Last month, Archbold Conservation Cartographer Angeline Meeks attended the Esri User Conference, the largest GIS (geographic information system) mapping conference in the world. Held in San Diego, thousands of cartographers and GIS professionals from around the globe attended the conference to learn, reconnect, and discover the latest advances in GIS technology. Conference attendees were able to submit their mapping products under various categories in the official Map Gallery to be judged by experts in the field. Angeline Meeks submitted her story map ‘Bear Necessities’ to the Education Category and won 2nd place! Story maps combine text, media, and maps to tell an engaging and interactive story. The ‘Bear Necessities’ story maps tells the tale of a young male Florida Black Bear named M34.
In 2009 working with a research team from the University of Kentucky, Joe Guthrie, now Archbold Predator-Prey Program Director, radio-collared a two and half year-old male Florida Black Bear in a small nature reserve outside of Sebring, Florida. Named M34 by the biologists, the movements of the young bear were tracked via a satellite transmitter mounted on a collar that was programmed to drop off after nine months of collecting data. Based at Archbold Biological Station, the biologists received hundreds of text messages from the radio collar, transmitting M34’s location, from which they could review and map the locations of M34 over the nine months.
For the first seven months, M34 roamed along the edge of the Lake Wales Ridge, east of Sebring. In 2010, early in the breeding season, M34 made an abrupt exit from his home range and crossed the 106,000-acre Avon Park Air Force Range in a matter of hours. Over the next two months, M34 travelled hundreds of miles, making multiple attempts to cross I-4 near Orlando, down the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, west nearly to Fort Myers and then he ultimately returned to the Highlands-Glades bear population of his birth. ‘Bear Necessities’ brings M34’s story to life by animating the movement data from his collar, allowing you to follow along as he travels through Florida’s Heartland.
M34’s journey became a crucial piece of evidence just at the point when National Geographic photographer Carlton Ward, Jr., Tom Hoctor of the University of Florida, and Richard Hilsenbeck of The Nature Conservancy were taking the first steps to unveil the Florida Wildlife Corridor vision. Inspired by M34’s movements, over the last decade Carlton Ward, Jr., Joseph Guthrie, and Mallory Lykes-Dimmit set out on a series of expeditions to share the concept and vision of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. In 2021, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act formally recognized the geography of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The realization of the Florida Wildlife Corridor dream is due in no small part to M34, the young Florida black bear that set out on a journey to find his home, and in doing so, inspired a movement to protect wild Florida.
Congrats to Angeline & Joe for so wonderfully illustrating the epic journey of M34! The full interactive ‘Bear Necessities’ Story Map can be viewed online: https://arcg.is/1viiC80
Deep in the sandhills of the Lake Wales Ridge lies a mysterious denizen of this ancient landscape: Florida Ziziphus (Ziziphus celata), also known as Florida Jujube. What makes this plant so special? It is one of the rarest plants in Florida, with only a handful of populations known to remain in the wild, a number of those occurring in our own Highlands County. In fact, Florida Ziziphus was once thought to be extinct, but through the discovery of hidden populations and conservation efforts of numerous biologists and citizens alike, the species has crept back from the edge of disappearance. As its name suggests, it also holds value as a wild relative of the cultivated jujube fruit (Ziziphus jujuba). Like its edible cousin, Florida Ziziphus produces a large crop of grape-sized orange fruits in early summer. It is the only ziziphus species native to Florida, with its closest relative native to California and Mexico (Ziziphus parryi), an indication of the long-ago connection between that region and our own.
At first glance, Florida Ziziphus is just another scraggly shrub dotting the scrub. Yet, a closer look reveals its unique qualities. Archbold Plant Ecology Research Assistant Dr. Sterling Herron, who helps lead Archbold’s Ziziphus research, notes: “Each winter, ziziphus plants shed their leaves and produce a constellation of tiny, star-shaped, fragrant flowers. Plants grow back vigorously in late spring / early summer, producing a rich foliage of small, shiny, round leaves, guarded by a legion of tiny thorns. Given the appropriate conditions, it can also produce a crop of small orange-colored fruits. It is perhaps most easily confused with Tough Buckthorn (Sideroxylon tenax) or Scrub Plum (Prunus geniculata), two other zigzagging, thorny scrub plants.”
While the plants themselves are physically robust, Florida Ziziphus as a species lacks genetic diversity. While hundreds of individual plants are known, many of these are actually natural clones of the same individual, having the same genetic makeup. In total, only about 40 genetically distinct individuals, or “genotypes”, are known from the wild. Furthermore, not just any two plants can cross to produce fruit – only certain combinations of genotypes are reproductively compatible.
So what does the future of Florida Ziziphus look like? Once bleak, the efforts of numerous scientists and citizens alike have improved the outlook of ziziphus. An Archbold-led collaboration to preserve this species spans many organizations and agencies, including Bok Tower Gardens, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and others. There are currently eight introductions on protected lands, and wild populations have been fortified with additional plants. “Florida Ziziphus now has a fighting chance,” says Dr. Aaron David, Archbold’s Director of Plant Ecology. He continues, “Nevertheless, ziziphus is not yet at the point where it can be self-sufficient, and still relies upon conservationists. It cannot be overstated how important each new genotype is to the persistence of this species. Thus, the discovery of new individuals and populations is a key component of the ziziphus recovery plan.”
Saving Florida Ziziphus also lies in the hands of citizens. While scientists are always on the lookout for plants in the wild, they cannot survey every inch of the Lake Wales Ridge. Although rare, this plant has historically been found in highly human-influenced habitats. In particular, a number of wild populations have been discovered in cattle pastures, likely because of the lack of heavy development and thus long-term preservation of this land. Much of the Lake Wales Ridge was once prime ziziphus habitat, that is, yellow sand scrub and sandhill, so it could pop up almost anywhere. You may have this Florida treasure in your own backyard! If you do observe a Florida Ziziphus plant or population, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the biologists at Archbold Biological Station.
While it comes with challenges, the recovery of Florida Ziziphus is within our grasp, and it provides a case study of hope for other plant species on the verge of extinction.
Archbold scientists and their collaborators provide scientific evaluation for which lands and waters are vital to connect landscapes and protect wildlife corridors—with the goal to save wildlife, wild places, and the natural ecosystems upon which the world’s future depends. Archbold partners with The Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Wildpath to preserve the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which serves as a model for other wildlife corridors worldwide.
Now, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Archbold are collaborating on a different level…art…? ART from a scientific research station? YES! Several of Archbold’s staff members and volunteers are talented artists, and Archbold has hosted outside artists-in-residence over the years, resulting in an impressive gallery of works in various media. Last month, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation hosted a modest exhibit of these works in the new Wild Space gallery, located at their offices at The Factory, St. Petersburg. The inaugural exhibition displayed woodcut prints of scrub plants by former Artist-in-Residence, Mollie Doctrow, and photographs of Archbold scientists by Archbold’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell.
Inspired by Archbold’s scientists, Angell has been taking photo portraits and action shots of researchers, along with other professionals and volunteers, in his ongoing Florida Stewards Project since 2014. This project, now including more than 100 portraits, aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the Headwaters of the Everglades. Most are associated with Archbold, but others are with state and federal agencies, other non-profits, or work independently. Each subject is photographed in their work clothes and holding the tools of their trade. Angell seeks to highlight both researchers and the habitats where they work.
Mollie Doctrow is Curator Emerita at the South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art & Culture in Avon Park, Florida. She created a series of classic black and white prints during her Artist Residency at Archbold Biological Station. She chose woodblock, the oldest printmaking process, in which the artist carves the image directly from a block of wood. The sharp contrasts of light and dark, and the twisting, graphic quality of Doctrow’s lines, express both the harshness and the beauty of Florida’s ancient terrain.
From the Corridor Foundation: “Wild Space is dedicated to showing visual art that focuses on Florida’s rich and diverse natural environments and the people who caretake its lands and waters. Exhibitions will feature artists whose work addresses the conservation of species and habitat, the understanding and promotion of the importance of nature, and its connections to our collective wellbeing.”
Archbold staff attended a reception showcasing the first Wild Space exhibit and a screening of the newest Florida Wildlife Corridor film, Home Waters, at the gallery on June 9. The office and gallery space are still under construction, with the official opening to display a larger selection of Archbold artworks expected in late 2022 to early 2023.
Wild Space is a project of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation in collaboration with Genevieve Lykes Dimmitt, and is curated by Noel Smith.
When you look at a flower, chances are you’ll see both female and male parts. The female parts typically include the pistil in the middle of the flower, while the male parts include multiple stamens surrounding the pistil. However, while this example of a ‘bisexual’ flower (also called a ‘perfect’ flower) is common for many plant species, it is not always the case. In fact there is a large diversity of what biologists call ‘mating systems’ in plants. According to Dr. Aaron David, Archbold Plant Ecology Program Director, “the Florida scrub is host to dozens of rare plant species unique to the Lake Wales Ridge, and several have unique and fascinating mating systems.”
Sometimes plants have ‘imperfect’ flowers that only contain either male or female parts. Dioecious plants are those with two sexes, male and female, and their populations generally require individuals of both sexes to be successful. Florida Rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) is one example of a dioecious species found in the scrub. In fact, both sexes of this shrub are typically found growing in close proximity to one another.
Scrub Spurge (Euphorbia rosescens) also has male and female individuals, though individuals can also have bisexual flowers with both male and female parts. Scrub Spurge is a state-listed endangered species whose populations are limited to Highlands County, and several populations only exist as mostly female plants or male plants, with a only few bisexual plants. The question for biologists is whether populations can persist in this manner. In the short term, the answer seems to be yes. They can reproduce clonally belowground and maintain the population without producing seed. But in the long term, populations need to reproduce sexually, and we don’t know how long they can hang on. It may be that the occasional occurrence of a bisexual plant is enough to help these populations persist.
Lewton’s Milkwort (Polygala lewtonii) has bisexual flowers with three types of flowers. First, chasmogamous flowers that are large, showy, and pollinated by insects. Second, cleistogamous flowers are tiny and don’t actually open; instead, they fertilize themselves and therefore don’t require cross-pollination with other individual plants. Even stranger is that Lewton’s Milkwort, like some other milkwort species, produces a third type of flower that is found underground! It’s thought that having these three different types of flowers help the plant species hedge against the numerous dangers it faces including being eaten or lack of neighboring plants with which to cross-pollinate.
Finally, Florida Ziziphus (Pseudoziziphus celata) has a mating system with a complex wrinkle – rather than having different sexes with male and female parts, it has compatible and incompatible mating types which are referred to as ‘genotypes.’ Plants cannot mate with themselves or other plants of the same genotype, but can cross pollinate with certain other genotypes although many combinations of genotypes simply do not produce viable seed. It is not entirely clear what drives differences in genotype compatibility, and biologists are still working to answer this question. Because Florida Ziziphus is one of the rarest of the rare species found on the Lake Wales Ridge, Archbold, together with other conservation partners including, including Bok Tower Gardens, has conducted more than a dozen plantings into the wild to improve its conservation outlook. “It’s important that we know that we are putting out compatible plants when we conduct this work to ensure that the new populations can be maintained into the future,” says Dr. Sterling Herron, Archbold Plant Ecology Research Assistant.
The wide range of plant mating systems showcases the diverse strategies for persisting in the harsh scrub habitat, and understanding these mating systems helps biologists better conserve them.
The 8th International Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference (GGAA) was held in Orlando June 5-10th 2022. The conference is the primary venue for scientists in the field of Greenhouse Gases from Animal Agriculture to present work to their colleagues. In addition, the meeting is known as an opportunity to share changes and advances in government policies about greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. GGAA 2022 was a great scientific conference for networking, keeping up with the latest scientific research, and seeking international collaborations. There were more than 400 delegate attendees from more than 40 countries including: academic scientists from universities and non-profit research institutes, post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students from disciplines related to agricultural and environmental sciences, governmental research institutions working with greenhouse gas emissions, and governmental policy makers and regulators in the agriculture sector. The conference featured prominent keynote speakers and a series of talks and posters addressing the latest research on greenhouse gas emissions in the field of animal agriculture.
Since this was the first year the international conference was held in the U.S., it provided an opportunity to explore the impact of this field of research on the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy. Technical field trip visits were offered to attendees, showcasing Florida agricultural systems and the sustainable management of the state’s natural resources. One of these field trips was to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, in Highlands County, Florida. This event on June 8th 2022, brought a large group of international researchers, students, and animal science technicians. Twenty different countries were represented on the tour, including Brazil, Belgium, Bangladesh, Congo, and of course the U.S. “Organizing this event was both exciting and daunting; with nearly 90 visitors, this is the biggest event we have ever had to organize on the Ranch” said Dr. Elizabeth Boughton, the Agroecology Program Director at Buck Island Ranch. There was strong interest in this field trip as Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a prominent part of the Archbold Biological Station/University of Florida site in the national US Department of Agriculture Long-term Agroecosystem Research LTAR Network. Visitors were especially interested to learn about scientific research on Florida’s grazing lands focusing on greenhouse gas research and put that research in the context of sustainable agricultural production systems that integrate environmental and socio-economic needs and that scale from local, to regional, to national scales.
Early morning, on the tour bus drive to Buck Island Ranch from Orlando, Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director, and Dr Alia DeLong, Postdoctoral Fellow at Buck Island Ranch, served as tour guides on the buses, giving passengers a real time narrated tour of the Florida landscapes they could see from their windows. They started with intense urbanization in Orlando, crossed pinelands, wetlands, prairies and ranchlands viewed from the Turnpike, and pointed out interesting features like crossing the Kissimmee River restoration project at Bassinger, all en route to Buck Island Ranch. This set the scene for when visitors arrived at Buck Island Ranch where Dr. Grégory Sonnier, Assistant Research Biologist at Buck Island Ranch, and Dr. DeLong had arranged the complicated logistics for the day.
The visitors were rotated around three trip elements. First, in the Ranch office, Dr. Sonnier and Dr. DeLong presented an overview of past and current research at the Ranch. “For us, it was a great occasion to share not only our research on greenhouse gas conducted with our partners from University of Illinois, but also our research on ecosystem services provided by pastures and wetlands. We were also fortunate to have Dr. Vaughn Holder join us from Alltech to explain our joint research projects on the potential role of animal feed supplements and enzymes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions” said Dr. Sonnier. “One aspect of our presentation that led to several questions was our current effort in involving ranchers and other stakeholders in determining future research” added Dr. DeLong.
Second element the visitors enjoyed was a short tour of the ranch on a swamp buggy. During the tour, Dr. Swain and Dr. Amartya Saha brought them to research pastures and introduced them to the multiple sensors collecting crucial environmental data, particularly the very advanced ‘eddy flux towers’ that track emissions of CO2 and methane, both greenhouse gases. Of course, the tour was also the occasion for visitors to observe typical Florida wildlife including many bird species, American Alligator, White-Tailed Deer, and feral pigs. Visitors from Europe found the landscapes quite exotic—especially the presence of palm forests and alligators in ditches—two Danish researchers commented they, “felt they were on a safari trip, and had no idea that a cattle ranch could appear so wild and support a wide range of reptiles and birds.” Most participants said the buggy trips were a memorable, unique experience
Third element of the tour was the visitors got to meet with a Florida cattleman, Gene Lollis—Archbold’s Ranch Manager—and listen to his accounts of Ranch operations as one of the top 20 beef cow/calf producers in Florida. For international visitors, this was the occasion to learn more about what a cow-calf operation is and how a typical Florida cattle ranch is managed. Gene brought visitors to the cow pens and answered questions related to day-to-day management of a cattle ranch. Discussions arose on the public’s conception of beef being environmentally harmful, with a message that it depends on the source of the beef, and how free ranging livestock is raised on natural grasslands can be better than irrigating and heavily fertilizing these same lands to grow crops. Staff’s impression was very few conference attendees knew about ranching in Florida before the meeting and left with a new appreciation of the role of grazing lands in Florida in agriculture and conservation.
Dr. DeLong expressed great appreciation to all the Archbold staff who also assisted. Dr. Saha, Haoyu Li, and Lacey Leitner helped with the swamp buggy tours, and ranch and station facilities staff prepared the space and managed all the refreshments and a cheerful bag lunch. Various colleagues from University of Florida also participated including Dr. Rosvel Bracho and Dr. Marta Kohmann, who joined us from the University of Florida Range Cattle Research Center in Ona. Dr. DeLong added, “It was a wonderful opportunity for us all to meet and interact with such an international crowd of fellow researchers, attendees, and experts. We were able to create new relationships, share what we do at Buck Island Ranch, and enhance the attendees’ knowledge of greenhouse gases and animal agriculture. We have a fairly international staff here at Archbold and it was exciting to make connections with researchers from so many other countries.”
Dr. Nicolas DiLorenzo, from the University of Florida IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center in Marianna, and one of the main conference organizers sent a kind acknowledgement to Archbold, “Thank you and all of your staff for an outstanding tour! I have heard a lot of compliments about the tour and the conversations generated around that it that were excellent. It was a great experience for our international participants at the conference, but also for me since it was my first time at the Archbold Biological Station.” Dr. Swain added in response, “Organizing this tour was a valuable experience for us and our participation has spread the message of our important, relevant research, increasing recognition for Archbold and Florida working landscapes around the globe.”
Do you remember where you were on June 1st, 1972? Maybe you were thinking about the upcoming Nixon v. McGovern Presidential Election? Perhaps you were listening to “A Horse with no Name” or “Lean on Me” on your favorite AM radio station. Many of you may have not been born yet or were not living in Highlands County, Florida. However, if you were Fred Lohrer, Archbold Librarian Emeritus, on this date, you would be heading in to meet with Richard Archbold, and beginning your first day as the new Librarian and Research Assistant at Archbold Biological Station.
Fred earned a Master’s degree in Ornithology in 1972, under the tutelage of Dr. Glen Woolfenden, at the University of South Florida. Woolfenden was in the very early stages of a project which is now in its 53rd year, studying the Florida Scrub-Jay at Archbold. Fred was first hired shortly after completing his degree and has performed dozens of jobs for Archbold over the past 50 years, always with the organizations principles foremost in mind. He has been a face to the community, meeting thousands of school children over the years. He has answered research questions from interested individuals in every medium from typewritten letter, to rotary phone call, to high speed email; and all in between. If you have a need for information regarding Archbold you can count on Fred to have the answer.
He has a love for, and a professional background in, ornithology. Some personal accolades relating to this work include publishing 46 scientific papers, along with editing seven other scientific works. He is a life member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, American Ornithological Society, and Florida Ornithological Society (of which he is also a founding member). He also was Associate Editor of The AUK, one of the most prestigious ornithological journals. Fred has studied shrikes, kites, owls, and more. His knowledge of the bird communities of Florida is vast and he has participated in many projects to disseminate this knowledge to others.
As Archbold’s first librarian he built and oversaw a collection with few parallels at any American field station. Circa 7,500 volumes were present upon his transition to Librarian Emeritus in 2018, the overwhelming majority added during his time. There are also thousands of bound journal subscriptions which he added to the stacks as well, providing a wealth of easily accessible and cataloged materials. Especially in a pre-internet era this trove of publications was a welcome sight for Archbold employees and collaborators, and many issues are still in use today. Fred has also been an invaluable mentor and friend to the current Archbold Librarian.
Fred is well known for saving anything of historical value for posterity. He once said, “In the “museum” (now the Archbold Avian Ecology Lab), where Richard Archbold was the collections manager, I saw a letter from Ernst Mayr, stating that Leonard Brass’s expedition narratives were so valuable for New Guinea exploration and ecology that he should reprint them for the general scientific community. I was not then smart enough, or bold enough, about Station history archives to have either snatched the letter or copied it, and the letter eventually disappeared.” Even decades later, Fred’s remembrance of this event, and regret at the loss of the item, perfectly encapsulates how he feels about the history of Archbold.
Fred Lohrer represents the last 50 years of Archbold as well as anyone could. He has dedicated his life to teaching others about the ecology of Central Florida, to collaborating with hundreds of scientists on dozens of research projects, and to assisting any and all who come to him in need of knowledge. In his illustrious career he has helped countless individuals achieve their goals, while himself conducting rigorous research. Congratulations on 50 years Fred!
It’s spring in Florida, the air is warm and the dry season is nearing its end. Occasional tropical showers hint at the coming wet season and migrant birds are on the move. One species in particular, the Swallow-tailed Kite, unmistakable with its contrasting black-and-white plumage and deeply forked tail, catches the eyes of anyone who sees them gracefully flying past. The undeniable elegance of a Swallow-tailed Kite as it effortlessly glides overhead is incomparable to any other bird of prey in Florida. Swallow-tailed Kites return to their breeding grounds, including Highlands County, as early as mid-February. Upon their arrival, they’ve successfully completed their annual migratory journey from their South American wintering grounds. Brian Cammarano, a research intern in the Archbold Avian Ecology Program, excitedly yelled “They’re back, they’re finally back!” to his fellow interns as he pointed out the first pair of the season circling above.
“Every spring, these gregarious raptors migrate in large groups, sometimes numbering in the thousands, as they make their way back North to their breeding grounds,” Brian explained. “Although their breeding range within the States is shrinking due to habitat loss, Florida remains a stronghold for nesting Swallow-tailed Kites,” continued Brian. Highlands Hammock State Park, a local park known for having more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, provides excellent habitat for these birds during the breeding season. The kites are busy nest building and caring for young during the months of March through June. A typical Swallow-tailed Kite nest is made up of carefully selected twigs lined with Spanish moss built high up in the crowns of bald cypress trees or pines. Nearby open areas where the birds can hunt for prey are essential for successful nesting. “Something I find fascinating about these birds is their ability to eat on the wing, meaning they capture and consume their prey such as flying insects while soaring high in the sky,” shared Brian.
“As an avian ecology intern at Archbold, I am conducting an independent research project that relates to Florida Scrub-Jay nest predation,” said Brian. Although snakes are the primary Florida Scrub-Jay nest predator within the scrub, Swallow-tailed Kites have been documented to prey on Florida Scrub-Jay eggs, nestlings, and recent fledglings. It may appear as if the kites might have a negative impact on scrub-jay nest success, but not all predation attempts are successful. Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program, recalled capturing one such unsuccessful attempt on video, “The Swallow-tailed Kite swooped down onto the nest, but the female scrub-jay stayed put, protecting her young. The male scrub-jay landed on the back of the kite and viciously pecked its head. The kite finally had enough and abandoned its predation attempt.” Predation is a natural and common event in the wild. Species like deer or even cows, which we think of as grazers, might opportunistically chow down on some bird eggs if they come across a nest. Swallow-tailed Kites are just one of many predators within the natural order of a self-sustaining ecosystem.
As fall approaches, thousands of kites begin their journey back South to the humid lowland forests of South America where they’ll spend the winter. “I was fortunate enough to witness this spectacle last fall working at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a long-term research effort committed to monitoring bird migration through the Florida Keys. It is known for being The Peregrine Falcon migration capital of the World, with a record high of 1,506 individuals counted in a single day,” explained Brian. For the first time in the project’s history, monitoring began on August 1st to target the early migratory movements of Swallow-tailed Kites. “We were thrilled to report the season’s total tally of 1,619 migrating Swallow-tailed Kites,” said Brian. So as summer approaches and the kites are still around, keep your eyes to the sky in hopes of seeing these stunning birds in flight as they pass over your backyards!
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as ‘drones,’ can be used for many things, including photography, search and rescue, and fishing. The Archbold Drone Program primarily supports the organization’s scientific research projects and the needs of state and regional conservation organizations and agencies. Archbold flights are limited to those over Archbold properties, or over partnering agency lands, respecting the privacy of private property owners. Drones are becoming more accessible and thus have been increasingly used for ecological research. Drones are able to collect information from areas that are difficult to access while also minimizing disturbance, so they have become important tools to monitor wildlife and map areas for land management.
Drones come in many shapes and sizes, from small quadcopters that can fit in the pocket of your cargo shorts, to fixed-wing drones that look like miniature planes. In the past, Archbold primarily used a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, a quadcopter about the size of a shoebox, that’s equipped with a camera that captures imagery as sharp as many traditional ground cameras. According to Julie Sorfleet, Archbold GIS Research Assistant and Drone Pilot, “The series of still images captured using drones are combined into a single large image to create aerial maps. These aerial maps provide a bird’s eye view of the ground that can be used to identify or classify areas of interest.”
Imagery from the DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone has been used to map prescribed burns and general land cover classes, as well as capture imagery of pasture productivity. Currently, it is also being used to track the movements of Gopher Tortoises for Archbold Research Intern Jack Christie’s independent research project. The drones are capturing high resolution imagery of each tortoise three times a day so Jack can analyze the habitat use and movements of the tortoises within the study.
Recently, with the help of gracious donors, Archbold acquired a DJI Matrice 300 drone, a workhorse drone, which can be customized with different cameras and sensors. Archbold is currently using a multispectral MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor attached to the Matrice 300 drone. During one flight, this sensor can capture true color red, green, and blue images along with images in the red edge and near infrared wavelengths that can be used to generate different indices. These indices are images that are produced by using a mathematical equation to combine the pixel values from the different images into a single image to highlight a specific phenomenon that is present in the environment. For example, the normalized difference between the red and near infrared can be used to quantify green vegetation as it measures the difference between the wavelengths of light that vegetation reflects and absorbs. These indices could be used to detect changes in water levels in seasonal ponds, categorize the health of vegetation, determine burn severity in a variety of habitats ranging from pastures to scrub, and determine leaf nitrogen and biomass content. Drone data do need to be calibrate in the field (are they measuring representative data) but they allow for analyses over a large spatial scale way beyond the typical small plots of intensive vegetation sampling, without having to collect extensive field data.
Other attachments that could be added in the future to the drone include LiDAR sensors. These use a laser to measure the time it takes for the reflected light to hit an object and return to the sensor. LiDAR is great for creating three dimensional representations of areas and measuring vegetation height. Sorfleet, remarked, “If we had access to a LiDAR sensor, we could couple high resolution multispectral imagery like that captured with the MicaSense RedEdge-MX sensor with height information to gather a full three-dimensional vegetation picture from the air”. Drone technology today leads to endless possibilities for the everyday person to see the world from a different perspective, the photographer to capture unique shots, the search and rescue team to cut down on their response times, and the researcher to capture new data in new ways. Drone technology is for everyone!
It may come as a surprise that fungi are integral parts of our natural environment and our industrialized society. In the natural world, fungi exchange nutrients with plants, breakdown organic matter, and act as a direct food source for many animals including humans. In our built ecosystem, fungi are used to derive medicine, create building materials, and develop food products including cheese, bread, and wine.
Elan Tran, a post-baccalaureate research intern in the Archbold Plant Ecology Program, has worked on the curation of the Station’s fungi for the past seven months. “I started studying fungi through their relationships with plants”, she explained. Elan continued, “Understanding both beneficial and pathogenic relationships is important to native plant conservation and agriculture. Since the start of my position, I have become fascinated with the fungal community at Archbold and in the surrounding area. Cataloging the species of fungi we find, the habitats they survive in, and nearby plants helps us to uncover how fungi may be contributing to the ecology of the scrub ecosystem.”
According to Dr. Aaron David, Archbold Plant Ecology Program Director, “The Lake Wales Ridge is such a special place for biodiversity, however, unlike the plants and animals, the fungi are largely unknown and undocumented here.”
Tran has spearheaded an expansion of Archbold’s fungal collections, known as a fungarium. The purpose of the fungarium is to collect, document, and preserve mushrooms on the Lake Wales Ridge. The high-quality specimens collected will be available for future scientists to view, borrow, and study. Importantly, Tran is sequencing the DNA of the specimens in collaboration with Professor of Mycology Dr. Matthew Smith at the University of Florida. She explained, “the purpose of obtaining DNA sequences is to verify the identity of the specimens we collect and to let us know if we have discovered any new species”. The DNA sequences are also stored in online databases, where researchers worldwide can use them.
Archbold’s fungarium currently has more than 130 specimens, though is expected to rapidly grow with the upcoming wet season. On average, mushrooms are made up of 90% water, which is why they thrive during the humid and moist weather of summer and fall. “We tend to see fewer mushrooms popping up during our dry winters than during the rainy season,” Tran commented. She went on to explain that different species of mushrooms, much like plants, have their preference for certain weather and soil conditions. “This really leads into how much variety there is in the fungal community at Archbold,” said Tran.
“We have found quite a few edible Honey Mushrooms, which belong to the genus Armillaria, as well as some very toxic species belonging to the genus Amanita,” Tran explained. She continued, “We also have some fun, colorful mushrooms like Chanterelles, which tend to be orangish-red, and Southern Jack O’lanterns, which have luminescent gills”. However, the collection doesn’t end there. In the brief time Tran has been collecting, the fungarium has received puffballs, jelly fungi, and specimens from the Lactarius group which produce liquid latex when cut.
Tran says, “we are just scratching the surface of what’s here and it’s likely that we will come across undescribed species as we continue curating the fungarium at Archbold. It has been an exciting process so far and I can’t wait to see what we find during the upcoming wet season.”
Richard Archbold (April 9, 1907-August 1, 1976), founder of Archbold Biological Station and world renowned conservationist, philanthropist, aviator, and scientific explorer, would have turned 115this past Saturday. He spent his life travelling to new uncharted regions, learning about previously unknown plants and animals, and using his resources to further understanding about the natural world. As a young man, Richard participated in a scientific expedition to Madagascar and then led three long expeditions to New Guinea during the 1930’s. With the onset of WWII in 1939, Mr. Archbold had to put his explorations on hold. As a result, he began a search for an area in the USA that could be his scientific base of operations. This search eventually led him to Highlands County, FL where he established Archbold Biological Station in 1941.
Richard Archbold remained at Archbold Biological Station as its full-time resident, and very active leader, for the next 35 years. Throughout the years, Richard built a tradition of scientific excellence, inviting scientists from around the world to visit, and sponsored seven more expeditions to the South Pacific. Richard also invested in conservation and stewardship. Beginning in 1967, the Station started mapping fires systematically and the scientific data began to reveal that fire is vital for scrub species and crucial to the stewardship of the land. In 1973, Archbold purchased 2,773 acres of adjacent land, adding important scrub habitat. During the time that he lived in Florida [1941-1976] he was also active locally. He was a founding or participating member of a variety of Highlands County and Lake Placid Civic Associations. He spent time and money on firefighting equipment and crews which were used to fight many local fires. In Mr. Archbold’s lifetime he was known in Highlands County for many of these initiatives but, if you asked an old-timer about “the man on Red Hill”, there is one community achievement in particular that they would probably mention first and foremost. It is very likely that they would know him as one of the men who helped bring electricity to their homes.
When Archbold first moved to Highlands County in 1941, most of the area did not yet have access to electricity. He made rural electrification a top priority. In his mind it was crucial that all families in the area had access to safe, affordable, reliable electricity. Though the mechanism to start a rural electric cooperative had existed since the 1930’s Highlands County residents had not had any luck working with the Federal government to create one. It was no secret in the community how Mr. Archbold felt on the subject and according to Ralph V. Wadlow the first Secretary-Treasurer of Glades Electric Cooperative, “local people went to Archbold for help and he responded by prodding the federal government into providing the needed assistance to form the Glades Electrical Cooperative.” Creation of the Cooperative began in earnest in 1944 and according to Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer, “Richard Archbold was a leader in this effort and one of the founding Directors. In the early days of the Cooperative, he personally traveled through Highlands and Glades counties signing-up residents for membership.” He received the “30-year Director Service award” on December 4, 1975 for service in the “Florida Rural Electric Cooperative: Director, 1945-1975.” He was the very first Vice-President as well and served as either President or Vice-President of the Cooperative until his death.
In the spring of 1976, while hospitalized in Palm Beach County facing terminal cancer, Richard typed a new will that transferred the land, buildings, and his personal fortune to support Archbold Biological Station. His sister, Frances Archbold Hufty, agreed to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Archbold Expeditions. Guided by the Archbold family and all the past and present members of the Board of Directors, the organization continues Richard Archbold’s legacy and traditions. Since founding, Archbold has achieved formidable growth thanks to increasing public support of its important programs—helping to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect Florida and beyond. Cheers to Richard Archbold!
Archbold Biological Station, a research institution just south of Lake Placid, recently hosted three online meetings to organize science for conservation of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor is an 18-million-acre patchwork of public and private land stretching from the Everglades north to Georgia and west to Alabama. It is primarily designed to protect connections between wildlife habitats. Last year, the Florida legislature unanimously passed and Governor Desantis signed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, formally recognizing the geography and providing funds for state land conservation activities. Along with two other groups, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Florida Wild, Archbold is championing the Corridor vision—to conserve natural and agricultural lands of value to wildlife all across the state.
The recent meetings, dubbed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Science Exchanges because they were meant to promote exchange of scientific needs and information among attendees, were organized by Archbold’s Director of Conservation, Dr. Joshua Daskin, with other Archbold staff, plus close partners from the University of Florida and Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Daskin said the Science Exchanges will seed new connections among researchers and conservationists to help achieve the Corridor goals. “The Science Exchanges are about catalyzing the information sharing and research needed for effective, efficient land conservation in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The aim is to identify what we know and what we still need to study.”
Thirty-five to fifty invitees from state and federal environmental agencies, universities, and conservation organizations attended each Exchange. Facilitators from the Consensus Building Institute helped keep the meetings interactive with surveys, breakout groups, and creative ways of posting questions.
The first Science Exchange in mid-January focused on prioritizing lands in the Corridor; which are most critical for conservationists to work on protecting first. Daskin said, “this means balancing the few remaining parcels providing habitat near fast-developing urban areas with more rural properties that may not be developed imminently without conservation efforts, but which are critical to protecting wildlife in the long term. A key takeaway from the day’s discussions was that science and data can help the state’s many accomplished conservation groups and government agencies select priorities depending on their own values.”
Dr. Reed Noss of the Florida Institute for Conservation Science spoke about the history of the Corridor, which dates back to science conducted in the 1980s and Dr. Gary Tabor, a world-leader in conserving connected areas for wildlife and people and the President of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, described the Corridor as a national leader in statewide conservation efforts.
In March, two Exchanges focused on water resource protection in the Corridor and how Corridor land protection can help make Florida communities and farms more resilient to sea level rise and changing economies. “We are partnering with the University of Florida’s Water Institute to resolve some really key questions about Florida’s water supplies and wetlands, and specifically how the Corridor can and cannot contribute to their sustainability,” said Daskin. Participants in the water Exchange stressed that it is key not to oversell the benefits of the Corridor—because it is primarily designed to conserve wildlife, it is not expected to solve all the rest of Florida’s environmental concerns, too.
Still, the Exchanges revealed there are many benefits of land conservation. “In Highlands and other central Florida counties, some of the best tools we have for saving the Corridor are aimed at saving ranches; a working Florida cattle ranch provides so much benefit to wildlife, so we are doing all we can to keep ranching profitable and active. Elsewhere, in the panhandle, conserving the Corridor means protecting key coastal habitats that buffer communities from storm impacts.”
Going forward, the discussions held at the Science Exchanges will allow Archbold, its partners, and other attendees to focus their research on the most important topics for advancing conservation of Florida wildlife habitats.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor map vision: dark green areas have already been protected within the Corridor, while light green areas still need to be protected. Map by Angeline Meeks/Archbold Biological Station based on the Florida Ecological Greenways Network Priorities 1-3 (2021) developed and maintained by the University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning. Conserved Lands, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, May 2021.
“Driving through the Florida scrub at Archbold one afternoon, my thoughts were elsewhere,” recounts Archbold Herpetology Program research intern Jack Christie. “Though they snapped right back to the present when I saw the long shape of a snake stretching across the road in front of me. There was something unusual about this one. As I got closer, the snake sensed my presence and turned back the other way, returning to the thick vegetation. I jumped out of the vehicle and caught up with it. Surrounded by the buzz of insects and the hot Florida air, a six-foot long Eastern Indigo Snake looked back at me, waiting to see what would happen next.”
“I couldn’t believe how lucky I was,” said Jack. He has some good reasons to be excited. Adult indigo snakes can grow up to more than eight feet in length, making them the longest native species of snake in North America. Indigos get their name from their iridescent black scales, and often have coral to crimson coloration on their chin, making them beautiful to behold. “They lead exciting lives, too,” explains Jack. “They travel long distances while foraging and seeking mates, and they’ll eat just about anything. Humans however, have nothing to fear. Indigo snakes aren’t venomous and have a reputation for being gentle.”
Much of the pioneering indigo snake research was conducted here in Highlands County by the first Archbold Director of Research, Dr. Jim Layne, and his research is still influential today. The Archbold Herpetology Program continues to document sightings and collect data from the few individuals we find each year. “When we started to measure the snake back at the lab, we found something interesting,” says Jack. “We found a large bulge in the middle of its body– indicating the snake had eaten recently. They’ll eat just about anything they can swallow, including rodents, birds, frogs, and even young Gopher Tortoises and other snakes.” Indigo snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem as an apex predator. Their flexibility in diet is important too. For example, if there were fewer frogs one year, they might be able to eat more mice instead, helping bring balance to the ecosystem they’re a part of.
Their movements are just as wide-ranging as their diet. Indigos make some of the longest movements of any snake, crossing through a variety of habitat types. They need large swathes of land, with especially wayfaring individuals using over 1000 acres in a single year, according to scientific studies done here in Highlands County. All this moving takes them across roads and other man-made structures, putting them at risk of being hit by cars or being killed by fearful humans. Highlands County has some of the most intact indigo habitat left in Florida. To protect indigo snakes means protecting where they live, and the ecosystem that they’re a part of.
“After we finished collecting data on the indigo snake, we release her back into the scrub,” said Jack. As Jack watched the snake disappear back into the thick brush, one thing became clear; while the scrub may have abided a few hours without its resident hunter, it would be a less resilient, less special place if they were to disappear for good. To learn more about the Archbold Herpetology Program, please visit our website: https://www.archbold-station.org/html/research/herpetology/herpetol.html
On a warm, humid day in central Florida, the air buzzes with thousands of wings of adult mosquitos. If you find yourself outside near a still body of water, you may become victim to a female mosquito as she relentlessly searches for her next meal. Once she has that meal, she finds a pool of water to lay her eggs, and the mosquito lifecycle begins. However, for these eggs to make it to adulthood, they have to survive the many predators of Florida waters, and this is where the mosquitofish comes in.
Mosquitofish are small, unassuming fish that can be found in almost every body of fresh water in central Florida. “I would always call small fish like these ‘minnows’ when I was a kid. You can take a net and scoop up dozens of them off the docks at local lakes, like Lake Istokpoga. Mosquitofish can even be found in roadside ditches!” says Dr. Jessica Judson, a researcher from Michigan State University working at Archbold Biological Station. “Mosquitofish are one of the most abundant freshwater fish species in Florida. They have an amazing tolerance for high temperatures, like we sometimes see in ponds in the scrub at Archbold, and they can even tolerate salty brackish waters.”
Mosquitofish get their name because they are ravenous predators of mosquitos and their larvae. In central Florida, mosquitofish have no problem finding plenty of food. “They will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths, including insects and aquatic plants,” Dr. Judson adds. As mosquitos can carry West Nile virus and Zika virus, mosquitofish have been introduced to bodies of fresh water around the world in an attempt to control the mosquito populations, albeit with mixed success. “Unfortunately, we have found that mosquitofish don’t control mosquito populations as well as hoped in other countries. Instead, native fish usually do as well, or better, at controlling mosquitos than mosquitofish, and mosquitofish tend to have a more varied diet than their name suggests. Here in central Florida, however, mosquitofish are an important native species in freshwater ecosystems. They eat insects and plant material, and in turn mosquitofish are a staple in the diet of larger fish we like to catch in our Florida lakes.”
How do you know if you’ve netted a mosquitofish? Mosquitofish are silvery to dark grey in color and less than 3 inches long. Male mosquitofish have a longer fin on their belly, called a gonopodium, and females are larger than males and have a black spot on their belly to indicate they are pregnant. “Another cool fact about mosquitofish is that they are live-bearers, meaning that instead of laying eggs like many fish, they give birth to live young which are immediately ready to swim,” says Dr. Sarah Fitzpatrick, a professor at Michigan State University who studies mosquitofish and grew up near Archbold. Dr. Fitzpatrick is interested in understanding the negative effects of inbreeding, which is when close relatives produce offspring. Inbreeding often happens when population sizes are very small and is one of the drivers of biodiversity loss. “We are currently using mosquitofish to study the effects of small population size and inbreeding at Archbold. Mosquitofish are great fish for experiments where we need to manipulate things like population size, and Archbold has everything we need to keep these fish happy and healthy.”
The life of a plant in the Florida scrub can be stressful, as plants routinely face heat, fire, intense wet and dry seasons, and animals that eat them. Still, plants find ways to survive despite these obstacles, including re-sprouting after fire, orienting leaves away from the sun’s direct rays, and producing chemicals to deter hungry animals. There are times, however, when conditions are so stressful that plants cannot cope and die. Soil seed banks, natural accumulations of seeds in the soil, are important safeguards that ensure entire populations don’t perish with individual plants.
“When plants produce seeds, they don’t all germinate into seedlings as soon as they reach the soil,” explained Ella Segal, the Vaughn-Jordan Plant Ecology research intern at Archbold. She continued, “for many species, the majority of seeds get buried in the soil and remain there until conditions are right for them to germinate into plants. The collection of seeds underground is what’s known as a seed bank.”
Seed banks in the Florida scrub may persist for decades and seeds often germinate after fire and other disturbances. “These disturbances kill the nearby plants, so if you’re a seed, it’s a great time to sprout and start your life as a young plant! You’ll have more sunlight, water, and nutrients than you would competing with older, larger plants. And from a population perspective, this mechanism is critical for renewing plant numbers just as they decline, keeping the population stable over time,” Segal said.
Supported by the Vaughn-Jordan Foundation, Segal has been investigating the seed banks at Archbold. Her research addresses how seed banks are influenced by both disturbance, namely fire and roadside disturbance (sandy tracks and trails), and by soil depth. “At the Station, roadside sands turn over as trucks drive by, and interior habitats (away from roadsides) regularly experience fire. I’m curious how each affects seed bank structure and whether structure then corresponds to aboveground plant density,” Segal said.
To test this, Segal collected soils in both roadside and interior habitats surrounding two scrub endemic plants, Scrub Hypericum (Hypericum cumulicola) and Papery Whitlow-wort (Paronychia chartacea). Each sample collected was divided into 2 cm ‘depth categories’ to consider effects of depth. To quantify the number of seeds of her target species, she has been watering the soils to prompt germination of any seeds present in the sample. She is also examining seeds from the samples under a microscope. Though the study is ongoing, preliminary results suggests that most seeds are found near the surface, and that seed banks are more prevalent in the natural (interior) scrub compared to roadsides.
“Seed banking is an important strategy for how plant species deal with challenging environmental conditions and maintain their populations through time,” says Dr. Aaron David, Direct of Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program. “Ella’s research helps explain the spatial structure of these seed banks, and sheds light on the hidden, underground components of these rare species’ populations needed to prevent their extinction.”
This January, Archbold welcomed back three friends and colleagues to the Station. Dr. Eric Menges, Archbold Emeritus Research Biologist and former Plant Ecology Program Director, Dr. Warren ‘Abe’ Abrahamson, Archbold Research Associate and Emeritus Professor at Bucknell University, and Dr. Pedro Quintana-Ascencio, Archbold Research Associate and Professor at University of Central Florida. They returned to continue their decades long collaborations in the Plant Ecology Program. As plant ecologists, these scientists enjoy discovering pieces of the giant puzzle that is the complex web of life on our planet. Each discovery is like finding another piece and fitting it into the right place. These friends and colleagues have been working on the puzzle of life at Archbold for decades and have fit many pieces together.
Abe first visited Archbold Biological Station in 1972 as a graduate student at Harvard University and has been returning nearly every year since. Shortly after he started as faculty at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, Abe became a Research Associate at the Station. With a background in ecology and evolution, he was interested in studying the ecology and demography of plants in the Florida Scrub and the role of fire in this unique ecosystem. One of his many interesting long-term projects at Archbold focuses on the growth of Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens). Over the course of many years, with the help from field assistants including his wife Chris Abrahamson, he showed that Saw Palmettos only grow an average of a half inch per year, can take 200 years to mature, and that individual clones may be thousands of years old!
Eric arrived at Archbold in June 1988 to start as the Plant Ecology Program Director. This position allowed him to study an ecosystem with many rare plants, and how the ecosystem and plants responded to disturbance from fire and climate. He served as an outstanding scientist and leader of scientific research, conservation, and education activities at Archbold until his retirement in 2021. Under his leadership, the Plant Ecology program trained 33 Research Assistants and 127 Archbold research interns, nearly all of whom have gone on to great careers across the nation and internationally.
Pedro started at Archbold as a visiting researcher in 1994 while working on his Phd Thesis (Eric served on his dissertation committee), later becoming a post-doctoral fellow at Archbold from 2000-2003. After he started as faculty at the University of Central Florida, Pedro continued his collaboration with Archbold, and has visited every year since. His interests include understanding the ecological role of disturbance in ecosystems, and the Florida Scrub at Archbold is a perfect place to conduct his research. A recent collaboration utilizes Archbold’s long-term plant demography data sets to understand and predict plant responses to fire and the climate.
With a combined 112 years of research in the Florida Scrub (Abe: 50; Eric: 34; Pedro: 28), ‘long-term’ is an apt adjective to describe their science and relationship, long-term data, long-term collaborations, and a long-term friendship. We hope they continue to collaborate, continue to collect long-term data, and continue to be friends to each other and to Archbold, with many more visits to come.
Last month, Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch looked like a scene from New York’s ‘fashion week.’ Famed photographer and videographer Hollis Bennett turned the Ranch into a working set for a Spring marketing campaign photo shoot. Texas based Dickie’s Apparel® reached out to Archbold’s Director of Philanthropy, Deborah Pollard, in search of an authentic work-life situation, and Buck Island Ranch was the perfect fit to feature their Spring clothing line. Pollard explained, “Dickies wanted to highlight a real life working sustainable ranch in their upcoming Spring marketing campaign, so we were delighted to partner together. Archbold is always up for new and exciting concepts, especially when it comes to showcasing the Ranch and our work, so when tasked with asking the Ranch and science staff to become fashion models, we stepped up to the challenge.”
Professional photographer Hollis Bennett spent a week on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, and operations staff and scientists took a brief break from their typical workdays to model. Donning clothing from Dickies soon to be released Spring line, Archbold staff and collaborators modeled the fashions while conducting their authentic daily tasks. From working cattle, to shoeing horses, to fixing fences, the Dickies photographers were immersed in ranch life. Mary Margaret Hardee, Archbold Ranch Operations Data Assistant, said, “It was an exciting experience to try out the clothing and give our input on whether they fit comfortably and were functional for everyday wear on the Ranch.”
“We are very proud that a ranch from Highlands County will be featured in national ads throughout the US and in major retailers. This is a great way to highlight the importance of working lands, like ranches, in protecting wildlife as integral pieces to wildlife corridors, like the Florida Wildlife Corridor—a network of connected public and private lands in Florida,” stated Pollard. “We are also very grateful for a generous donation Dickies made to the Ranch, which will help us continue our mission and our important scientific research to make ranching and agriculture more sustainable,” continued Pollard.
Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a full-scale cow-calf operation with approximately 2,800 cows on 10,500 acres and serves as a real-world laboratory for agroecology research. Research focuses on water management, understanding how grazing and fire affect grassland and wetland forage production and species diversity, as well as the ranchland ecosystem carbon cycle. Archbold’s Buck Island has also been featured in two documentaries. Follow the links to learn more about the visionary marriage of Florida ranching and science as cowboys and scientists work together to advance scientific discovery on a ten thousand acre working cattle ranch. Bridging this cultural divide has resulted in a series of transformative discoveries that have begun to reshape our misconceptions about agriculture, sustainability, and conservation in the 21st century. ‘Cowboys and Scientists’ by Grizzly Creek Films https://vimeo.com/284845287 and ‘The Science of a Florida Ranch’ https://vimeo.com/329180054 by Into Nature Films.
When you think of a ‘scientist,’ your first thought might be someone in a lab coat holding beakers; however, the ‘Faces of Biology’ photography contest seeks to break those stereotypes. This contest—sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology—integrates art with science to illustrate the range of research practices. Additionally, creative mediums, such as photography, allow scientists to connect with the public and policymakers to showcase the importance of their work. Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell, won second place in their tenth annual competition. First place went to Christopher Brown’s photo showing college students waist deep in a pond learning how to catch sunfish with a net.
Angell’s winning photograph depicts research assistant Chelsea Moore ‘scoping’ a Gopher Tortoise burrow. Moore uses a scope with attached camera because burrows can be up to 30 feet long. In this photo, the scope wasn’t necessary since the tortoise greeted her at the entrance! Gopher Tortoises are an important keystone species, as their burrows are home to variety of insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Moore’s work is part of more than 50 years of ongoing tortoise research at Archbold.
“I use photography primarily to teach about local science and conservation. It is rare for me to submit photos to competitions, but this was the second time I entered Faces of Biology,” Angell states. “What they are trying to do, showing what scientists and science really look like, aligns exactly with what I’ve been doing here in Florida. I’m so grateful that this photo of Chelsea will be seen across the country. I hope it inspires people to go outside and experience nature, and maybe even become researchers or volunteers themselves.”
Inspired by Archbold’s researchers, Angell has been taking photo portraits and action shots of researchers, along with other professionals and volunteers, in his ongoing Florida Stewards Project since 2014. This project, now at over 100 portraits, aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the Headwaters of the Everglades. Most are associated with Archbold, but others are with state and federal agencies, other non-profits, or work independently. Each subject is photographed in their work clothes and holding the tools of their trade. Angell seeks to highlight both researchers and the habitats where they work.
Archbold’s natural laboratories and research have inspired other artistic projects in recent years, too. Michele Oka Doner, best known for her 1 ¼ mile installation ‘A Walk on the Beach’ at Miami International Airport, first visited Archbold in 2019. Within a year of that visit, she had completed a large drawing of slash-pine tree rings using red iron oxide and based on a cross-section borrowed from Archbold. Fine artist, Deborah Mitchell partnered with Archbold to put on a virtual art event in 2021 called ‘Wild Observations at Archbold Biological Station.’ The live-streamed presentation included Deborah’s interviews with Archbold researchers as well as her multi-media art based on science and conservation in Florida. And in 2018, Robert Chambers created an entire art exhibit based on Archbold’s research. ‘Serepens: Serenoa repens’ was held at Everglades National Park and even included a 3D printed saw palmetto.
Angell explains that all this art is for a purpose. “Ultimately, I wish for future generations of Floridians to share and pass along a home that is alive with wild places and healthy ecosystems. These portraits are for them: a reminder of the community of people who, at a critical time in our history, oriented their lives and careers toward the stewardship needed to deliver that future,” Angell explains. Angell’s winning photo will be featured in the upcoming April issue of BioScience.
2021 was a year of continued adaptation at Archbold. Research programs maintained their long-term studies despite ever changing COVID-19 updates. There was a robust cohort of post-baccalaureate research interns who were eager to explore that natural laboratory that is the Florida Scrub and the unique ecosystems on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. The Archbold intern experience usually ends with a capstone seminar in the Learning Center, however this year the program continued virtual seminars broadcasted live on Facebook. The Education Program unveiled the Archbold 2021 Virtual School Year website and resumed virtual scrub tours and lessons. These virtual events reached more people from across the globe, and it was exciting to grow these programs, reaching even more people in the future.
This year was also a year of exciting news and growth. Dr. Eric Menges, Archbold’s Director of Plant Ecology, retired after a remarkable 33 years of service. Dr. Aaron David, a former Plant Ecology Program intern, returned to Archbold to assume the position of Director of Plant Ecology. Thanks to a generous donor, a Director of Conservation was hired as well as a Conservation Cartographer, and a Communications Coordinator. Archbold constantly increases outreach and turns science into conservation action. The online social media presence grew, reaching broader audiences through national media outlets. Conservation successes were celebrated with collaborators, partners, and government agencies, including the passing and signing of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, as well as the budget allocation of $400 million toward land conservation by the Florida House and Senate. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch continues to lead in Agroecology with sustainable agriculture and ranching research. Gene Lollis, Ranch Manager, completed his year as President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, connecting the industry with science and the public. Protecting more wild areas and working lands, like ranches, in Florida is integral to protecting wildlife and ensuring Floridians can enjoy the great outdoors for many generations to come.
Archbold would not have been able to accomplish so much this year without loyal supporters, donors, Board members, and dedicated staff. Archbold is grateful for the generosity received throughout 2021, most notably a year-end donation match made by a loyal and generous Board member, and a $2 million gift from philanthropist K. Lisa Yang, establishing the John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology, in honor of former Executive Director and current Board Member Dr. John Fitzpatrick.
Archbold staff also received several well-deserved awards this year, highlighting their dedication and efforts in the science community. Dr. Reed Bowman, Archbold’s first John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology, received Audubon Florida’s 2021 Guy Bradley Award, and shared a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Honor Award with Research Assistants Rebecca Windsor and Greg Thompson, and the entire Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group Team, for their work with Florida Grasshopper Sparrow conservation. Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain and Archbold Data Manager Shefali Azad were both recognized at this year’s annual scientific meeting by the US Department of Agriculture Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR) for their contributions to the Network. Swain received the LTAR Founders Award in recognition of long-term leadership contributions that have influenced the vision and direction of the LTAR Network, and Azad received the LTAR Network Impact Award in recognition of individual and group network-level accomplishments that enable the LTAR Network to advance a vision for the sustainable intensification of US agriculture. Dr. Eric Menges, Emeritus Director of Plant Ecology, received the 2021 Mentor Award from the Florida Native Plant Society.
Although Archbold Biological Station remains closed to the general public ‘drop in’ visitors for now, the K-12 schools’ programs, college classes, and visiting scientists have restarted as well as planned public hikes and tours. The Station and Ranch continue to produce research and provide educational opportunities. Archbold staff and Board wish all readers, “A safe, happy, and healthy New Year!”
Archbold Biological Station soars to new heights with a generous $2 million dollar gift from philanthropist K. Lisa Yang, establishing the John W. Fitzpatrick Director of Avian Ecology. The gift was announced to the Board of Directors and staff along with the appointment of Dr. Bowman, who recently celebrated 30-years of service to Archbold, as its first recipient. The endowment will enhance bird research at Archbold, with a focus on the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay.
“Our staff, board, and supporters are deeply touched by Lisa Yang’s generous gift, which establishes the first endowed position at Archbold,” said Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director. “Her gift builds on Archbold’s 50-year investment in Florida Scrub-Jay research, which has advanced studies of animal behavior and ecology around the world. It will generate annual funding that will enhance bird research at Archbold and propel our science into the future. Long-term studies of animals constantly transform, drawing from legacy data and new technologies across generations of scientists. Lisa Yang’s enduring gift will facilitate this evolution of knowledge and bear future scientific fruits we cannot possibly foresee today.”
The endowment honors Archbold’s former Executive Director, current Board member, and Research Associate Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, who recently retired after 26 years as Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His lifetime vision, passion for ornithology and conservation science, and inspired leadership have earned him global recognition and countless awards and accolades. Since 1972, a significant part of Fitzpatrick’s work has been studying the behavior, ecology, and conservation genetics of the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay together with colleagues at Archbold. He continues actively studying scrub-jays with Dr. Bowman.
“I am thrilled and honored beyond words to have this program directorship bear my name. Archbold Biological Station is among the most important places in the world for me and my entire family,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick.
Yang visited Archbold with Fitzpatrick in 2019. Witnessing the charismatic Florida Scrub-Jays first-hand gave her a front-row seat to Archbold’s commitment to conservation and science and inspired her gift. She was fascinated by the enduring nature of this work, the longest continuous study of marked (banded) birds in North America.
“Traditional methods such as bird banding, combined with new technology and techniques, such as DNA sequencing and habitat mapping using drones, allow our research group to study changes over decades, enhancing conservation of this threatened species,” said Dr. Bowman. “Lisa’s generous gift will allow us to continue our cutting-edge efforts.”
“Today, we celebrate Lisa Yang for tying together the threads of her philanthropic generosity in such a remarkable fashion,” said Dr. Swain. “She loves birds. She holds Dr. John Fitzpatrick in the highest esteem. She is committed to science and technology. And she has a burgeoning interest in the work conducted by Archbold. We offer Lisa our eternal gratitude, and we are excited that her generosity will inspire others worldwide to support and sustain Archbold’s work. Truly her gift to Archbold is a gift that will keep on giving: she couldn’t be more inspirational.”
Archbold Biological Station is an independent, not-for-profit research facility whose mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters of the heart of Florida and beyond. Lying within the Headwaters of the Everglades, Archbold is one of the most renowned resources for field study of the natural environments in the world. For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.
Big-Headed Ants probably live in almost every backyard in Florida; however, their strange appearance and interesting behavior are seldom noticed. This is because they are small (usually no more than 1/8 inch long) and spend most of their time below ground. Unlike some small ants, they don’t get our attention by biting or stinging.
Most people are happy to ignore these ants, but at Archbold Biological Station there are few kinds of animals, even small innocuous ones, that are beneath the attention of curious researchers. The ten species of Big-Headed Ants living on the Station have been studied by both resident and visiting biologists. According to Archbold entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup, “Biologists can easily find the ants because the ants (and often the biologists) are strongly attracted to rich cookies, such as pecan sandies, which provide the tempting trifecta of sugar, fat, and protein.” Deyrup continued, “One of the discoveries resulting from baiting with cookie crumbs is that Big-Headed Ants are amazingly common in all natural terrestrial habitats, but different species are usually confined to particular habitats such as open sandy areas or dense scrub oak thickets.”
Big-Headed Ants belong to the ant genus Pheidole (pronounced Fie doh’ ly), a huge group of more than 900 species, most of them tropical. The name Pheidole means ‘thrifty’ in Greek, referring to the many species in the genus that harvest and store seeds. The entomologist who first named Pheidole ants in 1835 was impressed by a colony whose members were hauling damp seeds out of an anthill after a rain, laying the seeds in the sun to dry, then carrying them back down, showing “a perseverance offering a useful lesson to humanity.”
The diligence of Pheidole ants can be easily observed by setting out tiny piles of cookie crumbs on a warm day in almost any upland habitat in Florida. The speedy discovery of the crumbs by wandering scout ants is quickly followed by trails of ants recruited to retrieve the treats. This suggests that every inch of most Florida habitats is patrolled by ants.
An unusual feature of Big-Headed Ants is that their workers come in two sizes, one much bigger than the other and with a disproportionately massive head. These larger workers have specialized tasks such as seed milling or colony defense, while smaller workers tend to larvae in their nest and scout for food in the surrounding area. When he was making drawings for an identification guide to Florida ants, Dr. Deyrup had to draw both the big workers and the small ones of each species because they look so different.
The common little Big-Headed Ants working in their efficient teams at the l Station and throughout Florida must have an outsized effect reducing numbers of small insects and seeds that are gathered and consumed. These ants are just part of a menagerie of little creatures that manage the world beneath our feet. Just as a huge diversity of bacteria helps balance our digestive systems a huge diversity of tiny insects helps balance the natural world upon which we live.
Among the wall of green oak leaves and palmetto fronds, a silver shimmer catches the eye of Tori Bakley, a research assistant at Archbold Biological Station. Torn and tangled in the scrub oak branches, a deflated balloon still manages to shine in the afternoon sun—the third released balloon she’s found in the field that week.
As the saying goes, what goes up must come down, and this has become clear to Bakley during her time working outdoors. She says, “I’ve worked at research sites around the world and no matter how far I get from a city it seems like I can never escape the litter.” While balloons can drift miles through the air, other debris can travel surprising distances in wind or water if not disposed of properly.
Earlier this year while traveling through the scrub to collect data on Florida Scrub-Jay nests, Bakley stumbled across Gopher Tortoise droppings that appeared peculiar. Upon a closer look, the droppings contained pieces of mylar balloon. A wild tortoise had eaten a balloon that had floated into the scrub. Although the tortoise was able to pass pieces of the balloon, Archbold researchers don’t yet know if the tortoise will suffer from related complications, such as reduced nutritional intake or internal injuries. It is difficult to process findings like this since habitat is diligently managed for these endangered species and something as small as a single balloon can still threaten their lives. While Bakley is the first to document evidence of Gopher Tortoise plastic consumption, there are several reports of other species of turtles and tortoises consuming debris found in their habitat.
Greg Thompson, Archbold’s Red-Cockaded Woodpecker researcher based at Avon Park Air Force Range, was traveling through Longleaf Pine habitat when he, too, came across something unexpected. Attached to a lifeless balloon was a note written by a family from Plant City, Florida, roughly 50 miles away. They were hopeful their letter would travel to somewhere interesting, so they included their contact information in hopes of hearing back about the fate of their balloon. Unfortunately, its final destination happened to be one of the last remaining stands of Longleaf Pines, which the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker calls home.
Thompson took this opportunity to educate the family on the dangers of intentional balloon releases. He wrote back to update them on their balloon’s journey and to bring them into the conversation of humans’ direct impact on wildlife. He said, “It’s discouraging how often I come across mylar balloons and other plastic debris while out doing fieldwork. I don’t think people fully realize how much litter is created just by releasing balloons.”
Intentionally releasing balloons is illegal in several states, including Florida. Similar to littering, releasing 10 or more helium balloons is punishable by law and should be avoided. As we learn more about the hazards of balloon releases, their popularity in celebrations and memorials should diminish all together. Being mindful of the impacts our actions have on the world around us will help protect the threatened species and natural spaces we love so dearly.
Last month, Dustin Angell, Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education, and Katie Caldwell, the Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern, were invited to present on Archbold’s virtual education projects for the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST) conference by the Florida Department of Education’s STEAM team (science, technology, education, art, and math).
“This was our first time attending and presenting at FAST,” explains Angell. “We have always focused on serving local schools, but virtual programing is bringing us new audiences and partners. The STEAM Team is helping us find our niche in the Florida classroom, which looks to be sharing how the practice of science works with examples from Archbold research.”
Prior to 2020, the vast majority of environmental education at field stations across North America was occurring onsite. In Angell’s presentation, ‘The Virtual Field: Remote Learning at Field Stations in Florida and Beyond,’ he explained how some of these institutions reinvented their education programs during the pandemic and come together to create The Virtual Field (www.thevirtualfield.org), a website where students can remotely visit biological field stations around the world to develop their field skills and environmental literacy. Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain, is a project leader for this growing initiative.
In addition to the field station collaboration, Angell outlined what Archbold is providing for Florida elementary school classrooms. Private virtual classroom visits bring Archbold to the schools with two class options available: the ‘Snakes and Skulls’ classroom visit introduces students to a live Florida snake and a variety of animal skulls.
“The snake seems to be a favorite,” Caldwell notes. “Some students are a bit wary, but some are just so excited. It’s great to see that the students are still engaged and curious even over a Zoom call. They’re in the chat asking questions and giving us fun facts that they already know about Florida wildlife. It’s really fun for us as educators and for the students.”
The other virtual classroom visit is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style presentation. This format allows students autonomy to pick where they go on the trail, the questions they ask the scientists, and what to look at in greater detail.
Nature Wonder Alive with Mr. Dustin is a monthly interactive livestream show that takes viewers into various Florida habitats throughout Archbold’s 20,000 acres—from hiking in the endangered scrub to kayaking on Lake Annie. Since the program is live, the audience is able to participate and ask questions by typing in the chat box. Each episode features a guest scientist who showcases their research at Archbold.
Caldwell, who started in October and is the third consecutive education intern to work during the pandemic, is excited about the rest of the school year. “The virtual programs are game-changers for Archbold, but now we are scheduling in-person field trips again, too. This is exciting, because during my internship we are promoting both formats with the local schools. Dustin and I will be able to meet students virtually and take them for in-person tours,” Caldwell states.
Archbold Biological Station, located in Venus, Florida, is still closed to the public, but in-person guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more. To learn more about Archbold’s education programs, visit: www.archbold-education.com or call (863)465-2571.
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!