my plan was to study science. Sadly, our only science teacher was so inept he could have made Einstein himself seek another field, and I moved on…until many years later, when an African safari reminded me of that connection to nature that I had lost. I began birding, then got interested in botany, more as a hobbyist than as a scientist, and eventually seven years ago my interest led me to volunteer at Archbold Biological Station. What a thrill to be able to work at such a world-renowned institution! And what an education to see the rigorous scientific discipline here!”
She continued “Many non-scientists picture scientific discoveries, as somewhat casual observations that lead to brief experiments, that lead to ‘aha moments’ of discovery.” According to Linda, “Nothing could be further from the truth. During my 7 winters volunteering at Archbold I have learned that these discoveries are the results of years and years of careful measurements, meticulous note-taking, and thorough analysis, and what a treat for a non-scientist to be able to participate in this work!”
As volunteer for the Herpetology Program, Gette has waded through Saw Palmettos tracking Gopher Tortoises for the longest-running tortoise study ever undertaken, taking notes as marked tortoises were observed and keeping careful records of activities, locations, and measurements of the animals’ growth. With Avian Ecology, she helped with the 76-year study of Florida Scrub-Jays, where records have been maintained for generations of each jay family: the parents, the offspring who remain to help care for their younger siblings, their territories, and their nesting and foraging activities. She even recently got to report the weather data—adding to records that have been kept every day for 89 years!
Assisting the Plant Ecology and Restoration Ecology Programs, Gette assisted with measuring and recording the growth of Florida Rosemary plants and clumps of Wiregrass. With Restoration Ecology, she hauled equipment to measure pond depths as part of a 22-year study and monitored groundwater levels for a 14-year study. She remembered, “Once, while helping on the groundwater study, I noticed that I had spatters of mud all over the legs of my pants…and then noticed that the spatters were moving. Fire ants! I was glad the scientist I was working with was female, because I ripped off my field pants fast!” Most recently, Gette joined the Archbold Land Management team in the ongoing battle against the non-native Natal Grass, a pretty but highly invasive plant which has been overpowering the native species on one part of Red Hill at Archbold.
Perhaps one of Gette’s favorite volunteer activities is with the Archbold Education Program, leading walks for the hundreds of school children who usually visit Archbold each year. “So many of the children have never been for a walk in the special, endangered scrub ecosystem in which they live. Many fear they will be attacked by some wild animal (no doubt, as seen on TV!) when they step outside. What a pleasure to see them unfold like a flower as they take in the interesting, exciting reality around them!” Gette exclaimed. “For the past year, Archbold has been closed to public tours and field trips, but we will be throwing open the gates as soon as this virus is under control and will be welcoming the return of our veteran volunteers as well as new ones!”
A small black fly sits on a Saw Palmetto blossom sipping nectar. Suddenly, a fine-mesh net scoops up the fly. It will be taken to the Archbold Biological Station insect lab and identified under a microscope. Its association with Saw Palmetto flowers will be added to a huge list of relationships between insects and flowers at the Station.
After decades of pouncing on flower-visiting insects, local scientists see patterns emerging from the massive pile of information. Since all this work was done on the grounds of the Archbold Biological Station, researchers like Archbold Emeritus Entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup can finally glimpse the complex network of insect-flower relationships that may develop in a single place. Here is just one of the insights from this study.
There is a well-known mutually beneficial relationship between bees and flowers: bees get nectar and pollen, while flowers are fertilized by having their pollen carried from one flower to another so that seeds can form. At the Station, however, bees are not the largest group of insects attracted to flowers. These other visitors include hundreds of species of wasps, flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies. “Many of these insects may be important flower pollinators, but they may also be important in other ways in the community in which they live,” said Deyrup.
The energy that insects get from the nectar of flowers fuels a host of specialized activities. For example, after fueling up on Saw Palmetto nectar a Paper Wasp might zoom off to find a caterpillar that it would chew up into a kind of hamburger to feed its young. A plump Gray Blister Beetle might leave a Palafoxia flower and land on nearby sand to lay eggs that will hatch into larvae that seek out the buried eggs of grasshoppers. A batch of Longhorn Beetles on a Prickly Pear Cactus flower might go on to produce larvae that help recycle rotten wood. A brown and yellow Hover Fly on a Gopher Apple flower might disperse to a recently burned area where its maggots will develop in fire-scorched cactus pads.
The flowers that delight us in Florida’s natural habitats support a complex network of interactions. Deyrup remarked, “Flowers are like gas stations where a parade of insects passes through to tank up on nectar before going off to their various jobs in the surrounding community. Of course, automotive gas stations are seldom so beautiful that poets write odes to them, nor do their Facebook portraits garner loads of ‘likes’.”
Many plant and animal species in Florida are considered rare for one common reason: loss of native habitat. Much of this loss is due to land conversion for agriculture, urban and suburban development, or lack of appropriate land management. Natural areas that these rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals call home are becoming fewer and fewer. Furthermore, many of the remaining parcels are degraded, often due to years of fire suppression (fire is a natural and necessary feature of nearly all native Florida ecosystems), human disturbance (e.g. public dumping, off-road vehicles), or very invasive, non-native species. Rare species persisting in these suboptimal habitats, in many cases, are unable to move to well-managed conservation properties. For example, Gopher Tortoises are highly unlikely to successfully cross a busy road to better habitat. Scrub Jays often fail to disperse and end up occupying low quality habitats embedded in neighborhoods with bird feeders providing abundant, but lower quality food for raising chicks. Plants, such as the Titusville Scrub Balm, are rooted to the ground and their seeds do not disperse far to new locations. In these cases, plants and animals may need to be rescued from unfavorable habitats and translocated to new parcels with long-term conservation protection.
In February, Archbold Biological Station’s Plant Ecology Program traveled from their own Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County, east to the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Brevard County, to meet with long-time collaborator, Suzanne Kennedy of Floravista Inc. This coastal ridge shares some similar endemic species to the Lake Wales Ridge, but also has its own unique species. One of these is the endemic Titusville Scrub Balm (Dicerandra thinicola), found only on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Brevard County. “The Titusville Scrub Balm is known to occur at only a few scattered sites along a 12 mile stretch of this Ridge,” describes Eric Menges, Program Director of the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold, “and even fewer sites on this Ridge are protected for conservation of Florida scrub habitat than on the Lake Wales Ridge.” One site this scrub balm occurs on is a city groundwater recharging site, providing it with limited protection. A second site is protected for conservation of Florida habitats, but is an introduced population, planted there by Kennedy and ABS scientists in 2002 and 2003. “With so few protected sites, this rare species needs translocations to help it persist,” remarks Menges.
Translocating a species is more than just planting plants in a new location. “There is a lot that goes into a species translocation,” describes research assistant Stephanie Koontz. “We have to locate a recipient site that is under conservation protection, has the appropriate soil and habitat type, and an active land managing agency or organization willing and able to manage the site in a favorable way for this species.” Luckily for this team, Brevard County has its Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, established to acquire and manage natural areas within the county for conservation, recreation, and environmental education. This program was approved by Brevard County voters in 1990 and is funded by voter-approved ad valorem taxes. “Titusville Scrub Balm requires habitats in coastal Florida Scrub, managed with occasional fire (every 4-9 years), and yellow sand soils. Yes, these soils truly have a yellow hue to them and are different than traditional white sand soils,” explains Kennedy. “Several parcels managed by the Environmentally Endangered Lands program met these criteria and one, Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, was selected for the Scrub Balm translocation.”
In addition to locating a suitable recipient site for the translocation of Titusville Scrub Balm, the team also needed plants. “Moving plants by digging them up, potting them for transport, and then replanting them is not very easy, and often unsuccessful,” explains Koontz. “Soil disturbance can damage roots, changes in sun exposure and moisture can be stressful, and sometimes, plants just don’t survive the move, a reaction known as transplant shock. Furthermore, our goal is to create an additional site, not reduce another one.” Previous work done by the Archbold Plant Ecology Program and collaborators at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, demonstrated stem cuttings of these mint species (Dicerandra) can establish their own root system. Bok uses a diluted rooting hormone solution, which triggers the stem to initiate root growth and establish a new plant. “After a few months of growth, these Titusville Scrub Balm plants will be ready for their new home!” exclaims Koontz. “And hopefully soon after, we will observe flowering, seed set, and seedling recruitment. These three steps are some of the key indications that the translocation, initially, is successful. Continued monitoring over several years will inform us if this new site is well established and able to persist over decades.”
Two earlier posts (7/9/20 and 8/20/20) were published in the Scrub Blog and this is Part 3 of that series.
Authors: Joe Gentili and Fred Lohrer
Richard Archbold personally led three expeditions to the island of New Guinea during the 1930s. The third of these expeditions took place from 1938-39 and was a watershed moment in the history of 20th century Pacific Exploration, which brought Archbold and crew to the world’s attention. Thousands of specimens were collected for the American Museum of Natural History. These have been studied for decades, including recent work done by Dr. Lauren Oliver, a frog researcher at the Museum. “Oliver utilized other museums’ collections as well the Museum’s own extensive records. These include many specimens from the Museum’s pioneering 1930s expeditions to the interior of New Guinea…sponsored by Museum supporter Richard Archbold. Information from Archbold’s expeditions not only added to Oliver’s research, but also helped guide her to sites she could revisit decades later to collect further frog specimens,” according to a 2016 Museum article.
The third expedition led to fame for Archbold for two main reasons aside from the staggering number of biological specimens collected. Firstly, he was celebrated for a major anthropological discovery. “On June 23, 1938, during a reconnaissance flight between the coast and alpine Lake Habbema, Richard Archbold discovered the Balim Valley. Approximately 5,000 – 5,500 feet above sea level, in Netherlands New Guinea (Irian Jaya, now Papua Province of Indonesia), 60,000 natives were living in an unknown valley of the Balim River on the north slope of the Snow Mountains,” says Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer. Other populations of Native peoples were known throughout the island but on this date Archbold was the first person not born on New Guinea to see this large civilization and observe what they had constructed.
Secondly, Archbold and crew made a variety of aviation achievements in his plane Guba II. This was at a time when air travel was dominating the public consciousness and imagination. In his PBY-2 Catalina Flying Boat, sometimes flying solo, and sometimes with his crewmembers in tow, Archbold reached many aviation milestones. Fred Lohrer described some of these exploits, “In July 1938, in Guba II, Archbold landed and took off from Lake Habbema, Netherlands New Guinea, a height of 3225 meters (10,580 feet) above sea level. This is the highest elevation that a seaplane lifted off from. In 1938-1939, he and crew completed the first flight around the world at its widest diameter, approximately at the equator.” This flight includes three ‘firsts’ as noted in the attached chart. The trip was accomplished in eight distinct legs beginning in 1938; however, most of the legs took place during a five-week period from late May until early July 1939. The feat was celebrated widely at the time in countless newspaper and magazine articles as well as in newsreel footage.
Archbold wrote about the expedition for National Geographic Magazine, which published a 29-page photo essay in its March 1941 Issue. He stated in the article that, “The decision to fly home by the longest way came about while Guba was in Sydney for supplies. The Commonwealth of Australia and the British Government had been interested in a proposal made by Captain P.G. Taylor to survey an aerial route across the Indian Ocean…Taylor was commissioned to find a ship, but none suitable for so long a journey were available until the Guba arrived in Sydney. This would give us an opportunity to circle the globe near its greatest circumference and to pioneer in unknown skies.”
Richard Archbold kept a variety of artifacts from his time in New Guinea and Lohrer wrote, “There were 50-100 black & white 4”x5” photos from the second and third New Guinea expeditions in envelopes. They were floating around when I arrived at the Station [in 1972], perhaps in the ‘Museum,’ where Richard Archbold had a desk, and where he set type for the specimen labels when he was the collections manager for all the biological collections. I had the idea that they were contact prints sent to him as a sample of the photos published in the American Museum of Natural History Bulletin Account of the expedition.”
Part 4 of the series will consider the expeditions Richard Archbold sponsored in the 1950s and 1960s after permanently moving to Highlands County, Florida and establishing Archbold Biological Station in 1941.
When Dr. Joan Morrison first arrived at Buck Island Ranch as a University of Florida graduate student studying Crested Caracaras, she had no idea that after nearly 30 years she would still be coming to the Ranch to study these unique birds of prey. Caracaras are native to Florida and are easily recognizable with their orange faces, yellow legs, and jaunty black caps. They can often be seen in our region perched on fence posts or flying along roads searching for carrion. One of Morrison’s initial findings was that Caracaras really like cattle ranches, in fact they thrive in these habitats, which also support many other wildlife species such as wading birds, deer, Indigo Snakes, Gopher Tortoises, Red-shouldered Hawks, and even panthers and bears. Over the years Morrison has successfully partnered with many ranchers in south-central Florida.
According to Morrison, “Caracaras really like improved pasture habitat, they get along well with cattle and all the activities associated with managing a ranch such as burning, mowing and, of course cattle grazing.” These pasture habitats are increasingly being converted to something else, for example, urban development and other agriculture, so the Caracara population is listed as threatened due to habitat loss.
Buck Island Ranch has at least a half a dozen pairs of Caracaras nesting on the property. Pairs typically use the same nest tree from year to year and can raise as many as 3 chicks. Their nesting season is primarily during Florida’s winter months, so March is a very active month during which many young Caracaras are ready to leave the nest. Caracaras are very social and after the young birds leave their home territory, they often congregate in groups, feeding together and roaming throughout south-central Florida seeking food and pasture habitats. Along with carrion, which can be easily found along roads, Caracaras eat a variety of vertebrates including lizards, snakes, birds, rabbits, mice, and turtles, and invertebrates including worms, beetles, larvae, and even ants.
Recently, Morrison has returned to Florida to capture nesting Caracaras. She explained, “The purpose of this research is to band the birds and fit them with solar-powered transmitters. These transmitters will collect location data that will provide needed information on where the Caracaras feed during the day and roost at night. Because I can track the Caracaras’ movements via the Internet, I can begin to understand how these birds respond to the land use changes ongoing throughout this region of Florida.” Capturing Caracaras requires permits from agencies, and very specific procedures, as these are very smart birds! Morrison remarked, “The birds remember a capture experience so each individual can only be captured once, thus great care must be taken in preparation for these activities. The data these birds provide are invaluable and seeing one of these beautiful birds up close is well worth it!”
Dr. Joan Morrison presented her Caracara research for the virtual event ‘East to West: Comparing species at the East Foundation in Texas and Archbold Biological Station in Florida.’ Visit Archbold’s YouTube page to watch: https://youtu.be/fSLuPqpsOdw
If you accompany scientists from Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program on one of their morning field excursions, you might be surprised to see a researcher squat down, rub a tiny sprout between their fingers, and then give their hand a careful sniff. As program intern Erin Stewart explains, “Each month we perform seedling checks for a species of scrub mint called Garrett’s Mint. Often these seedlings are extremely small, and the only way to tell them apart from other species is to smell them. Even the tiniest seedlings have a distinctly minty odor!”
The smell can also help members of the Plant Ecology Program distinguish between different species of scrub mint. According to Program Director Dr. Eric Menges, “Garrett’s Minthas a bracing eucalyptus smell,” such that you “sometimes notice the plant after you have stepped on it.” Meanwhile, the scent of the related Lake Placid Scrub Balmis “like spearmint gum,” and the coastal mint, Titusville Balm, smells “a lot sweeter,” according to research assistant Lexi Siegle.
Mints are not the only aromatic species gracing the scrub. Another lab favorite is Hog Plum. Although often cursed for its thorns that easily poke through field pants, the plant produces flowers that smell quite pleasant. Research assistant Stephanie Koontz describes the scent as “sweet, almost like honey that saturates the air around you.” Meanwhile, the leaves, when crushed up, release an almond-like odor. Scrub Bay also has fragrant leaves similar in smell to “the sweet bay leaf you would use in the kitchen for soup,” according to program intern Haley Dole.
Researchers clearly appreciate these smells, but what is in it for the plant? Plants release odors for two primary reasons: to attract pollinators and deter herbivores. Regarding pollinator attraction, the leaves and flowers of many plants release scents that appeal to specific groups of insects. For instance, bees are often attracted to the smell of herbs, such as the scrub mints studied by Archbold scientists. Some flies are also drawn to these sweet scents, while others pollinate plants that release putrid odors. Many plants that rely on beetles for pollination release quite pungent smells that may be fruity or spicy.
Smells may also function to deter insects and other herbivores. For example, the odor of almonds is commonly associated with the presence of cyanide, as many murder mystery fanatics are aware. In plants such as Hog Plum, cyanogenic compounds are released in response to leaf damage, which functions to prevent further herbivory.
While most plants are adapted to avoid being eaten by insects, carnivorous plants have flipped this dynamic and consume insects themselves. Here again, scents come in handy. Research at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research by Ashraf El-Sayed and colleagues has shown that a certain species of sundew releases different sets of odors from its traps and its flowers such that prey species are attracted to the former and pollinators are attracted to the latter. Thus, through smell the plant can avoid trapping the insects it relies on for pollination. Whether the Pink Sundew, found at Archbold Biological Station, engages in similar chemical signaling remains to be seen.
At Archbold Biological Station, the Plant Ecology Program has just wrapped up their yearly demography surveys on Florida Rosemary. Despite the name, the plant is not related to and does not smell like the rosemary commonly used in cooking, but instead has a very subtle fragrance. Research assistant Scott Ward identifies Florida Rosemary as one of the “most distinct smells” in the scrub, stating that “it smells like ecology in action.” The same could be said for many other plant smells: whether we realize it or not, each sniff tells the story of a particular ecological interaction.
The Lake Wales Ridge is a ribbon of ancient sand dunes forming a backbone down peninsular Florida. Rare scrub habitat found along the Ridge is home to many rare and endangered species and is also home to most people in Highlands County. Archbold scientists work to preserve the rare scrub habitat and the unique biodiversity found on the Ridge. This research contributes to our understanding of how rare species operate and thrive within the unique ecosystems found on the Ridge. Archbold also works on the importance of connecting conservation lands and waters via ‘wildlife corridors’ to better protect Florida’s larger animals roaming across Florida in search of mates and habitat.
In 2019, to bring attention to the rare species found in the unique habitats of the Lake Wales Ridge, and to amplify awareness for wildlife corridors, three Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition trekkers traveled along the Lake Wales Ridge. The trekkers, conservation photographer Carlton Ward, Jr., seventh-generation Floridian and Archbold Board Member Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, and Archbold research scientist Joe Guthrie, made their way through the landscape tapestry of the Ridge on horseback, foot, and paddleboard. This ‘Ranch to Ridge’ Expedition was a 7-day trek from Highlands Hammock State Park to the Tiger Creek Preserve in Polk County. Their 60-mile path wove through a diverse array of lands; from private ranches and residential neighborhoods to public lands, highlighting how the habitat connections sustain the wildlife and wildlands.
The 18-minute film about this expedition, The Wild Divide, was just released to the public on February 14th across social media platforms. The film showcases Florida’s search for solutions to connect, protect, and restore our vital wildlife corridor and the animals that call it home. Joe Guthrie, expedition trekker and Archbold Predator-Prey Research Scientist stated, “Beginning in Highlands Hammock State Park we headed west from the Ridge, then turned north to traverse a network private ranches and public lands on horseback. As we moved north, we gradually turned east to find a crossing point along US27 south of Frostproof, where we began traveling on foot. East of US27 we trekked through a network of state and federal lands as well as a private conservation bank before turning north again, and we ended up on paddleboards at The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve on the Ridge near Lake Wales.”
When scientists and staff from Archbold met with the expedition team, they emphasized how threatened species need the connectivity wildlife corridors can provide. At a state-owned conservation area near Sebring, the expeditioners and film crews met with Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program Director Dr. Reed Bowman and Research Assistant Rebecca Windsor as they banded threatened Florida Scrub-Jays. The scientists explained their research and how they monitor and analyze the jay populations continually, helping inform conservation decisions and protect the critical habitats upon which the jays rely.
Archbold’s Plant Ecology Research Assistant Stephanie Koontz talked with the expedition team at The Nature Conservancy’s Saddle Blanket Scrub Preserve north of Avon Park, showing them the threatened plant, the Avon Park Harebell (Crotalaria avonensis). Although the footage was not included in the final film, she explained how this rare, plant, a yellow-flowered, deep-rooted pea, occurs at just three Florida scrub sites, all in Highlands and Polk counties.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor organization Executive Director Jason Lauritsen explains, “The weave in the landscape tapestry is fine and complex, and it requires the discipline of science to expose, understand, measure, and prioritize the essential relationships at work in our ecosystem. For the non-scientist, this is often daunting. However, it is important to understand why a corridor is worth protecting at all.” The Florida Wildlife Corridor organization hopes The Wild Divide, will serve to illustrate why Florida’s wildlife corridors urgently need this protection.
The Archbold Biological Station is the headquarters of a long-term exploration of the strange world of Florida ants. Florida’s ants are remarkably diverse, including over 240 species. There are more kinds of ants in Florida than in any other state in the East, a fact that is somehow missing from tourist brochures. Most of us are usually only aware of a few of these small animals: the ones that invade our kitchens or run up our legs when we tread on their nests. Out of sight and out of mind are most Florida ants, for example the many species that build tiny tunnels and chambers in sand beneath our feet or hang out in dead twigs in the tops of trees, or dwell in the rich layers of dead leaves in Florida’s forests.
Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director shares that, “Archbold is so fortunate to have hosted Dr. Mark Deyrup, now Archbold Emeritus Entomologist, cataloguing the ant populations of the Station since 1982. His vast knowledge of Florida’s ants was summarized in his 2017 book, Ants of Florida, Identification and Natural History, but whenever you run into Mark, he always tells a new ant story, or some tidbit of ant-know-how that just sticks with you forever.” Dr Deyrup recently 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.”
The Florida Rosemary Big-Headed Ant (Pheidole adrianoi, Illustration 1) digs deep burrows in open sand around Florida Rosemary shrubs. Workers of this species come in two sizes; the smaller individuals probably gather tiny seeds that the large ones grind up with their massive jaws. The Florida Rosemary scrub habitat of this ant is also home to many other specialized insects.
The Common Stopper Ant (Camponotus impressus, Illustration 2) lives in hollow dead twigs up in living trees. Some larger workers, like the one shown here, have an enlarged head used to plug the entrance hole into the twig if the ant colony is attacked. Another twig-inhabiting ant introduced from the tropics might be threatening Florida Stopper Ants, but this has not been studied. Threats to ant species don’t get much attention from conservationists.
The Woolly Pygmy Snapping Ant (Strumigenys lanuginose, Illustration 3) is a rare species found in layers of dead leaves in tropical mainland Florida. Its long jaws can snap shut in a fraction of a second to impale creatures even smaller than itself. The long, curved hairs on its abdomen are unique to this species; their function is a total mystery. This ant was probably introduced accidentally in pots of plants from tropical South America or the Caribbean, but like many introduced ants in Florida it is too uncommon to be considered a threat to native species.
The peculiar features and behaviors of small animals such as these ants are fascinating in themselves and could also be instructive as human technology moves to produce ever smaller machines. We currently have no micro-machines that could efficiently go out to gather and process tiny objects such as small seeds, or neatly hollow out a crooked dead twig, or stalk and kill prey the size of a flea, all the while surviving the many dangers besetting small animals.
Subscribers to Archbold’s virtual event series received a special treat last week, a new and completely different type of virtual presentation: Wild Observations at Archbold Biological Station was the first-ever interactive art salon event hosted by Archbold. Conservation artist and environmental advocate Deborah Mitchell first came to Archbold in 2016 and has returned several times since to further her mission of educating and promoting conservation of Florida’s wild spaces. Her latest project, Wild Observations, is a fusion of art and science aimed to prompt discussions about man’s precarious relationship with nature and its implications.
Mitchell explained, “Why art and science? My motivation as a conservation artist is to help preserve the environment for future generations. The research and management of our wild places provide support for the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, and our water supply, and this affects everybody, no matter what you do in life.”
News-Sun readers may recall Deborah Mitchell’s visit to Archbold in November, which laid the foundation for this innovative event. Mitchell describes herself as a visual storyteller, using visual arts to enhance our understanding of why the environment is so vital to our health. The artist spent time in the scrub and in the labs with Archbold scientists Reed Bowman, Mark Deyrup, and Hilary Swain, with Archbold educator Dustin Angell acting as photographer and videographer for the project. The resulting interviews, photos, and collections transformed over two months into a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of the connections between living things and why those connections matter.
Archbold Executive Director Hilary Swain remarked, “Having Deborah here has lifted us in many ways. One of the many wonderful things about working with artists and scientists is this confluence of observations, creativity, and curiosity and the wonderful conversations that come from that.”
The virtual event featured alternating short videos and slideshows with commentary from Mitchell and the Archbold scientists on topics ranging from ranchlands, wetlands conservation and water flow, to bird communications, to insects and pollinators. A short presentation on bear tracking and a discussion with Archbold’s Predator Prey Program Director, Joe Guthrie ended the exhibition.
On the surface, art and science may appear as opposing concepts, but the fusion of the two works to spark dialogue in directions we might otherwise overlook. Dustin Angell was intrigued, “I had the pleasure of being behind the camera, photographing Deborah and recording her conversations with the researchers. She kept us all on our toes with her unanticipated questions and new perspectives, which is the fun part of working with artists. That, and all the cool art they make.”
There is much to be said about the serendipitous discoveries made during field work. While work is challenging as a field biologist, we are often lucky enough to cross paths with a variety of unique life forms while in the field.
“Serendipity is one of the primary reasons I sought a career that gave me the excuse to be outdoors,” elaborates Scott Ward, a plant ecologist at Archbold Biological Station. “In Florida, in particular, there is almost a guarantee that during field work you will somehow stumble across some species unique to Florida, and perhaps even unique to one small area of Florida.”
Such is the case on Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge, where high rates of endemism, or incidences in which species occur in one restricted region and nowhere else in the world, can often be observed during field work. While there is always a chance of experiencing some sort of serendipitous encounter with wildlife or other natural life forms, there is a much higher rate that while on the Lake Wales Ridge, you may encounter a species with little documentation and often few digital pictures.
“I always have this sneaking suspicion that the days I don’t bring my camera with me in my field bag will be the days we encounter something rare or scantily documented,” says Scott. He continues, “…that’s why I basically treat my camera as something essential to bring along as a field biologist-a bottle of water, writing utensil, datasheets…a camera. It’s merely an extension of the things I need to be prepared in the field.” Often taking clear pictures helps with records of species identifications after field work is over. Posting these photos to online applications like iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/) means there’s a good chance that a taxonomic expert will offer a suggestion on the species’ identification. It’s virtually effortless now to upload pictures to these platforms and seek input. There are usually at least a few taxonomic experts across most groups of plants and animals and other species nowadays; these online forums and platforms just make connecting easier.
“There were numerous instances in the past year or so where I wasn’t sure if we were observing something unique during field work, but I didn’t have the knowledge at the time to make a definitive identification,” says Scott. “Getting back from the field, seeking input from other naturalists, and learning that some of these organisms are extremely rare makes my experiences in the field that much richer. There are of course a number of other species I’m awaiting my lucky encounters with, but some apparently will have to wait for serendipity.”
Scott continues, “Sometimes I didn’t even realize until months afterwards that I was seeing something unique.” After uploading a picture of an unknown bee to iNaturalist in September 2019 (Photo 1), taxonomic experts later identified the specimen as Florida Fork-tongue Bee (Caupolicana floridana), a restricted species of plasterer bee only known from the Lake Wales Ridge, and only recently described by scientists including Mark Deyrup form Archbold. My simple field observation helped current researchers at the Florida Natural History Museum, Clint Gibson and Chase Kimmel, determine additional field sites for their research on this bee.
There were other instances, too. A unique color morph of the Apache Jumping Spider (Phidippus apacheanus), known only from the Archbold area was seen last September and more recently, the Lake Placid Funnel Wolf Spider (Sosippus placidus) was observed during a rare plant search in late December. Scott concluded, “It is these rare instances where if we just stop and take a moment to observe and appreciate the small complexities of the natural world, then we may be fortunate enough to see something few others have seen. Merely keeping one’s eyes peeled for the rare and unique, and not passing off anything as ordinary, means any amateur naturalist can help taxonomists and biologists better understand unique parts of the world.”
Eric Stein (1957-2021), Archbold Biological Station’s Chief Financial Officer for 15 years, passed away in Sebring, Florida from complications of COVID-19 on January 13th, 2021. Always kind, immensely friendly, forever-smiling, ever-humorous, Eric served as one of the great ‘unsung heroes’ of Archbold, a team member who worked incredibly hard behind the scenes to ensure the financial and fiduciary wheels of the organization ran smoothly. All Archbold’s achievements over these years—science, conservation, and education—were underpinned by his skills. He touched the organization in so many ways, playing countless, often unrecognized, roles in all our lives.
For a guy that was not really that interested in science or nature, Eric was nonetheless totally dedicated to Archbold. He took an almost Herculean hard-work approach to his vast range of responsibilities. When interviewing for the job he expressed, “My biggest concern is coming from South Florida’s fast-paced banks and companies. Once I’ve got everything sorted out here, I’m worried I’ll get bored.” He later admitted, almost ruefully, he had never had a boring day at Archbold. A talented and smart financial manager, he directed the ever-expanding financial operations for Archbold’s large and complicated not-for-profit corporation in Venus, Florida. Always up for a new challenge, he oversaw the finances for everything from scientists’ research budgets and their myriad grants, to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch cattle operation, fundraising, lodging and food services, and so much more. He was deeply engaged in innumerable contracts including the construction of Archbold’s award-winning LEED® Platinum green building. A terrific negotiator, he always got a good price on anything from a truck, to a phone contract, to purchases of land. Eric’s maxim that integrity is paramount, meant that he never favored himself above others, and ensured fairness and honesty throughout. On top of these fundamentals, he loved coming to work at a place where jeans, shorts, and flip flops are the daily norm.
Deaf since birth, Eric was transformed by the miracle of his cochlear implant about 20 years ago. It was a measure of his intelligence and positive attitude that he earned a degree in Business Administration / Finance-Accounting in 1979 from the University of Florida, before this cochlear implant, without dispensations or additional help, but by lip-reading and borrowing other’s notes. Eric never complained but always explained about hearing loss. At Archbold we were so fortunate to learn from him about accommodating the many challenges faced by those born into a soundless world: buzzy speaker phones, the excruciating wailing in his cochlear implant from wireless sensors installed in new buildings; acoustically reflective surfaces, and of course crowded rooms. He was gleeful at the advent of Zoom—welcoming the technology with headphones for clear sound, every speaker face-to-face facilitating lip reading, and the benefit of speech recognition text scrolling across the bottom of his screen. His palpable delight was almost childlike.
Eric was deeply loyal to friends and colleagues. Messages of condolence are flooding into Archbold and to his family. Once you were a friend of Eric’s, you were a friend for life. He was the epitome of bonhomie, embracing everyone’s company and enjoying all those he met. Cruising through Archbold’s world of science and environmental conversations, Eric had an unnerving, almost uncanny ability to single out and latch onto a fellow sports fanatic. So much the better if they were a fan of any sports team from his alma mater, University of Florida. He was a true Gator! If you supported another team, he never missed an opportunity to remind you that your team had just lost.
Eric’s other go-to subject of conversation was always his family, and he would invariably also inquire about your family and their lives. He was inordinately proud of his two daughters, Megan Stein Cantrell, now Lecturer at University of Florida, and the lovable Madison, still in school. After they moved to Highlands County, he supported them in all their endeavors, mostly completely new to him. Born in Brooklyn, New York he had never anticipated that his life as a family man would involve the Future Farmers of America (FFA), daughters raising hogs, state fairs, and so on, but he jumped into all that goes with living in a rural community. He was one of the best-loved, and most widely known ambassadors for Archbold in Highlands County, from Seacoast Bank, to the Chamber of Commerce, to the agriculture community.
Eric leaves his wife Gail, his daughters Megan and Madison, and son-in law Matthew Cantrell: our love, deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family and many friends. He also leaves the entire community of Archbold—staff, board, visitors, volunteers, supporters, and beyond—just devastated in the trail of his untimely departure. Farewell Eric, Archbold salutes you as one of our real heroes. You are greatly missed and will be remembered, forever.
Just before Christmas, Archbold Herpetology Program staff were happy to assist in returning a rehabilitated Eastern Indigo Snake to the wild. After being found badly injured in September in a densely populated area of Highlands County, the snake arrived at Swamp Girl Adventures Reptile Rehabilitation on September 24. Rehabilitator Kim Titterington remembers, “The snake arrived with traumatic injuries to his body, scabs and fresh scar tissue from what may have been an encounter with lawn equipment. The injuries were healing fairly well, but the scar tissue was tight and dry, constricting his midsection.” The snake was also dehydrated and unable to hunt and eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight while healing.
Every individual Eastern Indigo Snake is important for survival of the species. As Archbold’s Director of Herpetology, Betsie Rothermel, explains, “Eastern Indigos have been extirpated from some parts of their former range, such as the Florida Panhandle, and are declining in most other areas as urbanization reduces their upland habitats. Though the southern Lake Wales Ridge region is still home to relatively healthy populations, their future is by no means secure given future projections of human population growth and development.” Thus, Eastern Indigos are federally designated as Threatened and protected in Florida.
Titterington and staff went to work to save this snake, providing it with fluids, antibiotics, and lots and lots of food. During the four months of rehab, the snake gained almost 200 grams in body weight and grew almost four inches! The team confirmed he was eating, shedding, and gaining weight, then consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to determine if he was fit for release, rather than live a life in captivity. All deemed the snake fit to survive and thrive in the wild, and Titterington contacted Dr. Rothermel to discuss release.
Since the snake would face too many dangers in its former home, Dr. Rothermel assisted rehabilitators in finding a safer location. After four months in rehab, the scarred but healthy Indigo traveled back to Highlands County on December 20. The group traveled deep into the scrub on protected land far from any roads and said their goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment as they watched the snake explore his new home, then disappear into the palmettos. Kim Titterington remarked, “I never thought I’d see an Indigo come into rehabilitation. I am so thankful we could save him and release an endangered species back into the wild!”
Eastern Indigos are large animals that require large, roadless spaces to roam. They can reach more than 8 feet in length, making them the longest snake in North America. Though nonvenomous, they are top predators, hunting and consuming a wide variety of small mammals and other reptiles, including many other snakes.
Swamp Girl Adventures Reptile Rehabilitation (www.swampgirladventures.org) is a licensed wildlife rescue team focused on the care of reptiles and amphibians, as well as educating the public about wildlife through educational programs and videos. “Archbold does not have the specially trained staff and facilities needed to treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife,” explains Dr. Rothermel, “so we are very grateful for people like Kim who are dedicated to this important work.” If you come across injured reptiles or other wildlife, check this website to find a wildlife rehabilitator who can help: https://myfwc.com/media/5423/licensedwildliferehabilitatorsbyregion.pdf
The specific release location is undisclosed because of the species’ protected status. Eastern Indigo Snakes may only be handled by individuals with appropriate scientific research or other permits. However, members of the public are encouraged to contribute sightings of Eastern Indigo Snakes to FWC’s Rare Snake Registry (https://public.myfwc.com/fwri/raresnakes/UserHome.aspx?id=) where you can also report sightings of other upland species, like Southern Hognose Snakes and Florida Pine Snakes. For more info on Eastern Indigos, visit: https://www.oriannesociety.org/about/the-eastern-indigo-snake/
In the Fall of 2020, Archbold Biological Station biologist Dr. Betsie Rothermel, along with Drs. Sarah Fitzpatrick and Gideon Bradburd of Michigan State University’s W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, were awarded a grant through the National Science Foundation to fund a study based at Archbold, exploring the concept of ‘genetic rescue,’ the idea that new genes can help otherwise small and inbred populations withstand environmental stress.
Dr. Sarah Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor at Kellogg Biological Station’s Department of Integrative Biology, is the principal investigator on the new project. In her presentation to Archbold’s Research Symposium on December 10, Dr. Fitzpatrick described how genetic rescue can be used to boost population sizes of endangered species by introducing genetic variation to a dwindling population. She discussed the widely known genetic rescue success story of the introduction of eight Texas Pumas to Florida in 1995 which helped overcome the inbreeding and decline of the Florida Panther population, and the resultant increase in numbers and genetic diversity. Fitzpatrick also mentioned she is working on genetic rescue in the federally threatened Florida Scrub-Jay: this was just featured in a full-length article “Rescue Mission” in the Winter 2020 Issue of National Audubon magazine. While the Florida Panther project and a handful of other examples have been successful, Fitzpatrick concluded that genetic rescue is not a widely used strategy for population management, largely because there are still too many unknowns and possible risks when introducing new individuals to an established population.
Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director noted, “We are delighted that Sarah and her co-investigator Betsie Rothermel received this highly-competitive, peer-reviewed, NSF science award. Sarah is to be commended for her success at this early stage in her career. Just as increasing genetic knowledge brought huge benefits for human health, so will increasing genetic knowledge of plants and animals improve conservation outcomes. This research will enhance our understanding of genetic rescue as a tool for conservation: this has relevance for many of the plants and animals worldwide that are already on the edge of extinction, and also that other species do not end up in the same perilous position.”
This newly funded project at Archbold addresses the need for more testing of genetic rescue to gain acceptance as a tool for conserving biodiversity. Fitzpatrick aims to gain a better understanding of the benefits of increasing genetic diversity by performing long-term experiments on Eastern Mosquitofish. She notes that, “Using a common species like mosquitofish provides a chance to experiment and fine-tune the strategy in a way you can’t do with endangered species.” At Archbold, several outdoor tanks have already been constructed to mimic isolated populations of fish and allow researchers to control the evolutionary history of those populations and the environments they experience. The group plans to track changes in genes and in the number of fish in each tank, ultimately hoping to improve the design, implementation, and monitoring of genetic rescue in imperiled species.
According to Fitzpatrick, “We will be monitoring the tanks for hopefully up to two more years, making this a unique long-term multigenerational dataset with lots of replication, which is the kind of study we need to improve our understanding of genetic rescue and use it for conservation purposes. This is important because genetic rescue is typically used as a last resort strategy when a population is on the brink of extinction,” continues Fitzpatrick. “But if we can show that introducing new genetic variation can speed up adaptation to environmental change—it could have major implications for conservation and management of biodiversity.”
The 2020 year began like any other at Archbold…research programs continuing their long-term studies, college graduates arriving to begin their internships, university professors and elementary school teachers scheduling their yearly excursions. Executive Assistant Laura Reed remembers starting her new job around this time, “My start date was in early February 2020, and I was instantly in awe of the talent and vast knowledge centered right here in Venus. There was so much to learn, and I was excited to become part of the team. Little did I know how quickly my job description would change!” Executive Director Hilary Swain was in and out of the office, traveling around the country for conferences and presentations, and Reed was happy to find out that some of her down-time could be spent with the various research programs, helping with day-to-day activities, and learning about procedures. With COVID things changed rapidly and Archbold staff had to quickly adapt. The year, while very different from previous years and certainly more challenging, ended with some successes.
2020 was a year of transition and adaptation, and Archbold Biological Station’s Science Programs found a way to thrive despite the obstacles faced. Hilary Swain noted, “Like many other businesses this year, Archbold faced massive COVID-related organizational and financial challenges. College classes from across Florida and around the world cancelled their visits, as did conferences, meetings and overnight visits from conservation groups, state agencies, and research teams. Schoolchildren visits were cancelled. They all tell us they don’t anticipate new visits until mid-2021. Our resident interns, who all decided to stay on site, were moved from their crowded dorms into small groups in Archbold’s cottage housing to increase safety. New interns and staff have to quarantine before they join research groups. Researchers are divided into small ‘siloed’ and socially distanced teams to reduce cross-program interactions. Food service ceased. Reluctantly we decided to close to the public until further notice, so we could maintain essential science and keep staff and residents safe.”
Swain continued, “Despite these disruptions, and the many limitations, I am delighted to say that our key programs have forged ahead this year. Technology saved us. I have no idea how we would have managed without Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and dedicated IT support for staff working from home. Presentations at national conferences are all held online and in December Archbold’s own online Annual Symposium was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the year’s science achievements. Archbold continued to be strongly supported by outside grants and contracts: during 2020 there were 33 active grants for research and land management at the Station and Buck Island Ranch, with several new awards during the year.” Joe Gentili, Archbold Librarian noted, “Archbold research has added 29 scientific publications to its database to date this year, and there will be more to come when final annual entries are completed. These publications helped the Archbold Library reach a significant milestone in 2020: after eight decades of published research, the 2500th publication. Many of these publications are available to the public through ARCHBIB, Archbold’s online database, with older publications still being added: www.archbold-station.org/html/datapub/pub/archbib/search.cfm.”
Archbold took the 2020 opportunity to conduct a deeply thoughtful strategic planning exercise which refocused the organization on increasing conservation outreach and putting more science into conservation action. The organization was successful in seeking outside support for a new Predator Prey research program, a part-time communications specialist, and a new Director of Conservation in 2021.
Regular readers of this Archbold column have learned how the Education and Communications teams adapted and grew through the pandemic—through a variety of online virtual educational opportunities that continue into 2021. Last week, the Archbold 2021 Virtual School Year website was unveiled, and several previous articles have highlighted the evolution of Archbold Education from in-person field trips to virtual scrub tours and lessons, with a total of 10 public virtual nature tours offered in addition to virtual summer Scrub Camp for students. The Communications Team transitioned Archbold’s seminar series from in-person at the Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center to Zoom webinars in living rooms around the world. Nine Archbold staff presented seminars to audiences as far away as Europe and Hawaii! Seven Distinguished Guest Speakers participated virtually from Saskatchewan to Florida. The Archbold intern experience usually ends with a capstone seminar in the Learning Center. This year’s twelve interns were able to present their research through virtual seminars, reaching their families and former classmates as well as Archbold and local attendees. In all, Archbold offered 28 virtual seminars during 2020, as well as the virtual version of the Archbold Symposium. Most of these are available for viewing at www.youtube.com/user/ArchboldExpeditions. With these successes, virtual seminars, and maybe hybrid events combining in-person with virtual, will be the new normal for Archbold forever.
Early on Executive Assistant Laura Reed was appointed as a member of the new Communications Team, and soon became the behind-the-scenes host of nearly all the virtual presentations. She remarked, “At first it was daunting to imagine converting all of our learning and presentations to a virtual format. We just dove into the deep end and started swimming! After much trial and error (and thankfully a LOT of patience and encouragement from our online viewers), we not only stayed afloat but we’ve come out of 2020 with new skills and new audiences for our science news and conservation messages—not just across the United States, but also in other countries. This year added considerably to what I was originally hired to do, but I am fortunate to have gained a new skill set and knowledge from attending EVERY seminar as the host. The 2020 year has fundamentally changed the way Archbold works, forever.”
Archbold Biological Station remains closed to the public until further notice, although continues to provide research and educational opportunities as much and as safely as possible. Archbold staff and Board wish all readers, “A safe, happy, and healthy New Year!”
The Education Program at Archbold Biological Station has some exciting news to share: Director of Education Dustin Angell and Jill Abrahamson Memorial Education Intern, Margaret Davenport have been hard at work on a new Archbold Education website, and they are proud to announce that Archbold’s Virtual Elementary School Program for 3rd-5th grades is now live at www.archbold-education.com!
The new site is geared toward classroom groups; however, many of its features may be used by parents and children outside of school. The site offers not only virtual guided nature tour events (available for all) and video chats with classrooms (by group reservation only), but also pre-recorded content and classroom activities. The public content features educational videos and science lessons centered on the Florida scrub habitat, as well as language arts activities linked to Archbold’s blog articles. Archbold’s original Florida Scrub Coloring Book is available for download as well. All events and resources are being offered without charge by Archbold.
Angell explains the reason for the new website, “Usually, all the local elementary schools visit us each year. The students learn about our ecological research and experience the Florida scrub firsthand. After I learned that all the field trips from the Highlands County School District were canceled this school year due to COVID-19, I contacted them to see how we could help. I knew we could meet the challenge and create multi-media content and remote learning events.”
District Science Specialist, Jennifer Reser recognizes the value of the longstanding science education partnership. She states, “The opportunities that Archbold is able to give the students of Highlands County are truly remarkable. I am very excited about the virtual trips that they are working on to continue to provide the same excellent educational experiences that we are used to. We are incredibly thankful for our partnership and the digital support that Archbold has provided in these challenging times.”
The Archbold team is quick to acknowledge that outdoor education without the outdoors is not the same for the students or the educators. However, eight months of experimenting with remote learning, like running a virtual summer camp, have taught them about the benefits and downsides of remote education. For example, virtual events reach larger audiences from a wider geographic range, and are more accessible to those with mobility issues or heat sensitivities.
Recreating the experience of student choice in nature discovery is one of the aims of Davenport’s intern project. She explains, “One of the major challenges with students visiting virtually, besides the physical disconnect from nature, is that they can’t explore nature on their own terms. They can only see whatever we point our cameras at. Presenting the students with that feeling of discovery is the main inspiration behind my “Choose Your Own Virtual Adventure: Archbold Edition.” Classes can make choices about what they want to see on the nature trail, what questions they want to ask the researchers they meet, and ultimately decide where they go on their virtual nature walk.” To accomplish this, Margaret recorded nearly 30 short video clips from the nature trail. When she video chats with classrooms, their choices will determine which videos are shown.
The 2020-2021 year is not the school year students and educators expected, but thanks to a decades long relationship between the Highlands County School District and Archbold Biological Station, our local children still have the benefit and enjoyment of combining classroom learning with real-world examples of science from their region of Florida. Explore the Archbold Education website at www.archbold-education.com.
On Thursday, December 10, Archbold scientists, staff, colleagues, collaborators, and the public gathered around their computer screens to attend the Fifth Annual Archbold Research Symposium virtually. Like so many gatherings in 2020, the Symposium needed to adapt and go virtual, or not be held this year. “Research at Archbold has never ceased. Our staff continued to collect data in the field under tight guidelines. Visiting scientists continued to travel to Archbold, practicing social distancing rules, as well as collaborating with staff remotely to gather the data they needed,” stated Executive Director Hilary Swain. “Archbold has taken the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously and taken all necessary safety precautions, sadly closing to the public, however we worked hard to safely continue our ongoing field research.”
This year’s Symposium was no different than previous years, hosting a variety of presentations ranging from conservation of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, to a history of archived letters written by Richard Archbold during his worldwide expeditions, to monitoring plant diversity on Buck Island Ranch, Archbold’s working cattle ranch. The Internet audience learned about monitoring for a rare plant and efforts to de-list this unique Florida Golden Aster, about new collaborations examining implications of genetic isolation for recovery of Florida Scrub-Jays and other species in landscapes with habitat fragmentation, and ongoing work resolving taxonomy of the plethora of gall wasp species native to Florida and the southeastern USA. “A benefit of the Symposium going virtual is we had the opportunity to hear from, but also reach so many people that many not have been able to attend in person in previous years,” explained Archbold co-host Stephanie Koontz. “The Symposium is usually an all-day event, with speakers and attendees traveling to Archbold to attend and participate. But going virtual opened our message to so many more people curious about Archbold, our work, and conservation of Florida ecosystems.”
In addition to many traditional, 15-minute, single project presentations, the Symposium welcomed a couple of longer sessions aimed to provide overviews from some of the core programs at Archbold. Plant Ecology Program Director, Dr. Eric Menges, gave a 30-year review of his program, highlighting trends in his research, long-term collaborations, and the multitude of next generation young scientists he has mentored over the years. Dr. Betsie Rothermel, Director of the Restoration and Herpetology Program presented the history, ongoing, and future work on the Gopher Tortoise monitoring project on Archbold’s Red Hill, one of the longest running monitoring projects on this threatened species. Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program introduced the audience to new technology, tracking the Florida Scrub-Jay to better understand social interactions within family groups and neighbors and how the surrounding landscape may influence these movements. Finally, Director of Education, Dustin Angell shared clips from many of his virtual activities developed and aired online over the past several months, and the challenges his program had to overcome to continue to share wild Florida in an isolated world.
“It is critical that Archbold continues to spread and share the message of science and conservation of Florida’s native and working landscapes in a time when it is easy to be distracted, but while there is also a huge demand for quality online science,” remarks Swain. “Hosting the Symposium this year demonstrated that Archbold is moving forward and will continue to do the hard work needed to protect these lands and waters for generations to come.” If you missed, would like share, or re-watch any Symposium presentation, they can be found on Archbold’s Facebook page and YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/ArchboldExpeditions/videos
Describing scientific names, Archbold intern Erin Stewart says that they could just as well be termed, “A confusing amalgamation of Greek and Latin words with a sprinkling of surnames thrown in. Biology students are taught that scientific names aid clarity and specificity; however, memorizing them inevitably presents a massive headache come exam time.” While the use of consistent scientific names for species may aid in the communication of research findings across countries and languages, it can present a barrier to communication between scientists and members of the public. Yet, studied closely, scientific names provide layers of meaning and history. Learning to ‘decode’ such meanings can improve both retention and appreciation of these names.
In some cases, the scientific name of a species actually sounds quite similar to its common name. For example, the first half (the Genus) of the name Gopherus polyphemus recalls the ‘gopher’ in Gopher Tortoise. Meanwhile, the second half of the name (species) references Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology. Though not one-eyed, gopher tortoises are certainly one of the larger animals frequently spotted in southeastern habitats.
Oftentimes, the connection between a species’ scientific name and common name is less obvious and a closer examination of its Greek and Latin roots is necessary. For instance, the name Eryngium cuneifolium probably means little to anyone but the most avid botanists of central Florida. However, encoded in the second half of the name are the Latin roots cuneus, meaning ‘wedge,’ and folium, meaning ‘leaf.’ This links directly to the common name of the species: Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot. The first half of the scientific name, Eryngium, derives from the Greek and Latin terms for sea holly, which is the group of plants to which the Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot belongs.
In other cases, the roots of a scientific name connect not a species’ common name, but to its appearance. The name for Florida Scrub-Jays, Aphelocoma coerulescens, illustrates this point. The first half, Aphelocoma, translates to ‘simple hair.’ This references the fact that, unlike the closely related Blue Jay and Steller’s Jay, scrub-jays lack a feathered head crest. Dr. Reed Bowman, director of Archbold Avian Ecology program added, “Yes, Aphelocoma means simple hair, but it may also refer to the lack of banding in the feathers which is common in many other jays.” Thus, not only does this term describe scrub-jays, but it also places them in the context of their evolutionary relatives. The second half of the name, coerulescens,means dark blue or green—think of the color sky blue or cerulean. This refers to the bluish-gray colors that characterize Florida Scrub-Jays, and other scrub-jays in general.
Sometimes, the scientific name of a species does not contain Greek or Latin roots but is derived from the surname of the researcher who first described the species, or in honor of another prominent researcher in the field, or an individual who supported the work. The ant species Formica archboldi, for instance, is named after the late founder of Archbold Biological Station, Richard Archbold. First described by T.C. Schneirla in 1943, the revised description of the ant published in 1950 notes, “This subspecies is named in honor of Richard Archbold, the owner of the Archbold Biological Station, who not only encouraged Dr. Schneirla in a study of the ants of the Station but who showed a special interest in the habits of this particular ant.” Richard Archbold has the honor of having more than 100 species named in his honor, or in recognition of the Archbold Biological Station that he established, many of which are listed on the Archbold web site. (https://www.archbold-station.org/html/aboutus/r_archbold/ra_animals.html) .
Erin Stewart added, “Though they may initially appear incomprehensible and hard-to-pronounce, careful consideration of scientific names can prove revealing in terms of the history, appearance, and common names of a species. It can even provide some humor, as when you start thinking of scrub jays as ‘simple-haired’ birds.”
Despite the value in knowing and using scientific names, is it not reasonable to expect everyone to learn them. Thus, scientists must work to decode their language when speaking to non-scientists to avoid obscuring important information behind jargon and losing the attention of listeners. A discussion of the etymology of a scientific name is a great place to start.