Dustin Angell, Archbold’s Director of Education, is an environmental educator and conservation photographer living and working in the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades. He builds community relationships and interprets ecological research for audiences of all ages. Dustin’s photography documents the science and conservation challenges of the region and the people trying to solve them.
Since 2014, Dustin has been photographing conservation workers from across Florida, including biologists, artists, and even cattle ranchers for his ‘Florida Stewards Project.’ This photo project aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the headwaters region of the Florida Everglades. To that end, the subjects each pose in their work clothes while holding the tools they use. Due to the importance of conservation to the community, these settings are subjects, too, and include: grasslands, scrublands, pinelands, ranchlands, wetlands, and others. Dustin stated, “Photographers have done this with many subcultures. After moving to the area in 2012, I found myself incorporated into a community built on science and conservation. And these people made up not just my professional network, but almost my entire social life, too. I felt that because of my photography skill set and access to their world, I had a responsibility to future generations to document their stories.”
Dustin’s portraits, now numbering 104, are featured in the August-September issue of Heartland Living Magazine (https://heartlandlivingmagazine.com/). Many of the portraits featured in the magazine are of employees, interns, or volunteers at Archbold. Describing his photographs, Dustin stated “They are modern, secular versions of Renaissance saint depictions, something you might see in a European art history book. Many elements of the portraits, like setting and lighting, postures and expressions, and even the angle I photograph from (usually kneeling on the ground) are intended to highlight the heroic aspects of the subjects. After all, these stewards spend hundreds or thousands of hours in Florida’s hot and humid interior.”
To learn more about Dustin’s ‘Florida Stewards Project,’ visit his website at: https://www.dustinangellphoto.com/florida-stewards. Dustin reflected, “Ultimately, I wish for future generations of Floridians to share and pass along a home that is alive with wild places and healthy ecosystems. These portraits are for them: a reminder of the community of people who, at a critical time in our history, oriented their lives and careers toward the stewardship needed to deliver that future.”
Archbold Avian Ecology Director Dr. Reed Bowman and research assistants Rebecca Windsor and Greg Thompson received a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Honor Award this past June, along with the entire Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group Team, affectionately known as ‘Team Sparrow.’ These awards recognize “extraordinary performance in a job, team, or volunteer assignment, demonstrated through exceptional innovation or ability.”
For 20 years, the Working Group has been dedicated to saving North America’s most endangered bird from extinction. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is geographically restricted to Florida and is resident year-round. Like most grassland birds in the US, these birds have experienced dramatic population declines. As of 2020, there were fewer than 200 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in the wild. The Working Group was established so that different agencies and organizations working with Florida Grasshopper Sparrows could share knowledge with each other. The working group includes state and federal agencies, managers, researchers, captive breeders, and NGOs, including Archbold Biological Station and Audubon Florida. Everglades Science Coordinator for Audubon Florida Dr. Paul Gray stated, “Audubon is a founding member of the Working Group, and it has been a long hard haul to get this far, but the partners stuck together, and there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel for the sparrow.”
Scientists in Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program have been members of the Working Group since its inception. Archbold researchers study Florida Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) in native prairies and on ranches, trying to understand how the sparrows respond to different prescribed fire regimes, predator communities, habitat structure, and grazing.
Reflecting on his work with the sparrows, Greg Thompson, Archbold research assistant and one of the recipients of the USFWS Regional Director Honor Award, stated, “It’s a dream of many early career biologists to be on the front lines of conservation, helping to save endangered species. Starting my career working with such a critically endangered species in my home state has been an amazing experience. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a project where I can put my skills to use for such an important cause. Receiving this award feels very validating. One thing that I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of different people with a lot of different skill sets to save a species. This award recognizes and celebrates our combined contributions.”
Andrew Schumann, Animal Collections Manager at White Oak Conservation and member of ‘Team Sparrow’ reflects, “Despite the threat of extinction looming in recent years, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group has been a source of hope and security because we are all working together to save the bird that represents Florida’s dry prairies. We are very proud to have received the USFWS Regional Directors Award with all of our partners and colleagues, and to continue our efforts to bring the buzz song of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow back to the prairie.”
You may have seen it along the roadside or even on your own property, the climbing vine known as Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium microphyllum) that quickly overtakes native vegetation. First introduced to Florida as an ornamental vine around the turn of the 20th century, Old World Climbing Fern is native to Australia and was first observed to have become established in 1965. It invades a suite of habitats, including tree islands in the Everglades, cypress swamps, pastures, and flatwoods, making many of Florida’s natural areas and working lands potential targets. It is now one of Florida’s most invasive plant species.
Removing Old World Climbing Fern is easier said than done. Herbicide application temporarily kills the aboveground vegetation, however the plant can regrow from its belowground root system in as little as six months. At Archbold, Old World Climbing Fern can be found in most of the forested wetlands. According to Land Manager Kevin Main, “Even with persistent control efforts, Old World Climbing Fern, a fern that grows like a vine climbing trees and shrubs, can be near-impossible to eradicate. We have treated populations of climbing fern with herbicides for many years, and follow-up treatments are always necessary.” Despite it being difficult to eradicate, there may be hope to control it, thanks to a few tiny creates and an approach called ‘Biological Control.’
Biological control, or controlling a specific plant or animal with another, offers a long-term, sustainable solution to managing invasive plants like Old World Climbing Fern. The goal of biological control is to reduce the invasive plant to levels where management is minimal, but not to necessarily eradicate the plant. To do this, biologists seek out specialist herbivores, typically insect plant eaters, from the geographical range where the plant originated. These herbivores are selected because they feed on the invasive plant species and nothing else. Given that there were early mistakes with biological control across the world that often caused more problems, insect species that are deemed specialists for biological control nowadays go through a lengthy regulatory approval process before they can be released in the US.
“Biological control is a safe, sustainable tool for managing invasive plants,” says Dr. Aaron David, the Program Director of Plant Ecology at Archbold. “Controlling invasive plants is a daunting task, so by letting the plant’s natural herbivores do some of the work for us, we can hope to achieve a long-term practical and cost effective solution.”
There are two approved, established biological control agents for Old World Climbing Fern – the Lygodium Brown Moth and the Lygodium Mite. The moth’s larvae can cause widespread ‘brownouts’ when feeding on the aboveground leaves and stems, and the mite can mangle the growing tips of the vine and slow the plant’s growth. Archbold partners with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service’s Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, FL to release these insects on the Archbold property.
“These biological control agents can cause impressive levels of damage to Old World Climbing Fern, and we are in the process of evaluating just how effective they are,” says David.
“It’s important to keep in mind that biological control is no silver bullet that automatically controls the plant, but instead is often most effective when used with other management activities such as herbicide treatment or fire.”
David added, “Biological control is one tool of many that we can deploy to help curb invasive species.”
Highlands County, Florida is home to some amazing wildlife. Several species in this region are found nowhere else in the world, and many are threatened or endangered. Unfortunately, you can drive any road through Highlands County and be sure to see roadkill. Mortality from vehicle strikes is a major cause of death for some species, including the state-threatened Gopher Tortoise. Animals aren’t the only ones that suffer when animals are hit by vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, approximately 4-10% of wildlife-vehicle collisions result in human injuries. While roadkill is a problem that can never be fully solved, there are ways to reduce your chances of hitting an animal, helping you and preserving your neighborhood wildlife.
Reptiles and amphibians can be seen crossing roads fairly frequently, and Highlands County is home to many. In fact, 48 species of reptiles and 21 species of amphibians have been recorded at Archbold Biological Station alone. Freshwater turtles and Gopher Tortoises are usually easy to see on a road as they move about during the hotter parts of the day. If you see one on a road and can safely stop, pick it up with two hands on either side of the shell, towards the back, and place it well off the road in the direction it was headed. Never lift a turtle by the tail or a leg and be sure to sanitize your hands after touching any wild animal. While tortoises and most of the turtles you will encounter are gentle, be extra careful around the Softshell Turtle and snapping turtles as they may bite if they feel threatened. If in doubt, simply remain in your vehicle and give the turtle space to cross on its own. Dustin Angell, Archbold’s Director of Education, reminds us, “Some Gopher Tortoises at Archbold have been recorded as living for more than sixty years, so that tortoise you saw crossing the street may have been traveling back and forth on that same route for decades, possibly before that road was even laid down or became highly trafficked.” He also emphasizes that anyone wishing to help an animal cross or move off the road only do so when it is safe.
Snakes are also more active during hotter parts of the day and may look like cracks, sticks, or other debris in the road. Archbold is home to 28 species of snakes, most of which are not a threat to humans, and all of which play vital roles in the ecosystem. However, some snake species are venomous, and others may bite when they feel threatened. As such, Archbold does not advise picking up snakes; instead, simply brake and give the snake time and space to finish crossing the road. Similarly, you may see alligators crossing roads, particularly during the dry season as they seek out new water sources or males seeking mates in the mating season. Never approach an alligator, rather give it room to cross the road by itself.
From armadillos to hogs, mammals are some of the more common roadkill here in Highlands County. Raccoons, opossums, armadillos, deer, and feral hogs are all likely to be most active in those low-visibility driving times of early morning and late evening. Virginia Opossums are one of the more prevalent road-killed mammals. Joe Guthrie, Archbold’s Predator-Prey Program Director, says that opossums “are a super valuable scavenger, cleaning up dead animals (hence why they are constantly standing around in roadways) and feeding on mice, rats, and cockroaches, all of which help prevent the spread of pathogens. They also can consume as many as 4,000 ticks a week! We should at least try to keep from killing them with our cars.”
Some local mammals at risk of roadkill are large species such as the Florida Black Bear (listed as threatened in the state) and the Florida Panther, which is federally endangered. Both species require large amounts of land for habitat and to roam (home range of Florida Black Bear ~10-40 square miles and Florida Panther ~275 square miles). Guthrie also notes: “We know auto accidents are a huge threat to the endangered Florida Panther, for example, in most years collisions with vehicles claim >10% of the estimated population (120-230 panthers).”
Highlands County is a spectacular place for birding with more than 277 species reported (see www.ebird.org) and great birding locations including Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Istokpoga, and Lake June-in-Winter State Park. The best strategy to employ when approaching a bird on the road, of any size, is to brake until you can be sure the bird is off road. One reason birds end up feeding in roadways is roadside litter and other roadkill. Avoiding littering and collecting litter, means fewer scavengers (mice, raccoons, etc.) are attracted. Moving roadkill well back off the road means species like vultures, owls, hawks, and crows lured in do not become roadkill in turn.
Wildlife will always surprise you on the road, and for the sake of safety, the animal’s well-being, and your vehicle it is prudent to have several avoidance strategies available. Carefully looking out on the road ahead of you allows you to see most animals and gives you time to brake or stop. Large animals such as deer or bear might cross the road quickly and unexpectedly, so it is wise to drive slowly at dawn and dusk when these animals are generally more active. Similarly, when driving in the dark or in fog make sure your stopping distance is within the area illuminated by your headlights; overdriving your headlights can create a blind ‘crash area’ in front of you. Drive particularly carefully in areas posted as wildlife crossings as these areas are known wildlife crossing locations with records of animal-vehicle collisions. Overall safer driving practices mean we can help protect animals and ourselves.
Despite these efforts, animals may still be injured on roads. If you do come across a living animal that has been struck by a car, you can contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Archbold Biological Station is not a wildlife rehabilitation center and does not have the staff, facilities, or permits to care for injured animals. Instead, you should call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator such as the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey or visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website to find a contact: https://myfwc.com/media/5423/licensedwildliferehabilitatorsbyregion.pdf. If you cannot reach a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who can treat the type of animal you found, you can contact FWC’s Southwest Regional Office for assistance at (863) 648-3200.
In the words of Joe Guthrie, “If we all slow down and raise our vigilance about animals in the road in these hotspots maybe we can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and make our own daily drive a little less hazardous.” Highlands County boasts a breathtaking diversity of wildlife, and this is one way we can all help to conserve our natural heritage for generations to come.
Meredith Heather, research assistant and graduate student in Archbold’s Avian Ecology program, emerged from the tall, dense Florida Scrub after observing a family of Florida Scrub-Jays for more than an hour. Ryan Howell, a research assistant and drone pilot in Archbold’s GIS Program, met up with Meredith carrying one of Archbold’s drones. They are using drones equipped with cameras and sensors to map Florida scrub habitat structure. They specifically measure the variation in height of the vegetation and how patchy the height is in the scrub.
Meredith explained, “We’re working towards getting a better idea of how vegetative structure has been influenced by fire and how this variation in structure may influence the behavior of Florida Scrub-Jays. Mapping vegetation height with a drone greatly reduces the time it would take to measure plants by hand. Without the drone, I wouldn’t be able to complete my master’s thesis in a reasonable time-frame.” For her thesis, Meredith is interested in how small-scale patches of vegetation and variation in vegetation height affect the jays’ foraging success and behavior. “After spending countless hours observing jays, I can overlay the locations where they feed, foraging success, and other behaviors onto maps that include habitat data to understand how jays use different habitat patches. I want to know whether they avoid, or prefer, some vegetation structure types, or if their behaviors differ in certain patch types,” Meredith stated.
Historically, lightning-ignited wildfires burned thousands of acres at a time in Florida’s scrub ecosystem. Archbold’s Land Manager Kevin Main explained, “Fires would have been frequent, multi-day events in which the fire was naturally ignited by lightning, might lower in intensity and creep around overnight, then pick up the next day and race across large areas in a different direction with a shift in the wind. Imagine this happening several days in a row, and you can get an idea of the scale and patchiness of natural fires.” These frequent fires created a very large-scale mosaic of patches with histories of burns at different times. When one patch was getting overgrown and due for a fire, another patch had burned, allowing jays to shift to recently burned optimal habitat.
Areas of scrub became smaller, and the scrub habitat became fragmented as land was converted to agriculture and urban development increased. Additionally, the natural wildfires important for the ecosystem were impeded by roads and infrastructure and suppressed by humans. You’ve likely seen some long-unburned, overgrown scrub patches in your neighborhoods. Numerous plants and animals that depend on scrub, including the federally Threatened Florida Scrub-Jay, rely on fire to periodically “reset” the scrub to a recently burned condition they prefer. “Species such as the Florida Scrub-Jays would have adapted to these post-fire conditions, responding to changes in the vegetation structure and the associated changes in food availability,” Kevin said.
Archbold, most public land agencies in Florida, and many private landowners utilize prescribed burning to mimic those natural processes and enhance habitat. Kevin Main creates an annual Fire Plan for Archbold Biological Station based on the fire history of different burn units on the Station, the appropriate fire return interval for the habitat type within each unit, and the research needs of the Station’s scientists. One challenge for fire managers is to mimic the historical large-scale fire mosaic at a much smaller scale—hundreds of acres rather than thousands. That means creating patchy fires and leaving patches of habitat with different fire histories and structure within relatively small areas.
Florida Scrub-Jays are habitat specialists and are non-migratory, meaning they occupy the same territory year-round. For them, optimal habitat is burned every five to fifteen years; however, we know little about how patchiness within territories might affect the jays. Avian Ecology Program Director Dr. Reed Bowman says, “Burns can vary greatly in intensity and behavior, which might be influenced by fire history, weather, scrub type, and slope, among many other factors. Time since fire is an imperfect surrogate for habitat structure, and jays are concerned about habitat structure. When scrub becomes too tall—usually about 20 years after a fire—the jays inevitably disappear. Meredith’s thesis work will help us understand the complex relationship between fire and the resulting habitat structure, how this affects jays, and how this might be relevant to land managers trying to make sure that Florida Scrub-Jays persist on their small preserves.”
Four earlier articles (7/8/20, 8/19/20, 3/10/21, 6/16/2021) were published in the Highlands News-Sun and this is Part 5 of that series.
The legacy of the Archbold Expeditions is ongoing nearly 90 years after Richard Archbold, founder of Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County, first commenced his explorations in the South Pacific. Thousands of specimens were collected, many hundreds of photographs were taken, and hundreds more scientific publications were produced to summarize what has been discovered. These materials continue to be studied well into the 21st century and inform scientific inquiries right up until the present day.
Archbold Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer described the legacy of Richard Archbold’s expeditions as follows, “The first three Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea were notable for their geographic scope, meticulous preparation, and support by airplanes on the second and third expeditions. The Archbold Expeditions after World War II were less ambitious in scope and did not use airplanes. Nonetheless, the combined results of the Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and Sulawesi were remarkable for the great number of specimens of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates they collected, and for the detailed ecological and geographical information, and photographs that accompanied the specimens. These collections included many new species in almost all taxa collected. Collections and activities of the Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and Sulawesi contributed entirely, or substantially, to 127 scientific publications in botany, 60 about invertebrates, and 135 about vertebrates.”
Dr. Bruce Beeler spent many years studying the birds of New Guinea. When he was asked by Archbold Librarian Joe Gentili about the legacy of Richard Archbold’s expeditions Beeler said, “I visited Lake Habbema in 1981, when it was still accessible only by foot traffic. Of course, now one can drive! I spent 6 days camped on the west margin lake. I found the (original) Archbold camp, on a small rise overlooking the north side of the lake on my hike back to Wamena via the Bele (Ibele) valley…I felt a very special feeling being at that spot! The 3rd Archbold Expedition was their greatest, no doubt. Besides all the novel species of plants and birds and other taxa, the transect they cut from the Idenburg River south across two mountain ranges and of course discovering the Grand Valley of the Balim, was stupendous…Lake Habbema is one of the most beautiful spots in all of beautiful New Guinea, with the open gladelike environs at high elevation, and the vistas of the complex lake and the great massif of Puncak Trikora (Mt. Wilhelmina) to the south… where they discovered the Snow Robins up on the rocky scree–the highest-living songbird in New Guinea.”
‘The Archbold Collections at the American Museum of Natural History, 1928-1980’ is the official designation given to the total materials from all the Archbold Expeditions, housed at the Museum. Richard Archbold was a Fellow of the American Museum of Natural History, and his expeditions were sponsored in conjunction with the Museum. According to the Museum, the collection “is comprised of material that documents the expeditionary fieldwork of Richard Archbold and the Archbold Expeditions. It is housed within the AMNH Department of Mammalogy Archive, and encompasses a variety of formats, including photographs, slides, film, scrapbooks, correspondence, financial records, and field documentation such as catalogs, specimen lists, field notes and journals. These describe both the day-to-day activities of the expedition participants as well as the study of the scientific collections.” In total these materials comprise 56 linear feet of archive space.
Housed at the American Museum of Natural History, the specimens and expedition collections are actively used by museum scholars to the present day. In addition to work done by Dr. Lauren Oliver on the frogs of New Guinea (mentioned earlier in part 2 of this series), further work was conducted in 2014 in the mountains of New Guinea. According to an American Museum of Natural History article, “[Researchers] returned yesterday from their satellite camp at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) elevation and reported species not found here at 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). This is typical for montane faunas, where species drop in and out according to their elevational requirements. Comparing the picture today with data collected in historic expeditions like the Museum’s Archbold Expeditions (a series of seven expeditions to New Guinea conducted between 1933 and 1964) can give us insight into the possible effects of climate change in the tropics. For example, we know that the highest peaks of Papua New Guinea were once topped with glaciers that have disappeared in recent times.”
Richard Archbold’s legacy lives on in tangible ways here in Venus, Florida as well. There are several individuals like Fred Lohrer who knew Richard Archbold while he was still alive. These people continue his legacy through the stories they tell about his life. This living connection to Archbold is an invaluable resource when one wants to learn more about this fascinating individual, and the explorations he led and sponsored.
Since the first satellite was launched into orbit in 1957, satellites have been integrated into our everyday lives, even though they are in orbit hundreds or even thousands of miles above us. Daily satellite applications assist by providing the first weather forecast in the morning to know how to dress up, navigating your trip to a beautiful but strange place, and even help with paying for your coffee with your debit card through a satellite link between the coffee shop and your bank. In addition to these daily applications, some satellites equipped with sensors (special cameras) are also used by scientists to ‘sense’ things about the Earth, a science known as satellite-based remote sensing.
It would not be surprising if you have wondered how satellite-based sensors observe the Earth from space. Some sensors ‘see’ the same visible light that is seen by the human eye (red, blue, green, wavelengths), while other sensors also measure the ‘invisible light’ that is not detectable by the human eye (e.g. ultraviolet and infrared). The objective of satellite-based remote sensing is to help us understand the Earth better by recording and analyzing the energy from visible and invisible light or wavelengths reflected or emitted from the Earth’s surface. Satellite-based remote sensing has been used in a wide variety of fields, such as estimating yield from farm field crops, predicting the conditions in grass pastures, and monitoring active volcanoes.
Scientific research using remote sensing is accelerating at Archbold with data from both satellite-based and drone-based remote sensing. Archbold has been among the first to apply satellite-based remote sensing to study how much plants are growing every year (a measure known as gross primary productivity), in different types of cattle pastures in south-central Florida, where Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is conducting a project in collaboration with the University of Florida, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Cornell University. This research is contributing to the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The project is led by Dr. Betsey Boughton, Research Director at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, and Dr. Xukai Zhang, her Postdoctoral Research Associate. Dr. Zhang explained, “Gross primary productivity is an estimate of the amount of energy and material entering the terrestrial ecosystem. Accurate estimates of gross primary productivity help us understand the carbon cycle from the atmosphere to plants and soil, and back up to the atmosphere. My project is designed to help us better understand the carbon cycle in Florida’s grazing lands, contributing towards the science of estimating gross primary productivity on a regional scale. It is also important to inform sustainable grassland management. I find it rewarding to think about how to scale up the data from Florida to other sites in the USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network and help build the bigger picture nationwide.”
Dr. Zhang came to Archbold in March 2019 after graduating from Louisiana State University with 8 years of experience in remote sensing research. After two years of research at Buck Island Ranch, Dr. Zhang shared, “I was amazed by the beautiful scenery on my arrival at Buck Island Ranch. It was my first experience applying my research to a commercial size ranch and I felt excited by this opportunity.” One of the goals of Dr. Zhang’s research is to build a remotely-sensed gross primary productivity model and validate it using many years of plant data collected on the ground by Dr. Boughton and her research crews. Dr. Zhang built a model calculated from satellite data that produces a vegetation ‘index,’ integrating characteristics of the vegetation combined with the surface temperature of the land. He explained, “The ‘vegetation index’ is a mathematical term that combines information about two or more wavelengths measured by the satellite and reveals characteristics of vegetation. The vegetation index in the model I have produced helps us detect factors such as the beginning and end of the plant growing season and illustrates how much or how little photosynthesis is occurring in the plants.”
With a typical subtropical climate, grazing lands in south central Florida are a mosaic of improved or highly managed pastures, native grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands that provide a variety of ecosystem services, such as forage for livestock, maintaining plant and animal biodiversity, and taking up carbon as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis (often called carbon sequestration, or absorption of atmospheric carbon by soil and plants). The study spans a range of vegetation types from managed pastures and wetlands at Buck Island Ranch to native grasslands and woodlands at the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center at Ona, about 50 miles west of Highlands County. Dr. Boughton noted, “The mosaic of different land uses makes it both an opportunity and challenge for studying the subtropical grazing lands by remote sensing.” Dr. Zhang added, “Another major issue is Florida’s frequent cloud cover, that intermittently blocks satellite signals.” After overcoming mountains of technical and data difficulties, Dr. Zhang has finally improved the accuracy of estimating productivity for subtropical grazing lands by satellite-based remote sensing. Dr. Boughton remarked, “Estimating productivity of grazing lands is like feeling the pulse of grazing lands and is helpful to guiding the ranch management.”
Remote sensing is a discipline continuously in movement and the future is bright. Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch not only hired its first postdoc researcher for remote sensing, but it also completed the first post-baccalaureate internship to study remote sensing: Anna Odell of Brown University. Working with Zhang and Boughton, she studied the classification of pasture types on the Ranch using remote sensing. As you are reading this article, more powerful and more accurate sensors are being developed and deployed. Myriads of scientists are currently working on new ways to analyze remote sensed data. In future we will be even better at documenting, understanding, and predicting changes in our farmlands and environments.
(originally published June 30, 2021 in the Highlands News-Sun)
June is Pride Month, and this year marks the 41st anniversary since the first Pride Parade was held in New York City to commemorate the historic Stonewall Uprising, a turning point in the Gay Liberation movement in the US. Pride is a time of visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, where everyone can be proud to be their authentic selves and celebrate self-worth. It is also a time to recognize and honor the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals within our science and conservation communities and throughout the world, including pioneering scientists like Alan Turing, a British mathematician who was a code breaker during WWII, and Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. While progress has been made towards equal rights and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there is still much progress to be made until everyone is truly treated fairly and equally.
Representation and inclusivity in the workplace, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) fields, is lacking. LGBTQ+ undergraduate students pursuing degrees in STEM are less likely to remain in STEM after graduation than non-LGBTQ+ students. According to a 2021 article in the journal Science Advances by the authors Erin A. Cech & Tom J. Waidzuanas, LGBTQ+ STEM professionals are more likely to be harassed and find it more challenging to advance in their careers compared to non-LGBTQ+ peers. Discussing his experience in STEM, Archbold staff Dr. Zach Forsburg said, “I’ve faced microaggressions in previous jobs and during graduate school because I’m openly gay, and I’ve heard many accounts of others being openly discriminated against because of being LGBTQ+. Sadly, many LGBTQ+ STEM professionals make the choice to not be ‘out’ in the workplace due to fear of harassment or discrimination, a clear indication that organizations and society need to do better.”
Archbold Biological Station proudly celebrates and supports our LGBTQ+ colleagues and friends. Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain emphasizes, “Archbold strives to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment and understands that we can do more to promote a more diverse workplace. Archbold’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee works to identify and remove internal barriers that hinder diversity and inclusion, and to increase opportunities, accessibility, and meaning for all. It is important for Archbold to address LGBTQ+ opportunities as an employer and a workplace in Highlands County. We also want to ensure that people of all backgrounds, including the LGBTQ+ community, feel welcome here. Once Archbold is fully open to the public post-COVID (please stay tuned), we want to ensure that our nature trails and other environmental opportunities are available to all, and that all are welcomed.”
Dr. Zach Forsburg said of working at Archbold, “I am out and proud at Archbold because I think visibility and representation are important. I am fortunate to work at a place where I feel safe to be my authentic self and where I am supported by my colleagues.” Dr. Forsburg works closely with Director of Philanthropy Deborah Pollard, who says of Zach, “It is my utmost privilege to work with Zach. He brings wholeness to the Philanthropy and Communications programs and thus, to the organization. He helps us to understand better how to consider all audiences when crafting a message and reaching audiences when we share the impact of our Science with others. Zach is thinking of everyone, and that is inclusivity. I am so grateful he is on our team.”
To quote the Reverend Eston Williams, Archbold would “rather be excluded for who we include than included for who we exclude.”
November 28th, 2020 was a conservation milestone for Florida. On this day Elizabeth DeLuca and family conveyed the 27,000-acre DeLuca Preserve to the University of Florida Foundation, with a conservation easement held by Ducks Unlimited. Just southwest of Yeehaw Junction, the Preserve protects a vast expanse of managed pastures and citrus as well as extensive dry prairies, innumerable seasonal wetlands, and longleaf pine savannas. The Preserve is adjacent to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to the southwest, which in turn is adjacent to Avon Park Air Force Range on the west side of the Kissimmee River. Just north of these three properties lies Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. In total, these properties protect a quarter million acres of native habitats at the center of the historic distribution of dry prairie in Florida. More properties are being considered for protection, many as private lands with easements, with the potential to eventually create a network of connected and conserved lands of more than 400,000 acres. Some will be working landscapes like the DeLuca Preserve and some managed wildlands, but all support populations of many of Florida’s most endangered species.
In 2014, a population of Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) was found on DeLuca Preserve. This subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow is geographically restricted to Florida and resident year-round. Like most grassland birds throughout the US, these birds have experienced dramatic population declines. As of 2020, there were fewer than ~100 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in the wild and about 33% of these occurred on DeLuca Preserve. It is also the only site in which sparrows occupy pastures grazed by cattle.
Since 2017, scientists in Archbold Biological Station’s Avian Ecology Program have studied these fascinating sparrows, trying to understand the potential risks and rewards of living on grazed pastures. Virtually all Florida Grasshopper Sparrows on protected public lands occupy native dry prairie where no grazing occurs. But if data from DeLuca suggest that pasture management can be compatible for both Florida Grasshopper Sparrows and cattle, then ranchlands may be essential to the long-term survival of the species. Virtually all native dry prairie that still exists is already protected, but ranchlands are mosaics of habitat, including managed pastures and native dry prairie, as well as other native habitats. If we can discover the appropriate management to support both FGSPs and profitable cattle operations, we could greatly expand the area of potential habitat for the FGSPs, and coupled with other land protections and conservation strategies, such as recent releases of captive-reared birds, greatly increase their numbers ensuring their long-term persistence.
This vision, to a great extent, depends on developing management plans that will not limit cultural and agricultural uses in working landscapes and maintaining profitable cattle production and thriving FGSP populations. Archbold looks forward to working collaboratively with University of Florida, Ducks Unlimited, and many other partners to see this vision fulfilled.
Three earlier articles (7/8/20, 8/19/20, and 3/10/21) were published in the Highlands News-Sun and this is Part 4 of that series.
After personally leading three expeditions to the island of New Guinea, Richard Archbold was forced to rethink his plans for future Pacific exploration. By the time he and crew returned to America in 1939, the world was on the brink of war. Imperial Japan had already invaded Manchuria in 1935 and because of the instability in the region he put his plans to explore on hold. In fact, he would never again go to New Guinea nor anywhere else in the Pacific. By the end of WWII, he was a 38-year-old who had lived in Highlands County for four years. A combination of factors led to Archbold’s decision to lead scientific expeditions no longer himself. However, before his death in 1976 he would sponsor six more expeditions to the South Pacific.
From 1948 through 1976 Archbold funded an expedition to the Cape York Peninsula in Australia, four more expeditions to New Guinea, and one to Sulawesi in Indonesia. He remained fascinated by the flora and fauna of the Southeast Pacific throughout his life and was a generous benefactor towards continued research in these locales. He mainly studied mammals while on expedition and ensured that these animals were researched in his absence. However, a variety of species of insects, birds, plants, reptiles, and amphibians were collected during every expedition.
When Archbold had to choose an expedition leader to replace himself he decided on botanist Dr. Leonard Brass. Brass accompanied Archbold on the first three New Guinea Expeditions, and he was tasked to lead the Australian and three subsequent New Guinea Expeditions. According to Archbold Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer, “Brass led the Australian Expedition, the Fourth New Guinea Expedition which included Eastern Papua on Cape Vogel Peninsula and Goodenough Island, The Fifth New Guinea Expedition to the Eastern Papuan Islands, and The Sixth New Guinea Expedition to Papua New Guinea; Eastern Highlands, including Mt. Wilhelm.” Brass spent many years during the period of 1948-1959 in Australia and New Guinea leading these expeditions. While in America however he lived and worked at the Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Florida. All told he led or participated in six expeditions to New Guinea and one to Australia, during his lifetime.
The Seventh and final New Guinea Expedition took place in 1964 and a new leader was chosen: Dr. Hobart Van Dussen, who was a mammalogist by trade. Archbold and crew first explored New Guinea in 1933, and finally 31 years later the last scientist in his employ departed the island.
The Sulawesi Expedition was led by Dr. Guy Musser, who was also a mammalogist. This expedition would be the last scientific exploration sponsored by Richard Archbold before his death. Lohrer said of Musser and the expedition, “The Sulawesi Expedition was 1973-1976…Musser continued to publish on Sulawesi specimens well into his retirement. His Sulawesi publications were certainly a great contribution to the taxonomy and systematics of Asian Mammalogy.” In the final installment of our series, we will dig deeper into the scientific legacy of the Archbold Expeditions, and how the specimens collected contributed to a variety of scientific disciplines.
Dr. Aaron David at the entrance to Archbold. Photo by Karen Rice-David.
Authors: Hilary Swain and Laura Reed
Since June 1988, Dr. Eric Menges has served as an outstanding scientist and leader of scientific research, conservation, and education activities in Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program. At last count, Dr. Menges has published 183 scientific papers and nearly 200 Technical Reports. Under his leadership, the ‘Plant Lab’ has trained and supervised 33 Research Assistants and 127 Archbold interns, nearly all of whom have gone on to great careers across the nation and internationally. On June 30, 2021, Dr. Menges will retire, assuming his new title: Emeritus Research Biologist on July 1.
A former Plant Ecology Program intern now returns to Archbold, as Dr. Menges prepares to retire after a remarkable 33 years of service. Dr. Aaron David assumed the position of Director of Plant Ecology on June 1, 2021. Dr. Menges first welcomed Aaron David to Archbold as an intern in 2009, serving as an inspiring mentor and introducing him to the world of scrub plants and field ecology. After his internship, Dr. David received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 2016, a Post-Doctoral Associate position at the University of Miami from 2016-2018, and a Research Ecologist position with the US Department of Agriculture Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Ft. Lauderdale since 2018. Dr. David shared, “I’m thrilled to be back at Archbold working in the Florida scrub. The station has meant so much to me over the years, and I’m honored to have this opportunity to continue the Plant Lab’s legacy.”
During the month of June, the two program directors will overlap and work with their research assistants and interns to ensure a smooth transition. Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain remarked, “Dr. Menges has been a wonderful scientist and mentor and leaves a living legacy of those he trained and supervised in the Plant Ecology Program. We are delighted to welcome Dr. David and fully anticipate his knowledge and skills will continue to expand the field of plant ecology at the Station, building upon Eric’s great success story.” Dr. Menges added, “It has been a privilege to work at Archbold and in the Florida scrub all these years. I am confident that Aaron will bring the Plant Ecology Program in some exciting new directions!”
Welcome, Dr. David, and best wishes for a long career at Archbold! Congratulations, Dr. Menges, and best wishes for the next chapter of your life!
Dr. Eric Menges in the Florida scrub at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Dustin Angell.
In the 1920s, people came to Florida for many of the same reasons they do today, seeking mild winters and the beauty of a Southern getaway. The Lake Placid Club of New York established its Florida resort on Lake Childs (renamed Lake Placid), and among its visitors were Margaret and John Roebling. Margaret’s tuberculosis led to the Roeblings’ decision to settle just south of Lake Placid and build their estate on a property called Red Hill. Construction of their estate began in 1929, during the Great Depression. The construction of the estate continued despite Margaret’s untimely death in October 1930, and the estate buildings were completed in 1935, after which John decided to sell or donate the Red Hill Estate.
There was little interest from buyers, but a chance meeting between John’s son Donald and Richard Archbold (an old school friend) in 1940 was a catalyst for a great transition. The onset of World War II meant that Archbold would no longer be able to conduct his overseas expeditions to the Pacific. He was seeking a US base to continue his biological research. In July 1941, John Roebling deeded his Red Hill Estate to Richard Archbold for $1.00, trusting that he would be “sensitive to the unspoiled beauty of the land.”
As World War II raged in the Pacific, Richard Archbold began to implement his ideas for a biological field station, and by the end of the war, he was fully committed to Archbold Biological Station. Richard remained on site as its full-time resident, and very active leader, for the next 35 years. Throughout the years, Richard built a tradition of scientific excellence, inviting scientists from around the world to visit. The list of scientists who stayed at the Station reads like a who’s who of mid-century ecologists. Richard also invested in conservation and stewardship. Beginning in 1967, the Station started mapping fires systematically and the scientific data began to reveal that fire is vital for scrub species and crucial to the stewardship of the land. In 1973, Archbold purchased 2,773 acres of adjacent land, adding important scrub habitat.
In the spring of 1976, facing terminal cancer, Richard Archbold was hospitalized in Palm Beach County. With the future of Archbold Expeditions and the Station unclear, Archbold personally typed a new will that ensured the land, buildings, and his personal fortune would be dedicated to the Station. His sister, Frances Archbold Hufty, agreed to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Archbold Expeditions. So began the next era of Archbold Biological Station. Cheers to the past 80 years and cheers to the next 80 years!
If you live in or near a city or town, chances are the night sky you see is not as dark as it should be. The reason for the disappearing night is ‘Light Pollution.’ A growing problem across the globe, light pollution is the excessive use of artificial light that alters natural light/dark cycles in the environment. It is estimated that more than 80% of the world’s population lives in areas polluted by light, and nearly 99% of the continental United States is exposed to some level of light pollution. There are several categories of light pollution, including ‘glare’ due to excessive brightness, ‘light trespass’ when light illuminates areas where it is not intended or needed, and ‘sky glow,’ the brightening of the night sky. Though first recognized as just a nuisance in the 1970’s by astronomers, only recently has light pollution been recognized by scientists as a significant threat to biodiversity. Light pollution has become one of the most chronic human-caused disturbances to the environment, having far reaching effects on wildlife.
Until the invention of lightbulbs, wildlife evolved and adapted to ‘day and night’ light cycles, so it is not surprising that light pollution negatively impacts wildlife. Many physiological and behavioral traits are tied to natural light and dark cycles, which are disrupted or altered when light pollution is present. For diurnal species, melatonin and serotonin levels may drop during nighttime hours if excessive human-caused light is present. Songbirds in the city or rural areas exposed to light pollution will start their morning calls before the sun rises and might even start laying eggs too early in the season, because their sense of time and season is disrupted by constant light exposure. Constant light effectively eliminates night, disrupting nocturnal species like frogs and salamanders. Frogs in areas of intense light pollution experience increased stress, which can negatively impact growth and mating and diminish their ability to cope with diseases or predation. Nocturnal salamanders exposed to light pollution will continue to hide after dusk and reduce the number of hours spent foraging. Many people are aware of the disorienting effect that heavily lit beaches have on sea turtle nestlings and this example provides the easy solution to light pollution.
There are several ways you can help reduce light pollution in your area, and in doing so help reduce the negative impacts it has on wildlife. The first, and easiest, way is to simply turn off outdoor lights when they are not necessary. If lights must be used outside, make sure to install light fixtures as low as possible. Tall light posts contribute to light trespass and sky-glow by illuminating more than the intended area, so using shorter lamp posts or footlights along a path reduces the amount of wasted light. Additionally, motion sensors, dimmers, and shields can be used to reduce light pollution and focus the light to where it is needed. Lastly, using longer-wavelength LED lights rather than bright-white or blue heavy LEDs helps reduce the negative impacts of light pollution, as animals, including humans, are more sensitive to blue-white light (think TVs and smartphones).
When Archbold Biological Station built two state-of-the-art buildings, known as the Adrian Archbold Lodge and Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, the decision was made to install wildlife friendly lighting. Archbold installed low footlights along the sidewalks with shields directing the light toward the ground, lights on motion sensors, and lights on the buildings that have shields to reduce or eliminate light trespass. Read more about the Lodge and Learning Center on the Archbold website: https://www.archbold-station.org/html/education/aac.html
Remember, don’t be like Tom Bodett, and DON’T leave the lights on!
It’s that time of year again! Archbold Biological Station is gearing up for the 30th year of Ecology Summer Camp and again the camp has evolved. Last year, Archbold offered virtual week-long science camps. This summer, as the country reopens, the Archbold Education Program presents a hybrid experience called the ‘Summer Ecology Club.’ This is not a membership club, but a new format for camp: For just $35, campers ages 7-12 can register for four weeks of activities either June or July and participate from anywhere. While most activities are virtual, campers are invited to an in-person Seasonal Pond Investigation event, as well. Thanks to donors, families can apply for financial hardship sponsorships that cover the camp’s registration fee. There is no limit per family, and many sponsorships are available.
The online component of camp includes variety of activities, such as: multi-week at-home projects, book clubs, science demonstrations, and nature film viewings. Meetings usually happen twice a day over Zoom and campers are welcome to pick which programs they would like to attend. “We wanted to create an educational experience that works with campers getting back into their regular summer fun,” says Margaret Davenport, Archbold’s Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern. “Have plans to spend your afternoon swimming with friends? No problem, just hop onto our morning virtual nature walk! Busy in the mornings? Book club is at 1 PM for 7-9 year-olds and 3 PM for 10-12 year-olds! Our hope is to get students involved in science without forcing them to sit at a screen all day or ruining their summer plans.”
Virtual programs are also a great way to try something new. Archbold’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell explains, “Research has shown how important time in nature is for physical and emotional health, but many children don’t have the chance to receive those benefits. Maybe they or their family members worry about bugs or bad weather, snakes and alligators, or that they don’t belong. Virtual is the chance for them to give it a try without leaving their comfort zone.”
Angell is also proud of the improvements to the program, saying: “If you attended Archbold’s virtual camp last year, this summer’s program is the 2.0 version: new and improved. We have staff members from all different departments creating fun actives to teach about Florida Scrub-Jays, Gopher Tortoises, Florida Panthers, and local history. Plus, we are using immersive 360° imagery that campers can interact with on a mobile device, computer, or virtual reality headsets!”
The most exciting improvement of the ‘2.0 version’ of virtual camp: the ‘Summer Ecology Club’ is not completely virtual this year. Our campers will be the first groups to visit Archbold for a guided tour since March 2020. These events will be limited to 10 campers at a time, with multiple opportunities to get as many campers involved as possible. Participation is included at no extra cost.
Angell believes the Summer Ecology Club continues the spirit of Archbold’s three decades of camp. “Our summer programs have always been a VIP experience of our organization, and this year is no different. The children receive a behind the scenes look at research and conservation in Florida and make connections with the plants and wildlife that make it such a special place.”
Authors: Chelsea Wisner Folmar, Greg Thompson, and Angela Tringali.
Archbold Biological Station is renowned for its long-running internship program. In fact, Archbold’s Post-baccalaureate Internship program is one of only a few programs in the United States in which recent college graduates can gain research experience before they commit to continuing their higher education or other career choices. Internships at Archbold provide exceptional opportunities for those who intend on pursuing a career in ecological research. Archbold also offers seasonal full-time positions in endangered species management, land management, habitat restoration, agro-ecology, and environmental education.
Internships at Archbold typically require a candidate to commit to living on-site for six to nine months and devote half their time being mentored and assisting with data collection for long-term research projects. Interns are compensated for their part-time work as well support for room and board. Additionally, interns are also afforded the opportunity to develop and execute their own independent research projects under the mentorship of professional scientists. This process is an effective catalyst for acceptance into graduate school, a typical ‘first step’ in beginning a life-long career in scientific research.
For those with career interests other than graduate school, or those who are seeking full-time employment, Archbold regularly hires full-time seasonal (~6 month) Research Assistants. In the Avian Ecology Program seasonal research assistants support permanent staff during the bird breeding season, when most of the endangered species monitoring and management work occurs. Seasonal staff work full-time under the direct supervision of staff researchers. This allows the year-round staff to meet heightened labor demands during the busiest time of year, and seasonal staff to expand their expertise in avian ecology under the guidance of experienced biologists.
New interns and seasonal employees of the Avian Ecology Program already possess some skills, like working independently in the field, but specialized skills are taught by full-time staff during the duration of their employment. Because working with Threatened and Endangered species requires permits from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, seasonal staff shadow full-timers, allowing them the opportunity to learn and refine skills including capturing and banding adult and nestling birds, taking biological samples, and nest searching and monitoring, all under the watchful gaze of experienced biologists. These highly specialized skills often become the qualifying experiences that propel seasonal Research Assistants into permanent employment in wildlife monitoring and management.
Both internship and seasonal research assistant positions provide critical learning opportunities to early career professionals, and both allow for the opportunity to travel to Florida and become familiar with the plants and animals living here. Although these experiences appear similar on paper, they typically encourage different outcomes. Interns in the Avian Ecology Program often go on to graduate school to earn a master’s or doctorate degree whereas seasonal Research Assistants often pursue permanent employment in wildlife management, though some also choose to continue their higher education. Seasonal Research Assistant positions offered through the Avian Ecology Program provide a means of professional development that can be more accessible to a variety of applicants of diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially for those who are looking to gain full-time employment in wildlife monitoring and management. The Avian Ecology Program has nurtured the development of countless wildlife biologists working to conserve wild Florida as wildlife and land managers across the state. Do you know someone who has a future in wildlife conservation? Stay up to date on internship and employment openings at www.archbold-station.org!
Highlands County commemorated its 100th anniversary on Friday, April 23rd, 2021 with a Centennial Day celebration outside the Highlands County Government Center in downtown Sebring. Nine booths were arrayed representing entities that have played a part in the County’s history, and Archbold Biological Station was honored to be included as one of the nine.
Nearly 100 residents and visitors came to see the various displays. Archbold Librarian Joseph Gentili attended the Archbold booth for the event accompanied by Facilities Coordinator Laura Mitchell. Gentili stated, “The 100th anniversary celebration was a great chance to interact with community members and other organizations. Archbold’s booth contained three large displays which provide snapshots of the Station’s organizational history. One display featured the period of 1929-1941 when the Archbold grounds were known as the Red Hill Estate, the second discussed Richard Archbold’s life in Highlands County from 1941 until his death in 1976, and the final display highlighted the Archbold Family and in particular their history of philanthropy. As a decades-long member of the Highlands County community, it is always a privilege to share our story with the public.” Community members were encouraged to learn about Archbold’s rich history through viewing the displays and asking follow-up questions.
Archbold Biological Station has been a part of the Highlands County community dating back to John and Margaret Roebling’s original purchase of 1,050 acres of land near Hicoria in 1929. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the original Roebling buildings form the heart of the Archbold Biological Station campus. The Roeblings were generous members of the community and instrumental in the founding of Highlands Hammock State Park. They also helped with the purchases of multiple fire engines for the use in towns and cities in the County during the 1930’s. Richard Archbold continued this philanthropic legacy and contributed to the history of the county in numerous ways, perhaps most importantly by helping to found the Glades Electric Cooperative in 1947 and by serving as Glades Electric Board President or Vice President until his death. A long legacy of community engagement exists at Archbold and that tradition is proudly continued today with K-12 programs, summer camps and innumerable tours, talks and visits for the public.
Gentili, who serves as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission for Highlands County, noted, “A celebration like this one is a unique opportunity to look backwards on our collective past, while planning for what we all hope will be a brighter future. Archbold has been intricately linked with Highlands County for nearly all the last 100 years and enthusiastically anticipates being part of the county’s foreseeable future. It was my privilege to participate in this event while representing Archbold.”
Researchers in Archbold’s Avian Ecology program have been studying the habitat and management needs of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at the Avon Park Air Force Range since 1992. Throughout their range, researchers have focused on how management can save this species—and this management has been successful: the Red-cockaded Woodpecker was recently down-listed by the federal government from Endangered to Threatened status. However, studies of how to save this unique bird have also provided lessons that it is an effective conservation partner, and that, in their own unique ways, the woodpeckers help manage the forests to the benefit of many other species.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers exist only in high-quality yellow pine forests—in Central Florida these are Longleaf Pine and Slash Pine. The forests must contain old-growth trees suitable for the birds to excavate their nesting cavities, and the forests must be burned frequently (every 2-4 years) to maintain the grassy understory the birds prefer and to prevent oaks and other hardwood trees from crowding out the pines. Archbold research assistant, Greg Thompson, notes, “Because Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have such high standards for their pine habitat, their presence in an area is a sign to us that the habitat management is working.” Pine habitats in good enough condition to support Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are suitable to support many other species as well. In this way, the woodpeckers are considered an indicator species, or a species whose presence or absence is an indication of the condition of the environment.
Not only do the woodpeckers help researchers evaluate the success of their habitat management efforts, they also inadvertently create habitat for other species. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers excavate cavities in living pines for roosting and nesting. Many other species also rely on these cavities for shelter or nesting, and some are even incapable of making their own. With so many animals needing cavities and so few animals that make them, the cavities created by the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are in very high demand. Because of its role in providing homes for other animals, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is referred to as a keystone species. The part they play in the ecosystem is particularly important to the welfare of many other species.
Some species prefer Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities just the way the woodpeckers created them. Eastern Bluebirds, Southern Flying Squirrels, Corn Snakes, Barking Treefrogs, and many different insects are small enough to fit inside an unmodified Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity. Other woodpeckers, such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers must expand these cavities to make them suitable for their larger body sizes. These enlarged cavities can, in turn, be used by a different set of species, including Eastern Screech-Owls, honeybees, and various bats.
One particularly noteworthy species discovered recently to use Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities at Avon Park Air Force Range is the Florida Bonneted Bat. These bats occur only in the southern half of Florida and are among the most Endangered mammals in North America. The population at the Air Force Range was first discovered in 2013 when an Archbold researcher was conducting the annual census of Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities. It was the first known natural roost site for this rare bat—all other known roosts were in man-made structures. A total of five bonneted bat roosts have been discovered at the Range, and four of those are in woodpecker cavities. According to Kristopher Pitcher, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charged with monitoring the bat population at the Range, “Florida Bonneted Bats at the northern extent of their range at Avon Park Air Force Range seem to be almost completely reliant on abandoned, natural Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities in older Longleaf Pine trees that exhibit hollow cores due to heart rot. In short, without Red-cockaded Woodpeckers creating cavities, Florida Bonneted Bats at Avon Park would likely have no ‘front door’ to access their roosts in hollow Longleaf Pines.”
Archbold’s research focus on this keystone species has enabled significant progress towards the overarching goal of preserving biodiversity in general. It is a cross-species collaboration; biologists and Avon Park Air Force Range land managers ensure that Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have what they need to thrive, and the woodpeckers help to ensure that other species dependent on cavities have what they need for their survival. Pine forests in which Red-cockaded Woodpeckers still occur, like those at the Avon Park Air Force Range, are extremely valuable and must be protected and managed to benefit the woodpeckers and all the inhabitants of their ecosystem.
Earth Day is today, April 22nd, and April is National Native Plant Month. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, where 20 million Americans — one tenth of the U.S. population at that time — joined together across hundreds of cities to demand a new path forward for our planet. There were protests about declining air quality, reduced water quality, and loss of habitat and species, but Earth Day has also always been a celebration of nature, and an acknowledgement that nature is essential to a sustainable life on Earth. The first Earth Day is credited with galvanizing millions of people worldwide to help protect the planet.
One way we can help protect the planet is by using native plants in our landscaping. Last month, the 117th US Congress agreed to a simple resolution designating April 2021 as National Native Plant Month ( https://www.congress.gov/117/bills/sres109/BILLS-117sres109ats.pdf ). The resolution recognized “there are more than 17,000 native plant species in the United States, which include trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and wildflowers.” Native plants, indigenous species that have evolved and naturally occur in a particular area, are an important component of resilient ecosystems and natural areas. According to the resolution, “Native plants provide shelter as well as nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other wildlife in ways that non-native plants cannot.”
Back in 2011, when Archbold Biological Station added two state-of-the-art buildings to its facility, known as the Adrian Archbold Lodge and Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, the decision was made to ‘go native’ with the landscaping around the buildings. Bringing this Archbold inspiration to life was the work of Nancy Bissett of The Natives, located in Davenport, Florida. Together as a team, Bissett and Archbold Biological Station designed the entire 2-acres surrounding the buildings using only plants native to this region. Bissett also grew and planted a total of nearly 12,000 individual plants of more than 75 species for the project. The open vista of native plants surrounding the buildings is now a peaceful, aesthetic setting and serves as a beautiful living display to educate visitors.
In a 2018 interview, Archbold Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain remarked, “The inspiration for our native landscaping comes from the concept that we should use the right plants in the right places. We decided during the early planning phase of our new buildings to ‘go native’ by using only trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers found in natural areas in south central Florida and by planting them in the right spot in the lands around the buildings based on their unique light, water, and soil needs.” She continued, “Another reason we were enthusiastic about native plants is that the modeling estimates we ran during construction and design suggested we would save about ¾ million gallons of water a year because native pants do not need any irrigation after establishment.” The other benefit to ‘going native’ was that the native plants need no fertilizer. However, this approach is not maintenance-free. Swain notes, “The challenge for Archbold has been that the landscaping, which was planted on very disturbed soils, has needed almost continual weeding to keep non-natives, such as Natal Grass, and weedy native plants at bay. We appreciate the efforts of all our volunteers who have helped us with this job.”
To learn more about Florida’s native plants, visit the Florida Native Plant Society here: https://www.fnps.org/
On April 9, 2007, Archbold Biological Station founder, Richard Archbold would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Archbold Biological Station celebrated that centennial anniversary with the opening of the Richard Archbold mural in the town of Lake Placid, and with its first ‘birthday party’ in Mr. Archbold’s honor. Since then, Station staff, friends, and family have celebrated Mr. Archbold’s birthday with a celebratory dinner and happy hour. The closure of the Station to the public due to COVID concerns in March 2020 led to the difficult decision to cancel the 113th birthday celebration. For this year’s 114th birthday, the celebration was considerably different, but a welcome step on the path back to normalcy.
Many may not know that Richard Archbold was a man of strict habits, and he kept a schedule of meals that repeated each week. From Mr. Archbold’s journals, we can tell exactly what he and any visiting researchers to the Station would have been eating on a two-weekly schedule. A traditional Archbold birthday celebration features a dinner menu based on this schedule, with Mr. Archbold’s favored cocktails served beforehand. Festivities include storytelling and a recitation of all the plant and animal species named after Mr. Archbold (over 80 species of mosses, flowering plants, insects, spiders, birds, and more).
Since the Station’s kitchen and dining room are closed at this time, the 2021 birthday celebration organizers had to improvise with plated snacks served outdoors, and well distanced, in the breezeway of the Frances Hufty Learning Center. Archbold’s head of Human Resources, Sharon Hawkins said, “An important part of the Archbold experience is the culture of sharing time, space, and ideas with other staff and visiting researchers, and everyone has missed that ‘family style’ gathering tremendously over the past year. Our hope was to recreate a little of that camaraderie while maintaining our safety standards.”
Staff were invited to participate in contests virtually and in-person: the first-ever T-shirt design contest was held, with eleven designs submitted for printing new Archbold Biological Station and Buck Island Ranch shirts, and winners to be announced soon. Staff members also filled in a special Archbold-themed crossword puzzle online, available here: https://crosswordhobbyist.com/903525/ARCHBOLDS-BIRTHDAY
Finally, several members of Archbold and Buck Island Ranch staff competed for the title of ‘most original’ and ‘most Richard Archbold-inspired’ birthday cakes. Both edible cakes and ‘scrub-cakes’ made from materials found in the Florida Scrub were accepted. Interns Lydia Landau, Scott Dai, Alma Reyes Gonzalez, Nate Spicer, and Brittany Welch won both edible cake categories, with intern Margaret Davenport and executive assistant Laura Reed winning the scrub-cake prizes.
The evening ended on a high note, as Archbold communications coordinator Zach Forsburg described, “Every year we look forward to honoring our founder, Richard Archbold. This year was particularly fun as we had an energetic and socially distant game of Pictionary between staff and interns. The victory went to the staff after a heated head-to-head tiebreaker round.”
While 2021 was a different approach to the Archbold birthday celebration, it was certainly appreciated by those staff and interns who were able to attend.
It is not every day a National news network broadcasts from Highlands County.
Last week, Archbold hosted NBC Today Show correspondent Kerry Sanders. Sanders checked in live with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb to cover the weekend’s ‘March Madness’ activities, then spent the day filming in the Florida scrub at Archbold, learning about Florida Scrub-Jays and how wildlife and other environmental issues have been impacted by the global pandemic. Joining Sanders was Archbold Board member Dr. John Fitzpatrick, who is the Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain, and Director of Philanthropy, Deborah Pollard, also joined Sanders and crew for the episode focused on scrub-jays that will air this month as part of the ‘Today Goes Green’ series, honoring Earth Month and focusing on the environment, climate change, and changes you can make to help. Dr. Swain shared, “The issues our planet faces are extremely challenging, and I was impressed that the NBC Today Show have recognized that these complex issues are deserving addressing over ‘Earth Month’ rather than a traditional one-day Earth Day.”
Sanders’s mission was to see the charismatic Florida Scrub-Jay, a highly regarded study of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of Archbold’s flagship research programs. One curious jay took quite a liking to Sanders as the reporter learned how scientists have been studying the scrub-jay population at Archbold for more than 50 years. Sanders learned how jays are dependent on low and open scrub habitat maintained by fire and are the only species of bird found only in Florida.
The story will highlight how the Florida Scrub-Jay’s threatened status means we must work hard to protect habitats like Florida Scrub that support this iconic species and so many others like it. Habitat loss and fragmentation and lack of appropriate fire management are the primary threats to Florida Scrub-Jays. The loss of intervening scrub habitat that once provided connectivity leaves jay sub-populations isolated and living on disconnected ‘islands’ of Scrub. Florida Scrub-Jays, and other wildlife dependent on the Florida scrub, require connectivity among public and private conservation lands.
Be sure to watch Kerry Sanders onToday with John Fitzpatrick and Hilary Swain this April (currently scheduled for April 12). Follow Archbold’s social media (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter) for more details. And remember, help protect the future of wild Florida by protecting wildlife corridors: networks of functionally connected lands and waters. Share #OneGreenThing on Archbold’s social media so we can all learn from one another as we celebrate Earth Month.
Archbold volunteer Linda Gette has traveled south from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to Archbold for the past seven winters. She spends several months each year providing aid to all the Station’s research programs and more. She recently offered her reflections on the world of Archbold through the eyes of a volunteer.
Gette had thought about becoming a scientist early on, mentioning that, “On entering high school, my plan was to study science. Sadly, our only science teacher was so inept he could have made Einstein himself seek another field, and I moved on…until many years later, when an African safari reminded me of that connection to nature that I had lost. I began birding, then got interested in botany, more as a hobbyist than as a scientist, and eventually seven years ago my interest led me to volunteer at Archbold Biological Station. What a thrill to be able to work at such a world-renowned institution! And what an education to see the rigorous scientific discipline here!”
She continued “Many non-scientists picture scientific discoveries, as somewhat casual observations that lead to brief experiments, that lead to ‘aha moments’ of discovery.” According to Linda, “Nothing could be further from the truth. During my 7 winters volunteering at Archbold I have learned that these discoveries are the results of years and years of careful measurements, meticulous note-taking, and thorough analysis, and what a treat for a non-scientist to be able to participate in this work!”
As volunteer for the Herpetology Program, Gette has waded through Saw Palmettos tracking Gopher Tortoises for the longest-running tortoise study ever undertaken, taking notes as marked tortoises were observed and keeping careful records of activities, locations, and measurements of the animals’ growth. With Avian Ecology, she helped with the 76-year study of Florida Scrub-Jays, where records have been maintained for generations of each jay family: the parents, the offspring who remain to help care for their younger siblings, their territories, and their nesting and foraging activities. She even recently got to report the weather data—adding to records that have been kept every day for 89 years!
Assisting the Plant Ecology and Restoration Ecology Programs, Gette assisted with measuring and recording the growth of Florida Rosemary plants and clumps of Wiregrass. With Restoration Ecology, she hauled equipment to measure pond depths as part of a 22-year study and monitored groundwater levels for a 14-year study. She remembered, “Once, while helping on the groundwater study, I noticed that I had spatters of mud all over the legs of my pants…and then noticed that the spatters were moving. Fire ants! I was glad the scientist I was working with was female, because I ripped off my field pants fast!” Most recently, Gette joined the Archbold Land Management team in the ongoing battle against the non-native Natal Grass, a pretty but highly invasive plant which has been overpowering the native species on one part of Red Hill at Archbold.
Perhaps one of Gette’s favorite volunteer activities is with the Archbold Education Program, leading walks for the hundreds of school children who usually visit Archbold each year. “So many of the children have never been for a walk in the special, endangered scrub ecosystem in which they live. Many fear they will be attacked by some wild animal (no doubt, as seen on TV!) when they step outside. What a pleasure to see them unfold like a flower as they take in the interesting, exciting reality around them!” Gette exclaimed. “For the past year, Archbold has been closed to public tours and field trips, but we will be throwing open the gates as soon as this virus is under control and will be welcoming the return of our veteran volunteers as well as new ones!”
A small black fly sits on a Saw Palmetto blossom sipping nectar. Suddenly, a fine-mesh net scoops up the fly. It will be taken to the Archbold Biological Station insect lab and identified under a microscope. Its association with Saw Palmetto flowers will be added to a huge list of relationships between insects and flowers at the Station.
After decades of pouncing on flower-visiting insects, local scientists see patterns emerging from the massive pile of information. Since all this work was done on the grounds of the Archbold Biological Station, researchers like Archbold Emeritus Entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup can finally glimpse the complex network of insect-flower relationships that may develop in a single place. Here is just one of the insights from this study.
There is a well-known mutually beneficial relationship between bees and flowers: bees get nectar and pollen, while flowers are fertilized by having their pollen carried from one flower to another so that seeds can form. At the Station, however, bees are not the largest group of insects attracted to flowers. These other visitors include hundreds of species of wasps, flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies. “Many of these insects may be important flower pollinators, but they may also be important in other ways in the community in which they live,” said Deyrup.
The energy that insects get from the nectar of flowers fuels a host of specialized activities. For example, after fueling up on Saw Palmetto nectar a Paper Wasp might zoom off to find a caterpillar that it would chew up into a kind of hamburger to feed its young. A plump Gray Blister Beetle might leave a Palafoxia flower and land on nearby sand to lay eggs that will hatch into larvae that seek out the buried eggs of grasshoppers. A batch of Longhorn Beetles on a Prickly Pear Cactus flower might go on to produce larvae that help recycle rotten wood. A brown and yellow Hover Fly on a Gopher Apple flower might disperse to a recently burned area where its maggots will develop in fire-scorched cactus pads.
The flowers that delight us in Florida’s natural habitats support a complex network of interactions. Deyrup remarked, “Flowers are like gas stations where a parade of insects passes through to tank up on nectar before going off to their various jobs in the surrounding community. Of course, automotive gas stations are seldom so beautiful that poets write odes to them, nor do their Facebook portraits garner loads of ‘likes’.”
Many plant and animal species in Florida are considered rare for one common reason: loss of native habitat. Much of this loss is due to land conversion for agriculture, urban and suburban development, or lack of appropriate land management. Natural areas that these rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals call home are becoming fewer and fewer. Furthermore, many of the remaining parcels are degraded, often due to years of fire suppression (fire is a natural and necessary feature of nearly all native Florida ecosystems), human disturbance (e.g. public dumping, off-road vehicles), or very invasive, non-native species. Rare species persisting in these suboptimal habitats, in many cases, are unable to move to well-managed conservation properties. For example, Gopher Tortoises are highly unlikely to successfully cross a busy road to better habitat. Scrub Jays often fail to disperse and end up occupying low quality habitats embedded in neighborhoods with bird feeders providing abundant, but lower quality food for raising chicks. Plants, such as the Titusville Scrub Balm, are rooted to the ground and their seeds do not disperse far to new locations. In these cases, plants and animals may need to be rescued from unfavorable habitats and translocated to new parcels with long-term conservation protection.
In February, Archbold Biological Station’s Plant Ecology Program traveled from their own Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County, east to the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Brevard County, to meet with long-time collaborator, Suzanne Kennedy of Floravista Inc. This coastal ridge shares some similar endemic species to the Lake Wales Ridge, but also has its own unique species. One of these is the endemic Titusville Scrub Balm (Dicerandra thinicola), found only on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Brevard County. “The Titusville Scrub Balm is known to occur at only a few scattered sites along a 12 mile stretch of this Ridge,” describes Eric Menges, Program Director of the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold, “and even fewer sites on this Ridge are protected for conservation of Florida scrub habitat than on the Lake Wales Ridge.” One site this scrub balm occurs on is a city groundwater recharging site, providing it with limited protection. A second site is protected for conservation of Florida habitats, but is an introduced population, planted there by Kennedy and ABS scientists in 2002 and 2003. “With so few protected sites, this rare species needs translocations to help it persist,” remarks Menges.
Translocating a species is more than just planting plants in a new location. “There is a lot that goes into a species translocation,” describes research assistant Stephanie Koontz. “We have to locate a recipient site that is under conservation protection, has the appropriate soil and habitat type, and an active land managing agency or organization willing and able to manage the site in a favorable way for this species.” Luckily for this team, Brevard County has its Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, established to acquire and manage natural areas within the county for conservation, recreation, and environmental education. This program was approved by Brevard County voters in 1990 and is funded by voter-approved ad valorem taxes. “Titusville Scrub Balm requires habitats in coastal Florida Scrub, managed with occasional fire (every 4-9 years), and yellow sand soils. Yes, these soils truly have a yellow hue to them and are different than traditional white sand soils,” explains Kennedy. “Several parcels managed by the Environmentally Endangered Lands program met these criteria and one, Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, was selected for the Scrub Balm translocation.”
In addition to locating a suitable recipient site for the translocation of Titusville Scrub Balm, the team also needed plants. “Moving plants by digging them up, potting them for transport, and then replanting them is not very easy, and often unsuccessful,” explains Koontz. “Soil disturbance can damage roots, changes in sun exposure and moisture can be stressful, and sometimes, plants just don’t survive the move, a reaction known as transplant shock. Furthermore, our goal is to create an additional site, not reduce another one.” Previous work done by the Archbold Plant Ecology Program and collaborators at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, demonstrated stem cuttings of these mint species (Dicerandra) can establish their own root system. Bok uses a diluted rooting hormone solution, which triggers the stem to initiate root growth and establish a new plant. “After a few months of growth, these Titusville Scrub Balm plants will be ready for their new home!” exclaims Koontz. “And hopefully soon after, we will observe flowering, seed set, and seedling recruitment. These three steps are some of the key indications that the translocation, initially, is successful. Continued monitoring over several years will inform us if this new site is well established and able to persist over decades.”
Two earlier posts (7/9/20 and 8/20/20) were published in the Scrub Blog and this is Part 3 of that series.
Authors: Joe Gentili and Fred Lohrer
Richard Archbold personally led three expeditions to the island of New Guinea during the 1930s. The third of these expeditions took place from 1938-39 and was a watershed moment in the history of 20th century Pacific Exploration, which brought Archbold and crew to the world’s attention. Thousands of specimens were collected for the American Museum of Natural History. These have been studied for decades, including recent work done by Dr. Lauren Oliver, a frog researcher at the Museum. “Oliver utilized other museums’ collections as well the Museum’s own extensive records. These include many specimens from the Museum’s pioneering 1930s expeditions to the interior of New Guinea…sponsored by Museum supporter Richard Archbold. Information from Archbold’s expeditions not only added to Oliver’s research, but also helped guide her to sites she could revisit decades later to collect further frog specimens,” according to a 2016 Museum article.
The third expedition led to fame for Archbold for two main reasons aside from the staggering number of biological specimens collected. Firstly, he was celebrated for a major anthropological discovery. “On June 23, 1938, during a reconnaissance flight between the coast and alpine Lake Habbema, Richard Archbold discovered the Balim Valley. Approximately 5,000 – 5,500 feet above sea level, in Netherlands New Guinea (Irian Jaya, now Papua Province of Indonesia), 60,000 natives were living in an unknown valley of the Balim River on the north slope of the Snow Mountains,” says Archbold Emeritus Librarian Fred Lohrer. Other populations of Native peoples were known throughout the island but on this date Archbold was the first person not born on New Guinea to see this large civilization and observe what they had constructed.
Secondly, Archbold and crew made a variety of aviation achievements in his plane Guba II. This was at a time when air travel was dominating the public consciousness and imagination. In his PBY-2 Catalina Flying Boat, sometimes flying solo, and sometimes with his crewmembers in tow, Archbold reached many aviation milestones. Fred Lohrer described some of these exploits, “In July 1938, in Guba II, Archbold landed and took off from Lake Habbema, Netherlands New Guinea, a height of 3225 meters (10,580 feet) above sea level. This is the highest elevation that a seaplane lifted off from. In 1938-1939, he and crew completed the first flight around the world at its widest diameter, approximately at the equator.” This flight includes three ‘firsts’ as noted in the attached chart. The trip was accomplished in eight distinct legs beginning in 1938; however, most of the legs took place during a five-week period from late May until early July 1939. The feat was celebrated widely at the time in countless newspaper and magazine articles as well as in newsreel footage.
Archbold wrote about the expedition for National Geographic Magazine, which published a 29-page photo essay in its March 1941 Issue. He stated in the article that, “The decision to fly home by the longest way came about while Guba was in Sydney for supplies. The Commonwealth of Australia and the British Government had been interested in a proposal made by Captain P.G. Taylor to survey an aerial route across the Indian Ocean…Taylor was commissioned to find a ship, but none suitable for so long a journey were available until the Guba arrived in Sydney. This would give us an opportunity to circle the globe near its greatest circumference and to pioneer in unknown skies.”
Richard Archbold kept a variety of artifacts from his time in New Guinea and Lohrer wrote, “There were 50-100 black & white 4”x5” photos from the second and third New Guinea expeditions in envelopes. They were floating around when I arrived at the Station [in 1972], perhaps in the ‘Museum,’ where Richard Archbold had a desk, and where he set type for the specimen labels when he was the collections manager for all the biological collections. I had the idea that they were contact prints sent to him as a sample of the photos published in the American Museum of Natural History Bulletin Account of the expedition.”
Part 4 of the series will consider the expeditions Richard Archbold sponsored in the 1950s and 1960s after permanently moving to Highlands County, Florida and establishing Archbold Biological Station in 1941.
When Dr. Joan Morrison first arrived at Buck Island Ranch as a University of Florida graduate student studying Crested Caracaras, she had no idea that after nearly 30 years she would still be coming to the Ranch to study these unique birds of prey. Caracaras are native to Florida and are easily recognizable with their orange faces, yellow legs, and jaunty black caps. They can often be seen in our region perched on fence posts or flying along roads searching for carrion. One of Morrison’s initial findings was that Caracaras really like cattle ranches, in fact they thrive in these habitats, which also support many other wildlife species such as wading birds, deer, Indigo Snakes, Gopher Tortoises, Red-shouldered Hawks, and even panthers and bears. Over the years Morrison has successfully partnered with many ranchers in south-central Florida.
According to Morrison, “Caracaras really like improved pasture habitat, they get along well with cattle and all the activities associated with managing a ranch such as burning, mowing and, of course cattle grazing.” These pasture habitats are increasingly being converted to something else, for example, urban development and other agriculture, so the Caracara population is listed as threatened due to habitat loss.
Buck Island Ranch has at least a half a dozen pairs of Caracaras nesting on the property. Pairs typically use the same nest tree from year to year and can raise as many as 3 chicks. Their nesting season is primarily during Florida’s winter months, so March is a very active month during which many young Caracaras are ready to leave the nest. Caracaras are very social and after the young birds leave their home territory, they often congregate in groups, feeding together and roaming throughout south-central Florida seeking food and pasture habitats. Along with carrion, which can be easily found along roads, Caracaras eat a variety of vertebrates including lizards, snakes, birds, rabbits, mice, and turtles, and invertebrates including worms, beetles, larvae, and even ants.
Recently, Morrison has returned to Florida to capture nesting Caracaras. She explained, “The purpose of this research is to band the birds and fit them with solar-powered transmitters. These transmitters will collect location data that will provide needed information on where the Caracaras feed during the day and roost at night. Because I can track the Caracaras’ movements via the Internet, I can begin to understand how these birds respond to the land use changes ongoing throughout this region of Florida.” Capturing Caracaras requires permits from agencies, and very specific procedures, as these are very smart birds! Morrison remarked, “The birds remember a capture experience so each individual can only be captured once, thus great care must be taken in preparation for these activities. The data these birds provide are invaluable and seeing one of these beautiful birds up close is well worth it!”
Dr. Joan Morrison presented her Caracara research for the virtual event ‘East to West: Comparing species at the East Foundation in Texas and Archbold Biological Station in Florida.’ Visit Archbold’s YouTube page to watch: https://youtu.be/fSLuPqpsOdw
If you accompany scientists from Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program on one of their morning field excursions, you might be surprised to see a researcher squat down, rub a tiny sprout between their fingers, and then give their hand a careful sniff. As program intern Erin Stewart explains, “Each month we perform seedling checks for a species of scrub mint called Garrett’s Mint. Often these seedlings are extremely small, and the only way to tell them apart from other species is to smell them. Even the tiniest seedlings have a distinctly minty odor!”
The smell can also help members of the Plant Ecology Program distinguish between different species of scrub mint. According to Program Director Dr. Eric Menges, “Garrett’s Minthas a bracing eucalyptus smell,” such that you “sometimes notice the plant after you have stepped on it.” Meanwhile, the scent of the related Lake Placid Scrub Balmis “like spearmint gum,” and the coastal mint, Titusville Balm, smells “a lot sweeter,” according to research assistant Lexi Siegle.
Mints are not the only aromatic species gracing the scrub. Another lab favorite is Hog Plum. Although often cursed for its thorns that easily poke through field pants, the plant produces flowers that smell quite pleasant. Research assistant Stephanie Koontz describes the scent as “sweet, almost like honey that saturates the air around you.” Meanwhile, the leaves, when crushed up, release an almond-like odor. Scrub Bay also has fragrant leaves similar in smell to “the sweet bay leaf you would use in the kitchen for soup,” according to program intern Haley Dole.
Researchers clearly appreciate these smells, but what is in it for the plant? Plants release odors for two primary reasons: to attract pollinators and deter herbivores. Regarding pollinator attraction, the leaves and flowers of many plants release scents that appeal to specific groups of insects. For instance, bees are often attracted to the smell of herbs, such as the scrub mints studied by Archbold scientists. Some flies are also drawn to these sweet scents, while others pollinate plants that release putrid odors. Many plants that rely on beetles for pollination release quite pungent smells that may be fruity or spicy.
Smells may also function to deter insects and other herbivores. For example, the odor of almonds is commonly associated with the presence of cyanide, as many murder mystery fanatics are aware. In plants such as Hog Plum, cyanogenic compounds are released in response to leaf damage, which functions to prevent further herbivory.
While most plants are adapted to avoid being eaten by insects, carnivorous plants have flipped this dynamic and consume insects themselves. Here again, scents come in handy. Research at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research by Ashraf El-Sayed and colleagues has shown that a certain species of sundew releases different sets of odors from its traps and its flowers such that prey species are attracted to the former and pollinators are attracted to the latter. Thus, through smell the plant can avoid trapping the insects it relies on for pollination. Whether the Pink Sundew, found at Archbold Biological Station, engages in similar chemical signaling remains to be seen.
At Archbold Biological Station, the Plant Ecology Program has just wrapped up their yearly demography surveys on Florida Rosemary. Despite the name, the plant is not related to and does not smell like the rosemary commonly used in cooking, but instead has a very subtle fragrance. Research assistant Scott Ward identifies Florida Rosemary as one of the “most distinct smells” in the scrub, stating that “it smells like ecology in action.” The same could be said for many other plant smells: whether we realize it or not, each sniff tells the story of a particular ecological interaction.
The Lake Wales Ridge is a ribbon of ancient sand dunes forming a backbone down peninsular Florida. Rare scrub habitat found along the Ridge is home to many rare and endangered species and is also home to most people in Highlands County. Archbold scientists work to preserve the rare scrub habitat and the unique biodiversity found on the Ridge. This research contributes to our understanding of how rare species operate and thrive within the unique ecosystems found on the Ridge. Archbold also works on the importance of connecting conservation lands and waters via ‘wildlife corridors’ to better protect Florida’s larger animals roaming across Florida in search of mates and habitat.
In 2019, to bring attention to the rare species found in the unique habitats of the Lake Wales Ridge, and to amplify awareness for wildlife corridors, three Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition trekkers traveled along the Lake Wales Ridge. The trekkers, conservation photographer Carlton Ward, Jr., seventh-generation Floridian and Archbold Board Member Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, and Archbold research scientist Joe Guthrie, made their way through the landscape tapestry of the Ridge on horseback, foot, and paddleboard. This ‘Ranch to Ridge’ Expedition was a 7-day trek from Highlands Hammock State Park to the Tiger Creek Preserve in Polk County. Their 60-mile path wove through a diverse array of lands; from private ranches and residential neighborhoods to public lands, highlighting how the habitat connections sustain the wildlife and wildlands.
The 18-minute film about this expedition, The Wild Divide, was just released to the public on February 14th across social media platforms. The film showcases Florida’s search for solutions to connect, protect, and restore our vital wildlife corridor and the animals that call it home. Joe Guthrie, expedition trekker and Archbold Predator-Prey Research Scientist stated, “Beginning in Highlands Hammock State Park we headed west from the Ridge, then turned north to traverse a network private ranches and public lands on horseback. As we moved north, we gradually turned east to find a crossing point along US27 south of Frostproof, where we began traveling on foot. East of US27 we trekked through a network of state and federal lands as well as a private conservation bank before turning north again, and we ended up on paddleboards at The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve on the Ridge near Lake Wales.”
When scientists and staff from Archbold met with the expedition team, they emphasized how threatened species need the connectivity wildlife corridors can provide. At a state-owned conservation area near Sebring, the expeditioners and film crews met with Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program Director Dr. Reed Bowman and Research Assistant Rebecca Windsor as they banded threatened Florida Scrub-Jays. The scientists explained their research and how they monitor and analyze the jay populations continually, helping inform conservation decisions and protect the critical habitats upon which the jays rely.
Archbold’s Plant Ecology Research Assistant Stephanie Koontz talked with the expedition team at The Nature Conservancy’s Saddle Blanket Scrub Preserve north of Avon Park, showing them the threatened plant, the Avon Park Harebell (Crotalaria avonensis). Although the footage was not included in the final film, she explained how this rare, plant, a yellow-flowered, deep-rooted pea, occurs at just three Florida scrub sites, all in Highlands and Polk counties.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor organization Executive Director Jason Lauritsen explains, “The weave in the landscape tapestry is fine and complex, and it requires the discipline of science to expose, understand, measure, and prioritize the essential relationships at work in our ecosystem. For the non-scientist, this is often daunting. However, it is important to understand why a corridor is worth protecting at all.” The Florida Wildlife Corridor organization hopes The Wild Divide, will serve to illustrate why Florida’s wildlife corridors urgently need this protection.
The Archbold Biological Station is the headquarters of a long-term exploration of the strange world of Florida ants. Florida’s ants are remarkably diverse, including over 240 species. There are more kinds of ants in Florida than in any other state in the East, a fact that is somehow missing from tourist brochures. Most of us are usually only aware of a few of these small animals: the ones that invade our kitchens or run up our legs when we tread on their nests. Out of sight and out of mind are most Florida ants, for example the many species that build tiny tunnels and chambers in sand beneath our feet or hang out in dead twigs in the tops of trees, or dwell in the rich layers of dead leaves in Florida’s forests.
Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director shares that, “Archbold is so fortunate to have hosted Dr. Mark Deyrup, now Archbold Emeritus Entomologist, cataloguing the ant populations of the Station since 1982. His vast knowledge of Florida’s ants was summarized in his 2017 book, Ants of Florida, Identification and Natural History, but whenever you run into Mark, he always tells a new ant story, or some tidbit of ant-know-how that just sticks with you forever.” Dr Deyrup recently shared, “If there were a zoo for Florida ants, here are a few species that might be on display, with the appropriate signs by their exhibits. It would be a miniature zoo, as the animals are only 2-4 millimeters, or 1/8th-1/4th of an inch, in length.”
The Florida Rosemary Big-Headed Ant (Pheidole adrianoi, Illustration 1) digs deep burrows in open sand around Florida Rosemary shrubs. Workers of this species come in two sizes; the smaller individuals probably gather tiny seeds that the large ones grind up with their massive jaws. The Florida Rosemary scrub habitat of this ant is also home to many other specialized insects.
The Common Stopper Ant (Camponotus impressus, Illustration 2) lives in hollow dead twigs up in living trees. Some larger workers, like the one shown here, have an enlarged head used to plug the entrance hole into the twig if the ant colony is attacked. Another twig-inhabiting ant introduced from the tropics might be threatening Florida Stopper Ants, but this has not been studied. Threats to ant species don’t get much attention from conservationists.
The Woolly Pygmy Snapping Ant (Strumigenys lanuginose, Illustration 3) is a rare species found in layers of dead leaves in tropical mainland Florida. Its long jaws can snap shut in a fraction of a second to impale creatures even smaller than itself. The long, curved hairs on its abdomen are unique to this species; their function is a total mystery. This ant was probably introduced accidentally in pots of plants from tropical South America or the Caribbean, but like many introduced ants in Florida it is too uncommon to be considered a threat to native species.
The peculiar features and behaviors of small animals such as these ants are fascinating in themselves and could also be instructive as human technology moves to produce ever smaller machines. We currently have no micro-machines that could efficiently go out to gather and process tiny objects such as small seeds, or neatly hollow out a crooked dead twig, or stalk and kill prey the size of a flea, all the while surviving the many dangers besetting small animals.
Subscribers to Archbold’s virtual event series received a special treat last week, a new and completely different type of virtual presentation: Wild Observations at Archbold Biological Station was the first-ever interactive art salon event hosted by Archbold. Conservation artist and environmental advocate Deborah Mitchell first came to Archbold in 2016 and has returned several times since to further her mission of educating and promoting conservation of Florida’s wild spaces. Her latest project, Wild Observations, is a fusion of art and science aimed to prompt discussions about man’s precarious relationship with nature and its implications.
Mitchell explained, “Why art and science? My motivation as a conservation artist is to help preserve the environment for future generations. The research and management of our wild places provide support for the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, and our water supply, and this affects everybody, no matter what you do in life.”
News-Sun readers may recall Deborah Mitchell’s visit to Archbold in November, which laid the foundation for this innovative event. Mitchell describes herself as a visual storyteller, using visual arts to enhance our understanding of why the environment is so vital to our health. The artist spent time in the scrub and in the labs with Archbold scientists Reed Bowman, Mark Deyrup, and Hilary Swain, with Archbold educator Dustin Angell acting as photographer and videographer for the project. The resulting interviews, photos, and collections transformed over two months into a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of the connections between living things and why those connections matter.
Archbold Executive Director Hilary Swain remarked, “Having Deborah here has lifted us in many ways. One of the many wonderful things about working with artists and scientists is this confluence of observations, creativity, and curiosity and the wonderful conversations that come from that.”
The virtual event featured alternating short videos and slideshows with commentary from Mitchell and the Archbold scientists on topics ranging from ranchlands, wetlands conservation and water flow, to bird communications, to insects and pollinators. A short presentation on bear tracking and a discussion with Archbold’s Predator Prey Program Director, Joe Guthrie ended the exhibition.
On the surface, art and science may appear as opposing concepts, but the fusion of the two works to spark dialogue in directions we might otherwise overlook. Dustin Angell was intrigued, “I had the pleasure of being behind the camera, photographing Deborah and recording her conversations with the researchers. She kept us all on our toes with her unanticipated questions and new perspectives, which is the fun part of working with artists. That, and all the cool art they make.”
There is much to be said about the serendipitous discoveries made during field work. While work is challenging as a field biologist, we are often lucky enough to cross paths with a variety of unique life forms while in the field.
“Serendipity is one of the primary reasons I sought a career that gave me the excuse to be outdoors,” elaborates Scott Ward, a plant ecologist at Archbold Biological Station. “In Florida, in particular, there is almost a guarantee that during field work you will somehow stumble across some species unique to Florida, and perhaps even unique to one small area of Florida.”
Such is the case on Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge, where high rates of endemism, or incidences in which species occur in one restricted region and nowhere else in the world, can often be observed during field work. While there is always a chance of experiencing some sort of serendipitous encounter with wildlife or other natural life forms, there is a much higher rate that while on the Lake Wales Ridge, you may encounter a species with little documentation and often few digital pictures.
“I always have this sneaking suspicion that the days I don’t bring my camera with me in my field bag will be the days we encounter something rare or scantily documented,” says Scott. He continues, “…that’s why I basically treat my camera as something essential to bring along as a field biologist-a bottle of water, writing utensil, datasheets…a camera. It’s merely an extension of the things I need to be prepared in the field.” Often taking clear pictures helps with records of species identifications after field work is over. Posting these photos to online applications like iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/) means there’s a good chance that a taxonomic expert will offer a suggestion on the species’ identification. It’s virtually effortless now to upload pictures to these platforms and seek input. There are usually at least a few taxonomic experts across most groups of plants and animals and other species nowadays; these online forums and platforms just make connecting easier.
“There were numerous instances in the past year or so where I wasn’t sure if we were observing something unique during field work, but I didn’t have the knowledge at the time to make a definitive identification,” says Scott. “Getting back from the field, seeking input from other naturalists, and learning that some of these organisms are extremely rare makes my experiences in the field that much richer. There are of course a number of other species I’m awaiting my lucky encounters with, but some apparently will have to wait for serendipity.”
Scott continues, “Sometimes I didn’t even realize until months afterwards that I was seeing something unique.” After uploading a picture of an unknown bee to iNaturalist in September 2019 (Photo 1), taxonomic experts later identified the specimen as Florida Fork-tongue Bee (Caupolicana floridana), a restricted species of plasterer bee only known from the Lake Wales Ridge, and only recently described by scientists including Mark Deyrup form Archbold. My simple field observation helped current researchers at the Florida Natural History Museum, Clint Gibson and Chase Kimmel, determine additional field sites for their research on this bee.
There were other instances, too. A unique color morph of the Apache Jumping Spider (Phidippus apacheanus), known only from the Archbold area was seen last September and more recently, the Lake Placid Funnel Wolf Spider (Sosippus placidus) was observed during a rare plant search in late December. Scott concluded, “It is these rare instances where if we just stop and take a moment to observe and appreciate the small complexities of the natural world, then we may be fortunate enough to see something few others have seen. Merely keeping one’s eyes peeled for the rare and unique, and not passing off anything as ordinary, means any amateur naturalist can help taxonomists and biologists better understand unique parts of the world.”
Eric Stein (1957-2021), Archbold Biological Station’s Chief Financial Officer for 15 years, passed away in Sebring, Florida from complications of COVID-19 on January 13th, 2021. Always kind, immensely friendly, forever-smiling, ever-humorous, Eric served as one of the great ‘unsung heroes’ of Archbold, a team member who worked incredibly hard behind the scenes to ensure the financial and fiduciary wheels of the organization ran smoothly. All Archbold’s achievements over these years—science, conservation, and education—were underpinned by his skills. He touched the organization in so many ways, playing countless, often unrecognized, roles in all our lives.
For a guy that was not really that interested in science or nature, Eric was nonetheless totally dedicated to Archbold. He took an almost Herculean hard-work approach to his vast range of responsibilities. When interviewing for the job he expressed, “My biggest concern is coming from South Florida’s fast-paced banks and companies. Once I’ve got everything sorted out here, I’m worried I’ll get bored.” He later admitted, almost ruefully, he had never had a boring day at Archbold. A talented and smart financial manager, he directed the ever-expanding financial operations for Archbold’s large and complicated not-for-profit corporation in Venus, Florida. Always up for a new challenge, he oversaw the finances for everything from scientists’ research budgets and their myriad grants, to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch cattle operation, fundraising, lodging and food services, and so much more. He was deeply engaged in innumerable contracts including the construction of Archbold’s award-winning LEED® Platinum green building. A terrific negotiator, he always got a good price on anything from a truck, to a phone contract, to purchases of land. Eric’s maxim that integrity is paramount, meant that he never favored himself above others, and ensured fairness and honesty throughout. On top of these fundamentals, he loved coming to work at a place where jeans, shorts, and flip flops are the daily norm.
Deaf since birth, Eric was transformed by the miracle of his cochlear implant about 20 years ago. It was a measure of his intelligence and positive attitude that he earned a degree in Business Administration / Finance-Accounting in 1979 from the University of Florida, before this cochlear implant, without dispensations or additional help, but by lip-reading and borrowing other’s notes. Eric never complained but always explained about hearing loss. At Archbold we were so fortunate to learn from him about accommodating the many challenges faced by those born into a soundless world: buzzy speaker phones, the excruciating wailing in his cochlear implant from wireless sensors installed in new buildings; acoustically reflective surfaces, and of course crowded rooms. He was gleeful at the advent of Zoom—welcoming the technology with headphones for clear sound, every speaker face-to-face facilitating lip reading, and the benefit of speech recognition text scrolling across the bottom of his screen. His palpable delight was almost childlike.
Eric was deeply loyal to friends and colleagues. Messages of condolence are flooding into Archbold and to his family. Once you were a friend of Eric’s, you were a friend for life. He was the epitome of bonhomie, embracing everyone’s company and enjoying all those he met. Cruising through Archbold’s world of science and environmental conversations, Eric had an unnerving, almost uncanny ability to single out and latch onto a fellow sports fanatic. So much the better if they were a fan of any sports team from his alma mater, University of Florida. He was a true Gator! If you supported another team, he never missed an opportunity to remind you that your team had just lost.
Eric’s other go-to subject of conversation was always his family, and he would invariably also inquire about your family and their lives. He was inordinately proud of his two daughters, Megan Stein Cantrell, now Lecturer at University of Florida, and the lovable Madison, still in school. After they moved to Highlands County, he supported them in all their endeavors, mostly completely new to him. Born in Brooklyn, New York he had never anticipated that his life as a family man would involve the Future Farmers of America (FFA), daughters raising hogs, state fairs, and so on, but he jumped into all that goes with living in a rural community. He was one of the best-loved, and most widely known ambassadors for Archbold in Highlands County, from Seacoast Bank, to the Chamber of Commerce, to the agriculture community.
Eric leaves his wife Gail, his daughters Megan and Madison, and son-in law Matthew Cantrell: our love, deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family and many friends. He also leaves the entire community of Archbold—staff, board, visitors, volunteers, supporters, and beyond—just devastated in the trail of his untimely departure. Farewell Eric, Archbold salutes you as one of our real heroes. You are greatly missed and will be remembered, forever.
Just before Christmas, Archbold Herpetology Program staff were happy to assist in returning a rehabilitated Eastern Indigo Snake to the wild. After being found badly injured in September in a densely populated area of Highlands County, the snake arrived at Swamp Girl Adventures Reptile Rehabilitation on September 24. Rehabilitator Kim Titterington remembers, “The snake arrived with traumatic injuries to his body, scabs and fresh scar tissue from what may have been an encounter with lawn equipment. The injuries were healing fairly well, but the scar tissue was tight and dry, constricting his midsection.” The snake was also dehydrated and unable to hunt and eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight while healing.
Every individual Eastern Indigo Snake is important for survival of the species. As Archbold’s Director of Herpetology, Betsie Rothermel, explains, “Eastern Indigos have been extirpated from some parts of their former range, such as the Florida Panhandle, and are declining in most other areas as urbanization reduces their upland habitats. Though the southern Lake Wales Ridge region is still home to relatively healthy populations, their future is by no means secure given future projections of human population growth and development.” Thus, Eastern Indigos are federally designated as Threatened and protected in Florida.
Titterington and staff went to work to save this snake, providing it with fluids, antibiotics, and lots and lots of food. During the four months of rehab, the snake gained almost 200 grams in body weight and grew almost four inches! The team confirmed he was eating, shedding, and gaining weight, then consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to determine if he was fit for release, rather than live a life in captivity. All deemed the snake fit to survive and thrive in the wild, and Titterington contacted Dr. Rothermel to discuss release.
Since the snake would face too many dangers in its former home, Dr. Rothermel assisted rehabilitators in finding a safer location. After four months in rehab, the scarred but healthy Indigo traveled back to Highlands County on December 20. The group traveled deep into the scrub on protected land far from any roads and said their goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment as they watched the snake explore his new home, then disappear into the palmettos. Kim Titterington remarked, “I never thought I’d see an Indigo come into rehabilitation. I am so thankful we could save him and release an endangered species back into the wild!”
Eastern Indigos are large animals that require large, roadless spaces to roam. They can reach more than 8 feet in length, making them the longest snake in North America. Though nonvenomous, they are top predators, hunting and consuming a wide variety of small mammals and other reptiles, including many other snakes.
Swamp Girl Adventures Reptile Rehabilitation (www.swampgirladventures.org) is a licensed wildlife rescue team focused on the care of reptiles and amphibians, as well as educating the public about wildlife through educational programs and videos. “Archbold does not have the specially trained staff and facilities needed to treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife,” explains Dr. Rothermel, “so we are very grateful for people like Kim who are dedicated to this important work.” If you come across injured reptiles or other wildlife, check this website to find a wildlife rehabilitator who can help: https://myfwc.com/media/5423/licensedwildliferehabilitatorsbyregion.pdf
The specific release location is undisclosed because of the species’ protected status. Eastern Indigo Snakes may only be handled by individuals with appropriate scientific research or other permits. However, members of the public are encouraged to contribute sightings of Eastern Indigo Snakes to FWC’s Rare Snake Registry (https://public.myfwc.com/fwri/raresnakes/UserHome.aspx?id=) where you can also report sightings of other upland species, like Southern Hognose Snakes and Florida Pine Snakes. For more info on Eastern Indigos, visit: https://www.oriannesociety.org/about/the-eastern-indigo-snake/
In the Fall of 2020, Archbold Biological Station biologist Dr. Betsie Rothermel, along with Drs. Sarah Fitzpatrick and Gideon Bradburd of Michigan State University’s W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, were awarded a grant through the National Science Foundation to fund a study based at Archbold, exploring the concept of ‘genetic rescue,’ the idea that new genes can help otherwise small and inbred populations withstand environmental stress.
Dr. Sarah Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor at Kellogg Biological Station’s Department of Integrative Biology, is the principal investigator on the new project. In her presentation to Archbold’s Research Symposium on December 10, Dr. Fitzpatrick described how genetic rescue can be used to boost population sizes of endangered species by introducing genetic variation to a dwindling population. She discussed the widely known genetic rescue success story of the introduction of eight Texas Pumas to Florida in 1995 which helped overcome the inbreeding and decline of the Florida Panther population, and the resultant increase in numbers and genetic diversity. Fitzpatrick also mentioned she is working on genetic rescue in the federally threatened Florida Scrub-Jay: this was just featured in a full-length article “Rescue Mission” in the Winter 2020 Issue of National Audubon magazine. While the Florida Panther project and a handful of other examples have been successful, Fitzpatrick concluded that genetic rescue is not a widely used strategy for population management, largely because there are still too many unknowns and possible risks when introducing new individuals to an established population.
Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director noted, “We are delighted that Sarah and her co-investigator Betsie Rothermel received this highly-competitive, peer-reviewed, NSF science award. Sarah is to be commended for her success at this early stage in her career. Just as increasing genetic knowledge brought huge benefits for human health, so will increasing genetic knowledge of plants and animals improve conservation outcomes. This research will enhance our understanding of genetic rescue as a tool for conservation: this has relevance for many of the plants and animals worldwide that are already on the edge of extinction, and also that other species do not end up in the same perilous position.”
This newly funded project at Archbold addresses the need for more testing of genetic rescue to gain acceptance as a tool for conserving biodiversity. Fitzpatrick aims to gain a better understanding of the benefits of increasing genetic diversity by performing long-term experiments on Eastern Mosquitofish. She notes that, “Using a common species like mosquitofish provides a chance to experiment and fine-tune the strategy in a way you can’t do with endangered species.” At Archbold, several outdoor tanks have already been constructed to mimic isolated populations of fish and allow researchers to control the evolutionary history of those populations and the environments they experience. The group plans to track changes in genes and in the number of fish in each tank, ultimately hoping to improve the design, implementation, and monitoring of genetic rescue in imperiled species.
According to Fitzpatrick, “We will be monitoring the tanks for hopefully up to two more years, making this a unique long-term multigenerational dataset with lots of replication, which is the kind of study we need to improve our understanding of genetic rescue and use it for conservation purposes. This is important because genetic rescue is typically used as a last resort strategy when a population is on the brink of extinction,” continues Fitzpatrick. “But if we can show that introducing new genetic variation can speed up adaptation to environmental change—it could have major implications for conservation and management of biodiversity.”
The 2020 year began like any other at Archbold…research programs continuing their long-term studies, college graduates arriving to begin their internships, university professors and elementary school teachers scheduling their yearly excursions. Executive Assistant Laura Reed remembers starting her new job around this time, “My start date was in early February 2020, and I was instantly in awe of the talent and vast knowledge centered right here in Venus. There was so much to learn, and I was excited to become part of the team. Little did I know how quickly my job description would change!” Executive Director Hilary Swain was in and out of the office, traveling around the country for conferences and presentations, and Reed was happy to find out that some of her down-time could be spent with the various research programs, helping with day-to-day activities, and learning about procedures. With COVID things changed rapidly and Archbold staff had to quickly adapt. The year, while very different from previous years and certainly more challenging, ended with some successes.
2020 was a year of transition and adaptation, and Archbold Biological Station’s Science Programs found a way to thrive despite the obstacles faced. Hilary Swain noted, “Like many other businesses this year, Archbold faced massive COVID-related organizational and financial challenges. College classes from across Florida and around the world cancelled their visits, as did conferences, meetings and overnight visits from conservation groups, state agencies, and research teams. Schoolchildren visits were cancelled. They all tell us they don’t anticipate new visits until mid-2021. Our resident interns, who all decided to stay on site, were moved from their crowded dorms into small groups in Archbold’s cottage housing to increase safety. New interns and staff have to quarantine before they join research groups. Researchers are divided into small ‘siloed’ and socially distanced teams to reduce cross-program interactions. Food service ceased. Reluctantly we decided to close to the public until further notice, so we could maintain essential science and keep staff and residents safe.”
Swain continued, “Despite these disruptions, and the many limitations, I am delighted to say that our key programs have forged ahead this year. Technology saved us. I have no idea how we would have managed without Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and dedicated IT support for staff working from home. Presentations at national conferences are all held online and in December Archbold’s own online Annual Symposium was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the year’s science achievements. Archbold continued to be strongly supported by outside grants and contracts: during 2020 there were 33 active grants for research and land management at the Station and Buck Island Ranch, with several new awards during the year.” Joe Gentili, Archbold Librarian noted, “Archbold research has added 29 scientific publications to its database to date this year, and there will be more to come when final annual entries are completed. These publications helped the Archbold Library reach a significant milestone in 2020: after eight decades of published research, the 2500th publication. Many of these publications are available to the public through ARCHBIB, Archbold’s online database, with older publications still being added: www.archbold-station.org/html/datapub/pub/archbib/search.cfm.”
Archbold took the 2020 opportunity to conduct a deeply thoughtful strategic planning exercise which refocused the organization on increasing conservation outreach and putting more science into conservation action. The organization was successful in seeking outside support for a new Predator Prey research program, a part-time communications specialist, and a new Director of Conservation in 2021.
Regular readers of this Archbold column have learned how the Education and Communications teams adapted and grew through the pandemic—through a variety of online virtual educational opportunities that continue into 2021. Last week, the Archbold 2021 Virtual School Year website was unveiled, and several previous articles have highlighted the evolution of Archbold Education from in-person field trips to virtual scrub tours and lessons, with a total of 10 public virtual nature tours offered in addition to virtual summer Scrub Camp for students. The Communications Team transitioned Archbold’s seminar series from in-person at the Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center to Zoom webinars in living rooms around the world. Nine Archbold staff presented seminars to audiences as far away as Europe and Hawaii! Seven Distinguished Guest Speakers participated virtually from Saskatchewan to Florida. The Archbold intern experience usually ends with a capstone seminar in the Learning Center. This year’s twelve interns were able to present their research through virtual seminars, reaching their families and former classmates as well as Archbold and local attendees. In all, Archbold offered 28 virtual seminars during 2020, as well as the virtual version of the Archbold Symposium. Most of these are available for viewing at www.youtube.com/user/ArchboldExpeditions. With these successes, virtual seminars, and maybe hybrid events combining in-person with virtual, will be the new normal for Archbold forever.
Early on Executive Assistant Laura Reed was appointed as a member of the new Communications Team, and soon became the behind-the-scenes host of nearly all the virtual presentations. She remarked, “At first it was daunting to imagine converting all of our learning and presentations to a virtual format. We just dove into the deep end and started swimming! After much trial and error (and thankfully a LOT of patience and encouragement from our online viewers), we not only stayed afloat but we’ve come out of 2020 with new skills and new audiences for our science news and conservation messages—not just across the United States, but also in other countries. This year added considerably to what I was originally hired to do, but I am fortunate to have gained a new skill set and knowledge from attending EVERY seminar as the host. The 2020 year has fundamentally changed the way Archbold works, forever.”
Archbold Biological Station remains closed to the public until further notice, although continues to provide research and educational opportunities as much and as safely as possible. Archbold staff and Board wish all readers, “A safe, happy, and healthy New Year!”
The Education Program at Archbold Biological Station has some exciting news to share: Director of Education Dustin Angell and Jill Abrahamson Memorial Education Intern, Margaret Davenport have been hard at work on a new Archbold Education website, and they are proud to announce that Archbold’s Virtual Elementary School Program for 3rd-5th grades is now live at www.archbold-education.com!
The new site is geared toward classroom groups; however, many of its features may be used by parents and children outside of school. The site offers not only virtual guided nature tour events (available for all) and video chats with classrooms (by group reservation only), but also pre-recorded content and classroom activities. The public content features educational videos and science lessons centered on the Florida scrub habitat, as well as language arts activities linked to Archbold’s blog articles. Archbold’s original Florida Scrub Coloring Book is available for download as well. All events and resources are being offered without charge by Archbold.
Angell explains the reason for the new website, “Usually, all the local elementary schools visit us each year. The students learn about our ecological research and experience the Florida scrub firsthand. After I learned that all the field trips from the Highlands County School District were canceled this school year due to COVID-19, I contacted them to see how we could help. I knew we could meet the challenge and create multi-media content and remote learning events.”
District Science Specialist, Jennifer Reser recognizes the value of the longstanding science education partnership. She states, “The opportunities that Archbold is able to give the students of Highlands County are truly remarkable. I am very excited about the virtual trips that they are working on to continue to provide the same excellent educational experiences that we are used to. We are incredibly thankful for our partnership and the digital support that Archbold has provided in these challenging times.”
The Archbold team is quick to acknowledge that outdoor education without the outdoors is not the same for the students or the educators. However, eight months of experimenting with remote learning, like running a virtual summer camp, have taught them about the benefits and downsides of remote education. For example, virtual events reach larger audiences from a wider geographic range, and are more accessible to those with mobility issues or heat sensitivities.
Recreating the experience of student choice in nature discovery is one of the aims of Davenport’s intern project. She explains, “One of the major challenges with students visiting virtually, besides the physical disconnect from nature, is that they can’t explore nature on their own terms. They can only see whatever we point our cameras at. Presenting the students with that feeling of discovery is the main inspiration behind my “Choose Your Own Virtual Adventure: Archbold Edition.” Classes can make choices about what they want to see on the nature trail, what questions they want to ask the researchers they meet, and ultimately decide where they go on their virtual nature walk.” To accomplish this, Margaret recorded nearly 30 short video clips from the nature trail. When she video chats with classrooms, their choices will determine which videos are shown.
The 2020-2021 year is not the school year students and educators expected, but thanks to a decades long relationship between the Highlands County School District and Archbold Biological Station, our local children still have the benefit and enjoyment of combining classroom learning with real-world examples of science from their region of Florida. Explore the Archbold Education website at www.archbold-education.com.
On Thursday, December 10, Archbold scientists, staff, colleagues, collaborators, and the public gathered around their computer screens to attend the Fifth Annual Archbold Research Symposium virtually. Like so many gatherings in 2020, the Symposium needed to adapt and go virtual, or not be held this year. “Research at Archbold has never ceased. Our staff continued to collect data in the field under tight guidelines. Visiting scientists continued to travel to Archbold, practicing social distancing rules, as well as collaborating with staff remotely to gather the data they needed,” stated Executive Director Hilary Swain. “Archbold has taken the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously and taken all necessary safety precautions, sadly closing to the public, however we worked hard to safely continue our ongoing field research.”
This year’s Symposium was no different than previous years, hosting a variety of presentations ranging from conservation of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, to a history of archived letters written by Richard Archbold during his worldwide expeditions, to monitoring plant diversity on Buck Island Ranch, Archbold’s working cattle ranch. The Internet audience learned about monitoring for a rare plant and efforts to de-list this unique Florida Golden Aster, about new collaborations examining implications of genetic isolation for recovery of Florida Scrub-Jays and other species in landscapes with habitat fragmentation, and ongoing work resolving taxonomy of the plethora of gall wasp species native to Florida and the southeastern USA. “A benefit of the Symposium going virtual is we had the opportunity to hear from, but also reach so many people that many not have been able to attend in person in previous years,” explained Archbold co-host Stephanie Koontz. “The Symposium is usually an all-day event, with speakers and attendees traveling to Archbold to attend and participate. But going virtual opened our message to so many more people curious about Archbold, our work, and conservation of Florida ecosystems.”
In addition to many traditional, 15-minute, single project presentations, the Symposium welcomed a couple of longer sessions aimed to provide overviews from some of the core programs at Archbold. Plant Ecology Program Director, Dr. Eric Menges, gave a 30-year review of his program, highlighting trends in his research, long-term collaborations, and the multitude of next generation young scientists he has mentored over the years. Dr. Betsie Rothermel, Director of the Restoration and Herpetology Program presented the history, ongoing, and future work on the Gopher Tortoise monitoring project on Archbold’s Red Hill, one of the longest running monitoring projects on this threatened species. Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program introduced the audience to new technology, tracking the Florida Scrub-Jay to better understand social interactions within family groups and neighbors and how the surrounding landscape may influence these movements. Finally, Director of Education, Dustin Angell shared clips from many of his virtual activities developed and aired online over the past several months, and the challenges his program had to overcome to continue to share wild Florida in an isolated world.
“It is critical that Archbold continues to spread and share the message of science and conservation of Florida’s native and working landscapes in a time when it is easy to be distracted, but while there is also a huge demand for quality online science,” remarks Swain. “Hosting the Symposium this year demonstrated that Archbold is moving forward and will continue to do the hard work needed to protect these lands and waters for generations to come.” If you missed, would like share, or re-watch any Symposium presentation, they can be found on Archbold’s Facebook page and YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/ArchboldExpeditions/videos
Describing scientific names, Archbold intern Erin Stewart says that they could just as well be termed, “A confusing amalgamation of Greek and Latin words with a sprinkling of surnames thrown in. Biology students are taught that scientific names aid clarity and specificity; however, memorizing them inevitably presents a massive headache come exam time.” While the use of consistent scientific names for species may aid in the communication of research findings across countries and languages, it can present a barrier to communication between scientists and members of the public. Yet, studied closely, scientific names provide layers of meaning and history. Learning to ‘decode’ such meanings can improve both retention and appreciation of these names.
In some cases, the scientific name of a species actually sounds quite similar to its common name. For example, the first half (the Genus) of the name Gopherus polyphemus recalls the ‘gopher’ in Gopher Tortoise. Meanwhile, the second half of the name (species) references Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology. Though not one-eyed, gopher tortoises are certainly one of the larger animals frequently spotted in southeastern habitats.
Oftentimes, the connection between a species’ scientific name and common name is less obvious and a closer examination of its Greek and Latin roots is necessary. For instance, the name Eryngium cuneifolium probably means little to anyone but the most avid botanists of central Florida. However, encoded in the second half of the name are the Latin roots cuneus, meaning ‘wedge,’ and folium, meaning ‘leaf.’ This links directly to the common name of the species: Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot. The first half of the scientific name, Eryngium, derives from the Greek and Latin terms for sea holly, which is the group of plants to which the Wedgeleaf Button Snakeroot belongs.
In other cases, the roots of a scientific name connect not a species’ common name, but to its appearance. The name for Florida Scrub-Jays, Aphelocoma coerulescens, illustrates this point. The first half, Aphelocoma, translates to ‘simple hair.’ This references the fact that, unlike the closely related Blue Jay and Steller’s Jay, scrub-jays lack a feathered head crest. Dr. Reed Bowman, director of Archbold Avian Ecology program added, “Yes, Aphelocoma means simple hair, but it may also refer to the lack of banding in the feathers which is common in many other jays.” Thus, not only does this term describe scrub-jays, but it also places them in the context of their evolutionary relatives. The second half of the name, coerulescens,means dark blue or green—think of the color sky blue or cerulean. This refers to the bluish-gray colors that characterize Florida Scrub-Jays, and other scrub-jays in general.
Sometimes, the scientific name of a species does not contain Greek or Latin roots but is derived from the surname of the researcher who first described the species, or in honor of another prominent researcher in the field, or an individual who supported the work. The ant species Formica archboldi, for instance, is named after the late founder of Archbold Biological Station, Richard Archbold. First described by T.C. Schneirla in 1943, the revised description of the ant published in 1950 notes, “This subspecies is named in honor of Richard Archbold, the owner of the Archbold Biological Station, who not only encouraged Dr. Schneirla in a study of the ants of the Station but who showed a special interest in the habits of this particular ant.” Richard Archbold has the honor of having more than 100 species named in his honor, or in recognition of the Archbold Biological Station that he established, many of which are listed on the Archbold web site. (https://www.archbold-station.org/html/aboutus/r_archbold/ra_animals.html) .
Erin Stewart added, “Though they may initially appear incomprehensible and hard-to-pronounce, careful consideration of scientific names can prove revealing in terms of the history, appearance, and common names of a species. It can even provide some humor, as when you start thinking of scrub jays as ‘simple-haired’ birds.”
Despite the value in knowing and using scientific names, is it not reasonable to expect everyone to learn them. Thus, scientists must work to decode their language when speaking to non-scientists to avoid obscuring important information behind jargon and losing the attention of listeners. A discussion of the etymology of a scientific name is a great place to start.
Have you learned about Archbold Biological Station’s mission from reading the weekly articles in the News-Sun? Archbold’s mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters of the heart of Florida and beyond. Archbold scientists work daily to build scientific knowledge through careful research and share it through scientific publications and presentations. The Education Program works to share knowledge with children through field trips, summer camp, and with the public through outreach and presentations, and now virtual events. But how can the local community, the general public, gain access to that knowledge and apply it to life in Highlands County?
Archbold had presented information online through its website and various social media outlets for years, but something more was needed for the local community. In 2016, Deborah Pollard, Director of Philanthropy worked with the local newspaper to start a series focused on the work of Archbold. Pollard recalls, “I thought it was important to share what we learn here, how that impacts the residents of Highlands County, and what can be learned from our science to help protect our special piece of Florida. Many people know something about Archbold but were unfamiliar with its broad mission or how Archbold’s science applies to aspects of the life, lands, and waters of the region.”
Highlands County resident and longtime friend of Archbold Jane Hancock volunteered to connect Archbold with her associates at the Highlands News-Sun who immediately accepted the collaboration. The idea was to inform Highlands County residents of Archbold’s interesting research about the Lake Wales Ridge scrub, and surrounding ranchland ecosystems, and to promote conservation of our incredible area. The first article about Archbold’s work was featured nearly four years ago, on January 6, 2017: ‘The Mysterious World of Ants,’ which focused on the work of Entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup. Since then, Deyrup has been featured in a total of 13 articles, most describing types of insects found at and around the Station. Over the next four years, 62 different Archbold staff or visiting scientists contributed content, leading to the publication of 200 articles! For example, there have been 33 articles on plant ecology and 4 in the newest 2020 category: ‘online virtual interactions.’ Most of the contributed content has been from staff, with Director of Education Dustin Angell leading the way, involved with 21 articles. Archbold also has some great photographers on staff and among its visitors and their photographs have added to the beauty and unique value of the articles.
Executive Director Dr. Hilary Swain said, “Of course Archbold is such a bunch of scientists, we carefully fact-check each article, and that’s a lot of work.” She added, “Nonetheless, I am always touched when someone in the community comes up to me—maybe in the supermarket or at the gas station, and usually when I am wearing an Archbold T-shirt—and says, ‘I really enjoy those articles about Archbold in the newspaper, it’s so interesting what you all do down there, I look forward to reading them every week.’ I smile and often get the opportunity for a nice extended chat, meanwhile thinking to myself—this surely makes it all worthwhile.”
Archbold’s Executive Assistant Laura Reed took over the role of article coordinator in February 2020 (among her many other responsibilities!), just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing major changes for Archbold research and education programs. Reed explains, “Part of my job is to encourage staff to contribute content towards articles based on their research, which can be challenging for them during busy times. Though this year has been a struggle with a new way of working, our amazing Archbold team came through with facts, quotes, and superb photographs. I am so proud that Archbold and Highlands News-Sun have never missed a week in 200 articles! Thank you to the News-Sun for all their assistance and support on this front.”
Archbold Biological Station is expanding the scope of its current research. With the help of a generous donor, Archbold is re-establishing a predator-prey research program. This exciting partnership represents one of the steps Archbold is taking to help Keep Florida Wild. Led by conservation ecologist Joe Guthrie the Predator-Prey Program will couple scientific research and conservation efforts to better understand and protect wide-ranging species, such as the Florida Black Bear and the Florida Panther, and the habitats on which they rely. Guthrie has worked with Archbold in the past and returns in November from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.
A native Kentuckian, Guthrie studied Florida Black Bears for his master’s thesis at Archbold and on the surrounding conservation sites and working farms and ranches as a student of wildlife ecologist and conservationist Dr. David Maehr at the University of Kentucky. Together, Maehr, Guthrie, and a team which included the late citrus grower and rancher, Mason Smoak, used GPS radio-collars to track the Highlands/Glades Black Bear population across the region, documenting their movements, habitat preferences, social interactions, reproduction, and food habits. Guthrie focused on the impacts of existing and newly planned roads on bear movements and mortality, to inform conservation needs across the South-Central Florida landscape.
The collaborative research inspired a series of conservation expeditions and documentary films highlighting efforts to connect, protect, and restore a 16 million-acre ecological wildlife corridor, known as the ‘Florida Wildlife Corridor,’ through Florida. The Expedition’s 2019 film The Last Green Thread was featured at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival, Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, CO, and at Archbold’s February ‘On the Lawn’ event held in Lake Placid, FL. An upcoming Florida Wildlife Corridor short film, The Wild Divide, will premiere in January 2021 with a traveling roadshow across Florida, including a screening at Archbold. Guthrie’s collaborations with the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the Florida Wild initiatives will continue through his research at the Station.
Guthrie shared, “I’m so excited to return to Highlands County, which holds such special meaning for me. This is a working landscape, which is where I’ve always wanted to be as a researcher. I can’t wait to get back in the field and get to work.”
The Predator-Prey Program will build on the extensive work of Archbold’s founders. As the Station’s first Director of Research, Dr. James N. Layne conducted studies on nearly all mammals known to Archbold, including the Florida Panther. Dr. Layne’s archive, which is maintained at Archbold and includes his many published manuscripts, data, and field notes, forms an invaluable foundation for the new Predator-Prey Program. In recent years, female Florida Panthers have been documented moving north of the Caloosahatchee River, a breakthrough long sought among biologists and conservationists concerned about the survival of the species. Archbold’s scientists will utilize a variety of methods and technologies such as remote cameras to expand monitoring the community of mammal species, predators and prey, with the intent to study how changes in top carnivores might change the ecosystem.
Archbold recently received a special visit from renowned visual artist and environmental advocate, Deborah Mitchell. She arrived with a specific plan in mind: to showcase the Florida Scrub and Central Florida ranchlands, and to conduct film interviews with Archbold researchers to educate and promote conservation of Florida’s rapidly declining wild spaces through her ongoing project, Wild Observations.
Her artwork has featured many elements of the Everglades ecosystem, including the Headwaters of the Everglades, the vast lands and waters draining south to Lake Okeechobee. A 2020 quote on Deborah’s website from former Senator Bob Graham explains her role, “The salvation of the American Everglades is dependent of the awareness of Americans and citizens of the world to the global importance of the Glades and their willingness to support its restoration. Exposure through art has been and continues to be an important means of providing this awareness. Through her artistry Deborah Mitchell has devoted her talent and love of the Everglades to its restoration and has contributed to the goal being within a decade of realization. On behalf of this and future generations of world citizens, thank you Deborah for your contribution to our capacity to experience and be sustained by the unique qualities of a rejuvenated Everglades.”
As part of her interest in the Headwaters, Deborah Mitchell is no stranger to Archbold. Her work features photo-based collages and paintings drawn from her travels in the Everglades and beyond. Earlier this year, Mitchell’s installation at the Miami International Airport, ‘Wild Observations in American Flyways’ included six pieces directly influenced by her time spent at Archbold. The exhibition, described as ‘both an ecological and cultural study of observations occurring in our wild places’ was on view from March 12 – July 14th, 2020 in the North Terminal, and now can be viewed at www.debmitchellart.com. When Archbold Biological Station safely reopens, it will host her exhibit for the public, free of charge.
During her latest visit in October, Mitchell focused on several endangered and threatened species of the Lake Wales Ridge. Over the course of two days, Mitchell and Archbold’s Director of Education Dustin Angell documented birds including two woodpeckers, Florida Caracara, Florida Scrub-Jays, the flower Scrub Blazing Star, Ambrosia beetles, and the Rosemary Bald habitat. Mitchell and Angell recorded 17 topics ranging from ranchlands to museum type natural history collections and filmed special field interviews with Archbold researchers Dr. Mark Deyrup, Dr. Reed Bowman, and Dr. Hilary Swain.
Mitchell shared, “I believe that everything is connected, and am energized by participating in field research to understand the value of biodiversity and what it means in our changing world. My approach is both scientific and intuitive, meaning that the research is based on facts, but my interpretation is inspired by my relationship to the place.”
Now back in her studio, Mitchell uses her journal sketches and photographs to begin the process of weaving art and science into a visual tapestry at once intricate and approachable to the public. Archbold is looking forward to hosting a virtual seminar by Mitchell, to share this and her other work at 3:30pm on January 28th, 2021. More information about how to join this online seminar will be available at www.archbold-station.org.
Art and science may seem an unusual union at first glance but appealing to all sectors of the public audience is essential to spreading the science and conservation message. Archbold Executive Director Hilary Swain explains, “At Archbold, we are reaching new and wider audiences by partnering with artists as science and conservation ambassadors. Deborah Mitchell is one such ambassador. Her careful attention to detail and her ability to meld complex scientific understanding with interpretation of nature is inspiring. Deborah infuses her artistic work with science, communicating the importance of sustaining our natural world.”
There may be few people who know the back roads and trails of Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) as well as Michelle Dent. For the last 21 years, Michelle led the monitoring program for Florida Scrub-Jays at APAFR. With only the help of a few seasonal assistants, Michelle trapped and banded all the jays, searched, and found all their nests, and watched the young birds fledge and find mates of their own. She has a genealogist’s knowledge of the jay’s families and lineages—and she cares for their welfare like a doting grandmother.
In a recent interview, Michelle admitted that she did not know jobs like hers existed until after college. She received her BA in Sociology from Principia College in 1992 and worked in related fields until 1997. That summer she interned with the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County monitoring grassland birds, including searching for their nests. Her love of natural history was now fully uncorked and realizing that careers were available in this field, she applied for additional internships. She arrived at Archbold Biological Station in 1998, working with Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program on his long-term study of Florida Scrub-Jays in suburban habitats. Michelle’s independent project compared the behavior of jay fledglings between the suburbs and native scrub, as the young jays began exploring away from the nest. Dr. Bowman recalled, “It was a timely project that showed some really interesting differences in the behavioral development of jays in these two different habitats.” While she was a research intern, and before her internship ended, a position became available on the APAFR jay project and Michelle took it, beginning her long career working for Archbold on the jays at APAFR—a career she could barely dream of just a few years earlier.
Over her years shepherding the jays at APAFR, she watched the population grow and fall, but learned how to best manage the habitat for their success. She has led groups from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s volunteer group Ridge Rangers, to implement some of that management at APAFR. She has also been a stalwart advocate for jays and helped create and develop the citizen science program JayWatch, which trains citizen volunteers to monitor jays on public lands across the state. She has attended every annual Florida Scrub-Jay festival, manning booths there and at other festivals and fairs, speaking to other groups, all of which has helped raise the image of scrub-jays as an icon of Florida. For several years, she was the Chair of the Lakes Wales Ridge Working Group, influencing everyone and all the participating government agencies and non-profits that contribute to the protection of the ridge. She always continued her professional growth, eventually earning her MS degree from Antioch New England Graduate School in 1998.
Michelle has also been an intrinsic member of the Archbold community. Michelle and Lauren Gilson, another Archbold tech working at APAFR, initiated the annual Christmas Silent Auction which Michelle has kept alive for 15 years, raising thousands of dollars for support for children to attend Archbold’s Summer Camp. Dozens of children who might not otherwise except for these awards, have experienced the joy of wading in a seasonal pond and learning about the wonders of scrub!
Michelle’s last day at APAFR was Oct. 30. After 22 years at Archbold Michelle reminisced, “Archbold was a great place to work. There is so much cumulative knowledge amongst the researchers working there, it really was a privilege to observe and be a part of. It is inspiring how much people are invested in the research they conduct and how visiting researchers come back year after year. Archbold is like an extended family and I will really miss being a part of it.” Michelle did not want a big parting shindig but wanted to go birding with her co-workers and friends at Highlands Hammock State Park—the wish of a true naturalist! Everyone had a socially distanced lunch and cupcakes. We might have had a cake, but Michelle is the best cake maker around and you can’t ask someone to bake their own going away cake! Michelle and her husband are heading for drier climes, building a house in New Mexico. She goes armed with a bagful of new field guides, eager to learn the natural history of her new home. We all wish her the best.
For the past few months, at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, research assistants and interns have been diligently working to collect soil and vegetation samples to create a detailed map of soil phosphorus on Buck Island Ranch, funded through a grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This new project at Buck Island Ranch is a collaborative effort between Archbold, University of Florida, and Cornell University with the goal of contributing to the reduction of phosphorus flowing downstream.
What is legacy phosphorus?
To understand this issue, it helps to start with a history of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, operated as a ranch from the early 1900s. During the 1950s numerous ditches were connected to the newly constructed Harney Pond Canal, which bisects the Ranch on its way downstream to Lake Okeechobee. This enabled rapid drainage, changing the timing, frequency, and intensity of flow events off the Ranch. The same time heralded the beginning of a worldwide transformation in agriculture as fertilizers became available post-WW2. Fertilizers made ranching more profitable on the nutrient-poor sandy soils of Florida. In the period between the late 1940s through the 1980s, extensive use of fertilizers, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, resulted in build-up of phosphorus (or, the ‘legacy P’ issue) in ranchland soils that continues to affect water quality today. Since 1986, when reduced P applications were first recommended, P application has declined markedly throughout the watershed and is now regulated, but the legacy of previous fertilizer P applications in soils is still widespread. Today’s Best Management Practices for grazing lands, which are currently under another major review, aim to ensure that no more P fertilizer is applied than absolutely needed.
Buck Island Ranch is just 10,500 acres of the total ~1 million acres of ranchlands located in the 2.6 million-acre headwaters of the Everglades, the lands and waters that drain south into Lake Okeechobee. Even though P loads from cattle pastures are low relative to other land uses (on a per-acre basis) the large acreage of ranches in the watershed makes them, cumulatively, a significant contributor to overall P loads. Therefore, ranches have been a focus for improved P control. The challenge is that ranches are a ‘non-point source’ of P: with sheet flow of shallow surface water across the ranchlands under high water conditions, together with vast and complex ditching and drainage networks, so there is no readily identifiable ‘point’ source location that can be easily targeted to reduce P loading.
What can we do about legacy soil phosphorus?
Water management practices that increase retention-detention of drainage waters on cattle pastures are a potential solution to reducing P loads. Since 2005, Archbold has been working on examples of these ‘Dispersed Water Management’ practices with state agencies. This started with the voluntary program, the Florida Ranchland Environmental Services Project, and transitioned to the Northern Everglades-Payment for Environmental Services program, both offered by the South Florida Water Management District. Ranchers are contracted to provide water management—either water retention or nutrient P removal. These programs, along with multiple other projects of state and federal agencies, are designed to mitigate problems of water quality and quantity to Lake Okeechobee.
With recent funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Agro-ecology research program collected an intensive grid of soil samples across Buck Island Ranch to make a map of soil P levels. Vegetation samples were collected at the same locations. More than 1,400 soil samples and 47 deep core soil samples were taken during June to October, to be processed in laboratories at Buck Island Ranch, the University of Florida, and Cornell University. Deep core soil samples are about 40” in length are used in this project to determine the amount of P in 6 inches increments of the deep core. Research assistants and interns spent 4-5 hours a day collecting 20-30 samples in the summer heat using trucks, ATVs or by foot to get to sampling locations. Intern Scott Dai says, “As the self-appointed ‘Soil Auger’, my hands were caked in mud every time I did fieldwork for this project. It’ll be cool knowing our hard work will be used by both ranchers and agroecologists.”
Finally, on October 15, Anna Odell, Buck Island Ranch research intern finished grinding the last set of vegetation samples. The day before, Megan Selva, research assistant, finished weighing sieved soil samples. Megan states, “This was a challenging project and a fight to get as many samples collected as possible before the rainy season made sampling sites inaccessible. We were fortunate to have three interns, research staff, and ranch staff to finish the sampling successfully.” The samples were organized by Alan Rivero, research assistant, and shipped to the University of Florida, for detailed soil content analysis, and to Cornell University for soil isotope analysis.
After the soil P map is made, the next step is to plant harvestable forages in these areas so that plants can start to take up soil P and we can harvest the plants to remove P from these areas.
After the sample analyses are completed, Archbold will build a detailed soil P map for Buck Island Ranch. Dr. Betsey Boughton, Research Director at Buck Island Ranch added: “This will provide insights as to how patchy legacy soils are on a typical ranch and help us identify past management practices might explain higher levels of soil P in some locations. Then we will focus our efforts on areas of higher soil P. The next step is to plant harvestable forages in these areas, so that plants can start to take up soil P and we can harvest the plants to remove P from these areas.”
Nowadays scientific research programs at Archbold Biological Station collect massive amounts of data daily through various automated and physical means, as well as all the ‘legacy data’ that have been collected dating back to1941. Where does all the data go? How do scientists make sense of all these data when it is time to analyze, report, and learn something from the results? The fieldwork aspect of research has been well-documented, but none of those studies would be possible or fruitful without careful data management and organization.
Shefali Azad has been Assistant Data Manager at Archbold since January 2018. She reflects, “Technicians collect observations in the field, scientists process this into meaningful statistics, we manage weather stations and track animals’ locations. My job is to organize these data—I copy data to databases, back data up to servers, and create dashboards to view data in real time.” Once data are organized, they become available for future studies. For example, a collaborator could request weather data from 2012-2016 along with soil quality from the same period: Azad can quickly retrieve the information from the databases and compile it for them. Increasingly she helps scientists post their data online when a project is published.
Not surprisingly, Azad has a background in biology. After studying biotech engineering and wildlife biology in college, she says she took a data management position at Archbold for a few different reasons: “For one, I had picked up general computer coding skills with the engineering and graduate degrees. For another, I have a broad understanding of ecology that helps me understand the needs of the ecologists that I work with. Another more practical reason was that I had spent a couple years after grad school moving from one temporary fieldwork job to another, and I decided it was time to apply to jobs in my field that were more stable.”
Azad joined Archbold’s Data and Geographic System (GIS) program in 2018, which is mostly staffed by women, although computer science is currently generally a male-dominated field. She explains, “Did you know that computer science used to be a woman-dominated field? Back in the 1960s, designing the hardware was considered difficult and prestigious ‘men’s work.’ Programmers were needed but coding was considered lower-skill number-crunching, or ‘women’s work’.” The tide changed in the 1970s with the invention of the personal computer and the business boom in Silicon Valley, and men took over the software side of computer science as well as hardware engineering. Current Archbold Director Hilary Swain commented, “I remember exactly this situation; when I was an undergraduate in the mid-1970s nearly all my computer scientist friends were women, busily coding on mainframes and some still using punchcards! That dates me. Then the first PCs came out and everything changed.”
As a woman in science, Azad feels it is especially important to share her experience to encourage other females to follow their own paths, whether the field is traditionally male or female-dominated. When asked what traits a young girl might possess to indicate an aptitude for computer science, Azad says the expected qualities apply: a basic understanding and liking of computers, puzzle solving, and good organizational skills. She adds, “Young girls are often criticized for certain ‘problematic’ behaviors that are actually a boon: If you’re ‘nitpicky’ it means you’re detail-oriented, if you’re ‘pessimistic’ it means you can identify where a workflow will break down. I’m personally on the ADHD spectrum and find that switching between varied tasks works beautifully with my mental health. And finally, you have to work with a variety of people to understand their needs, so developing good (and patient) communication skills helps.”
Dr. Swain concluded, “One of the inspirational aspects of having Shefali at Archbold is how easily she bridges the world of biology and computing. I like how she points out there is a role for everyone in science, for all technical and personal skill sets. Science is a big tent of opportunities and I would encourage young people, especially women who may have been turned off science, to consider the variety of opportunities that may be open for them. They may be more welcome and valued in the tent than they ever realized.”
One major thrust of scientific research from Archbold Biological Station focuses of the flora and fauna of the Lake Wales Ridge, which runs from northern Glades County, through the middle of Highlands and Polk counties, and up into parts of Lake, Orange, and Osceola counties. However, much of the work done by scientists here is applicable to other ecosystems and much of the knowledge gained at Archbold has trickled off the ridge, providing valuable information for management, monitoring, and protection for many of Florida’s valuable natural areas. Sharing knowledge is a key component of science.
In early October, research assistant Stephanie Koontz from the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold and Plant Conservation Officer Houston Snead from Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens shared their knowledge and experience with Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) staff searching for the plant, Florida Hartwrightia. Florida Hartwrightia is not state listed as an endangered or threatened plant in Florida, however, historic records suggest drastic population declines and probable local extirpations, most likely due to habitat alteration and loss. Based on records complied by FNAI, this species once extended from Highlands County, north to Nassau County and up into southern Georgia. However, many of these records have not been confirmed since they were first documented, most prior to the 1990’s. FNAI staff are currently leading surveys to update many of these historic occurrences which may be used to modify this species status to threatened or even endangered in the state of Florida.
Staff from Archbold and the Jacksonville Zoo had originally joined up in 2018, designing and implementing a protocol to identify and search suitable habitats for Florida Hartwrightia in Highlands County. “We have done this for two seasons now,” explains Koontz, “and we have searched several historic occurrences for Florida Hartwrightia, some with success in locating populations, other searches were not as fortunate. But this has helped us identify specific attributes within the habitat where Florida Hartwrightia tends to grow.” Florida Hartwrightia prefers wet habitats, but not too wet. “The preferred habitat seems to require water, but not standing, stagnant water. Rather a slow flowing source just above or below the soil surface. This type of flow is typical of a narrow habitat margin known as seepage slopes, where water is literally seeping slowly out of the ground through Florida’s sandy soils from higher to lower elevations,” describes Koontz. “When we marked the locations of individual plants on a map, the occurrences weave their way along like a ribbon between slightly higher, drier habitats and lower, wetter habitats.”
In addition to discussions, emails and sharing of reports and data, Koontz and Snead were able to join FNAI staff in the field to search for Florida Hartwrightia in October 2020. Several element occurrences are located in northeast Florida within the boundaries of John Bethea and Cary State Forests and Bayard and Black Creek Ravines Conservation Areas. The crew explored for three days, through wet forests and along wetland margins, touching many leaves that looked similar, but did not belong to Florida Hartwrightia. “When not in flower, this plant lives as a cluster of leaves on the ground. These leaves feel tacky unlike other look-alikes which are smooth. It is easiest to locate this species when it is in flower, as it sends up a stem ~4 feet tall with pale purple flower clusters. This is much easier to spot above the shorter palmettos, grasses, and oaks,” describes Koontz. On the second day, the crew struck gold, as a large flowering population was first located by Snead. “We estimated more than 1,000 plants, most of which were in full flower,” describes Snead. “And sure enough, slightly up hill from this population, was a pond where water must be slowly seeping through the soil, providing the ideal habitat for Florida Hartwrightia.” This is the story of many plants. Many populations simply have never been documented, or documented well, but when the right conditions combine, they flourish.
Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch is a large scale working cattle ranch in south central Florida, in the Headwaters of the Everglades. Buck Island Ranch is classified as a cow/calf operation, meaning the main goal is to maintain a breeding herd of cows that produce a calf annually. Buck Island Ranch isn’t home to just cattle alone! The ranch also serves as a natural wildlife corridor and sanctuary for biodiversity. There are documented species lists of records more than 450 plant species, 170 birds, 34 reptiles, 30 mammals, 19 amphibians, and 16 fish. If you have had the opportunity to take a buggy ride at the Ranch, depending on what time of year you were there, you might have noticed the baby calves with the mother cows, what are called cow-calf ‘pairs’). Have you wondered where the calves go from there? What happens between the pasture and the plate? Buck Island Ranch assistant Mary Margaret Hardee explains, “There are many different segments of the beef industry—Cow/Calf, Backgrounder, Feedlot, Harvest/Processing facilities, Retail, and then finally the consumer.”
The Buck Island Ranch operations crew weans calves typically at 6 months of age and at roughly 400 lbs. When the calves are weaned the crew sorts calves based on sex, quality, and weight. After the weaning period is over, calves from the Ranch are shipped to either a backgrounder or directly to a feedlot. A handful of promising heifers from the calf crop are retained or kept on the ranch to be put back into the ranch’s breeding stock. That is a very typical management practice for cow/calf operations.
A backgrounding operation is the ‘middle man’ between weaned calves and feedlots. They feed and care for the recently weaned calves to enter into the feedlots. Once the calves reach an average of 700-800 lbs. they are ready to enter a feedlot setting. This is where they will be finished. Finished weight is typically 1,350 lbs. In order to hit this target weight, they are fed a variety of different highly formulized rations that meet their nutritive requirements. Starter rations focus more on high forage, whereas finishing rations focus more on high energy concentrations.
For many decades most cow calf producers in Florida have had their cattle shipped out west to be finished: 65% of the cattle on feed in the Unites States are located in Texas, Nebraska and Kansas. In 2015 a handful of cattle producers, Florida Cattle Ranchers recognized the opportunity to return this part of the process to Florida, as it was decades ago. The goal was to raise and finish cattle in the state of Florida, producing Homegrown Beef from Pasture to Plate. However, according to Buck Island Ranch Manager, Gene Lollis, “Ranching is more than simply providing beef ‘from a pasture to a plate.’ It is about balancing production practices with our natural surroundings.” The implications of this shift to full Florida production are far-reaching: supporting the local Florida economy, conserving natural lands and biodiversity, and even saving taxpayer money by reducing transportation and wear and tear on roads. To find out more about the Florida Cattle Ranchers and building a sustainable Florida, visit www.floridacattleranchers.com.
The development of the in-state market will allow the Florida producers to tell consumers the story of their ranches and their role in conservation as well as beef production. Contributing towards this group’s goal, Buck Island Ranch now backgrounds many calves at Usher Cattle Company and finishes at Quincey Cattle Company, both in Chiefland, northwest Florida. Once calves have reached their finished weight they are then shipped to a harvesting facility, FM Meat Products in Fort McCoy, Florida. This meets the Florida Department of Agriculture definition of a Fresh From Florida product.
Harvesting facilities bring in live animals and, in the most humane way possible, process them into the meat you buy in the grocery store or order off the menu at your favorite restaurant or fast food joint. Processing plants always operate with an agent from the Unites States Department of Agriculture to ensure safe, quality, and humane practices are in place. Nothing is wasted when an animal is harvested. Mary Margaret Hardee shared, “Here are some fun facts of things that are made from beef byproducts of which you might not be aware. From the bones, horns and hooves we get things like buttons, piano keys, adhesives, and cellophane. From fats and fatty acids we get things like chewing gum, soap, paint, cosmetics, and tires. From the intestines we get sausage casings, surgical sutures, and tennis racquet strings. From the hide and hair we get things like clothing, textiles, luggage, insulation and felt.”
From Pasture to Plate, and adhesives to insulation, Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch balances a successful working cattle operation with sustainable practices and environmental stewardship to preserve Florida’s ranching legacy while also protecting its lands and waters.
4:00 am wakeups are never easy, but for Avian Ecology research assistants Fabiola Baeza-Tarin and Chelsea Wisner, the reward of seeing Florida Grasshopper Sparrows makes those dark mornings worth it. With headlamps adorned, the biologists brave the clouds of mosquitoes and the soggy prairie landscape to study a rare bird endemic to Florida and one of the most endangered species in the United States. “The sparrows are very elusive and definitely prove to be a challenge while trying to work with them!” explains Baeza-Tarin. Agreeing, Wisner adds “I am always blown away by how resilient they are. They put up with a lot of our manipulations while we try to protect them.”
The sparrows at Avon Park Air Force Range had been monitored since the early 1990’s, but Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program didn’t take over until 2003. Each year, researchers estimate population size using point count surveys, during which biologists navigate through established transects to listen for and count singing birds. The population was near its peak in 1998, but over the next 4-5 years, the numbers tumbled by almost 90%. Within a few years of that decline, the populations on other protected conservation lands, such as Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, managed by the Florida Park Service, began declining. “Once we realized how dire the situation was, it was all hands on deck to try to figure out a solution,” Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology program, recalls. “All populations were declining despite intensive management efforts that had been implemented based on past research. We needed to act fast to stabilize the population and identify a cause for the decline.”
In 2002, concerned scientists from Archbold and several agencies and universities created the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group, the primary purpose of which was to collaborate on research and outline ways to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. “The Working Group approached the situation from all angles, coordinating work at different sites and focusing on factors that might be causing the decline,” says Wisner. “Although birds had been banded at some sites, they began banding males at all sites to increase our understanding of annual adult survival. Everyone began monitoring nests and, in 2015, installing nest cameras to study nest predators.” Unfortunately, researchers found many nests were easy targets for predators, so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission devised a method to install fences around sparrow nests without disturbing the females. These were successful and were soon implemented at all sites. At other sites where Red Imported Fire Ants were a problem, scientists began treating nearby fire ant mounds with scalding hot water, which also increased fledgling production. “We switched our focus from simply monitoring these birds to increasing survival and reproduction in order to prevent extinction,” Dr. Bowman notes.
Currently, less than 120 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows remain across four monitored populations, two of which Archbold biologists are monitoring. Archbold continues its partnership with the Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by monitoring the sparrow population at Avon Park Air Force Range, and the Avian Ecology program also recently, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, took over monitoring a population of sparrows on a private cattle ranch. “We originally thought the sparrows wouldn’t survive or nest successfully in pasture, but with the use of fences and fire ant treatments, they do just fine!” explains Baeza-Tarin. “It takes a lot of work, but it is promising to know that the sparrows can survive and prosper on active cattle ranches. It’s a big step forward in the conservation of the species.” Additionally, there has been some encouraging news of additional populations of sparrows on other private lands, which could have big implications on future conservation efforts.
As sparrows continued to decline in the wild, the Working Group made the decision to begin captive breeding of this species. A handful of eggs, nestlings, and adults were collected from the various sites to establish a captive breeding program at White Oak Conservation, in Yulee FL (https://www.whiteoakwildlife.org/wildlife/florida-grasshopper-sparrow/). The captive breeding program has been incredibly successful, and captive-bred birds are currently being released to bolster existing wild sparrow populations (https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/fgs-breeding/). “Once we can stabilize and grow existing populations, we could even begin to release birds at other sites that have long since lost their sparrows. It’s an exciting and promising time in the world of Florida Grasshopper Sparrow conservation,” remarks Dr. Bowman. Over the last two years, 242 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows have been released into the wild at one of the populations on public lands, where scientists monitor them and track their survival and recruitment. Many of these birds have survived and are breeding in the wild.
Today, Archbold maintains its role as an active member in the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group, which holds bi-annual meetings to evaluate annual goals and discuss future conservation efforts. “It’s truly remarkable to see all of the various partners working together to conserve this tiny brown bird,” Wisner comments. “There is a need for constant cooperation and collaboration between state and federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, and private landowners, and it gives me a lot of hope that we can and will save this species.”
To celebrate women in the workplace and this year’s centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, Archbold Biological Station is highlighting contributions made by women in our scientific community. For the past half-century there has been a strong presence of women at Archbold. In 1976, with the passing of the founder, biological explorer Richard Archbold, his sister Frances Hufty assumed the Chair of the Board and served in that role until her passing in 2010. She was succeeded by current Chair of the Board, Dr. Mary Hufty, her daughter, and niece of Richard Archbold. Dr. Hufty retired recently from a successful career in family medicine, but her biological roots run deep, supporting natural history, biological research, conservation, and education.
Since Dr. Hilary Swain became Executive Director in 1995 an increasing number of women have joined Archbold as Program Directors and lead scientists. Women in the workplace have contributed to success at Archbold, adding a wider set of skills, creativity, and cultural insights. Nowadays, women make up many of the staff, visiting scientists, board members, and volunteers. Dr. Eric Menges, Director of the Plant Ecology program says, “I’ve always been proud that our program has welcomed women and that female alumni have felt that their internship was an important part of their training and professional development. Many of our female interns have gone on to make a strong mark in the ecological sciences with their research, education, and the development of future generations of ecologists.”
Female scientists contribute to making Archbold a great place for research, conservation, and education. We are excited to announce a new blog series, ‘Celebrating Women in Science.’ This initiative will share the success of female staff at Archbold, reflect on their experiences, and offer advice. The series will be posted on Archbold’s Scrub Blog: new blogs will be posted monthly. Please follow the blog to see how female scientists contribute to making Archbold a great place for research, conservation, and education.
Dr. Hilary Swain concludes, “Archbold takes pride in supporting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). According to http://www.catalyst.org, 36.1% of women in the U.S. graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. Archbold is excited to inspire more young women to pursue careers in science. We want to share our stories with them.”
Archbold Biological Station’s Avian Ecology Program is best known for its long-term study of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the gregarious, brilliantly blue birds of the oak scrubs of the Lake Wales Ridge. However, the program also has a long history of working with the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a bird iconic to the Longleaf Pine forest like the scrub-jay is iconic to the Florida scrub—the conservation of each bird and its habitat is inextricably intertwined. Archbold staff, working with the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have been deeply involved with the monitoring and management of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the Avon Park Air Force Range (the Range) for more than 25 years.
The Longleaf Pine ecosystem of the Southeast, on which the Red-cockaded Woodpecker depends, has been reduced to less than 3% of its historical range due to habitat loss for timber, agriculture, and development. As a result, Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations have declined dramatically, leading to the species being federally listed as Endangered in 1970.
In 1992, the Air Force enlisted the expertise of Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program at Archbold, to assess the status of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker population at the Range. Bowman recounted “Historical records from the Range between 1977 and the late 1980s suggested as many as 45 Red-cockaded families may have occurred there over that period. However, after our systematic survey was completed in 1992, only 21 groups of these Endangered birds were still present.” With a baseline established, Archbold and Air Force personnel set out to develop and implement a management plan to increase the population.
First, Avon Park Air Force Range Natural Resources staff reintroduced frequent prescribed fires to maintain the habitat in the condition the birds prefer. Archbold researcher Greg Thompson noted, “Fire is necessary to maintain plant and animal diversity in the Longleaf Pine ecosystem. Without fire, the Longleaf Pine forest transforms into a different habitat, one with more shrubs and mid-story trees, which is far less attractive to the woodpeckers.” Avon Park Air Force Range has a dedicated, highly trained prescribed fire team that burns the Longleaf Pine forests on the Range once every two to three years. This is beneficial for the woodpeckers, but also protects the military’s ability to safely complete their training exercises. Thompson added, “Long unburned pine forests pose a significant threat if they do ignite during a lightning storm or a military exercise because the resulting fires are more intense and harder to contain.”
Another key component of the Management Plan was to ensure the woodpeckers have plenty of cavities in which to nest and roost at night. Cavities are sometimes in short supply because of the scarcity of mature pine trees and the length of time it takes the birds to create a cavity. Thompson explained, “Unlike most woodpecker species which excavate their cavities in dead trees, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers excavate their cavities in living trees. The wood of living trees is very hard and produces lots of sticky resin, slowing the excavation process. It usually takes several years for a Red-cockaded Woodpecker to complete a cavity. For these reasons, we install artificial cavities.” Artificial cavities are wooden nest boxes embedded within the tree to simulate a natural cavity. A rectangular excavation is made in a suitable tree using a chainsaw while secured standing at the top of a tall ladder—not an activity for folks with a fear of heights. The boxes are installed so that the front of the box and the entrance hole are flush with the trunk of the tree. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and former Archbold researcher, Emily Angell, added, “Red-cockaded Woodpeckers without a cavity are vulnerable at night, so an artificial cavity can mean the difference between life and death. To build a new home for one of these amazing little birds, and watch it move right in, is so satisfying.”
When forests were larger and contiguous, birds were able to move easily among populations. However, today’s pine forests throughout the Southeast are smaller, scattered, and more isolated from each another—thus immigration among populations is very rare. Translocation, the process of moving woodpeckers from large, stable populations to small, recovering populations such as Avon Park Air Force Range is another key element of the management plans. Since the 1990s, the researchers have translocated 54 woodpeckers into the Avon Park population, and 63% ultimately became breeders. These efforts, coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have helped increase the woodpecker population at the Range and added new genetic lines, thereby reducing the chances of inbreeding.
Dr. Rob Aldredge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Liaison to Avon Park Air Force Range commented that, “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Archbold Biological Station and the Air Force (and its partners) over decades, Avon Park Air Force Range has reached the recovery goal of 40 groups and has joined a long list of Department of Defense installations that have worked tirelessly toward the recovery of this iconic species.” Dr. Bowman added “At 40+ groups, the population is much more stable and less vulnerable than in the 1990s. We have perfected management techniques, and population growth has accelerated in the last few years. It can grow more, but we’ve rescued this population from extirpation.”
Nancy Deyrup arrived at Archbold back in 1982 when Dr. Jim Layne was the Station Director. Layne was “all about long-term studies,” she remembers. He assured Nancy, who has a Zoology degree, there would be plenty of work for her. Over the past 38 years, Nancy has done it all from data collection for Archbold’s Plant Ecology, Entomology, and Limnology programs to weather collection, education, and photography. Deyrup said, “At that time, there was no digital photography, so I spent plenty of time with developing solutions and Richard Archbold’s photographic enlarger.” Archbold’s trove of weather data is thanks to people like Deyrup who did the meticulous collection before automation. She spent time archiving barometric charts produced by beautifully crafted clockwork mechanisms, as well as measuring water levels of seasonal ponds, wells, and local lakes using staff gauges. For the study of water stress on plants, Deyrup measured water depth in evaporation pans.
In 1989, Deyrup’s work took an unexpected turn. The Archbold Board of Directors decided to offer local school children the opportunity to learn about the remarkable animals, plants, and habitats found in Highlands County.Nancy pioneered Archbold’s Florida Scrub Education program by creating a slide show and field trip of the Station. She initiated the popular ‘Scrub Camp’ back in 1992 that continues to this day. Deyrup and Charlotte Wilson also co-authored Discovering Florida Scrub, a curriculum of environmental science activities for grades 3-5.
Deyrup shared, “It was so inspiring to introduce Highlands County children to the natural history of the Florida scrub they had been traversing their entire lives. Florida scrub hides its mysteries well from casual observers. The education program gave me an unexpected new area of personal fulfillment. And, our own three children had the benefit of Florida scrub immersion. All three went on to careers in biology.” As adults, the Deyrup children have worked on the Station as well: Deyrup reports, “Our son Leif visited the Station and helped write papers on insects that visit palmetto flowers (there are over 300 such insects on the Station) and on the diet of narrow-mouth toads (they eat almost nothing but ants captured at night). Our son Stephen brings college classes to study the chemical ecology of local plants and animals.”
When asked about her least favorite job at Archbold, Deyrup shared the following:
“Younger scientists and forgetful older ones often forget that all aspects of science were slower and more laborious than today. Captions for charts were often done with a ‘lettering set’ that would draw uniform letters and numbers, but later, in a big advance, there were rub-off letters and numbers that could be carefully applied to illustrations. This was my least favorite thing to do because it was tedious, and one mistake meant a complete do-over.”
Nancy Deyrup is officially retired but has continued to volunteer in the ‘bug lab’ with her husband, Archbold Entomologist Dr. Mark Deyrup. She was instrumental in completing a major project, getting the data from tens of thousands of pinned insects in the Archbold museum collections online and available via the internet. After Dr. Mark Deyrup’s retirement, so devoted are they that the Deyrups generously funded Archbold’s Visiting Scholar Program, helping to bring talented young scientists to the Station and Ranch. Although retired she is still deeply engaged with Archbold, and reflects, “I have been happy to be part of the Archbold mission of science, conservation, and education.” While many people contribute to part of Archbold’s mission, Nancy Deyrup has dedicated her life to all three.
For more information on Archbold’s ‘Bug Lab,’ Education Program, and Archbold’s Visiting Scholar Program, visit our website at: https://archbold-station.org/
Founded in 2013 through a collaboration among the US Department of Defense, US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of the Interior, the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership has worked to bring together private landowners, state and local governments, and non-governmental agencies for a single purpose: to support conservation and sustainable agriculture while also supporting the country’s military installations and ranges. At first, the two concepts may seem contradictory—why would an agency focused on funding and maintaining the military complex be aligned with protecting agriculture, natural lands and wildlife? The answer is simple: military installations need to be surrounded by lands and waters protected from encroaching development that can hinder their training and testing activities. Nighttime lighting and other disturbances associated with development, as well as citizen complaints about noise, can significantly degrade the effectiveness of military missions. The solution is to protect lands surrounding the military lands that have compatible land uses, such as conservation and agriculture, thus providing a public-private symbiosis known as a Sentinel Landscape.
The Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape is one such partnership. Established in 2016, it covers almost 1.7 million acres over several private ranches and includes portions of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. As central Florida continues to grow at a rapid pace, protecting conservation lands within these areas is especially important. First, the dry prairie habitat serves as a safe natural community for imperiled species like the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Gopher Tortoise, and Eastern Indigo Snake. Second, the stitching together of protected properties creates a natural wildlife corridor for large area-requiring species such as Florida Black Bears and Florida Panthers to roam safely. Last, the natural water filtration provided by undisturbed lands and waters regulates the flow and improves the quality of water feeding downstream Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
This same concept of connecting conserved properties benefits the Air Force Range as well as Florida’s wildlife. By preventing development of the land in close proximity to the Range, the Air Force safeguards its airspace and therefore its national defense mission. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Executive Director observed, ”The Sentinel Landscape is an idea that has the possibility of uniting people, protecting our ecosystem and enabling our military mission. We can come together on this idea of a secure future.”
Archbold Biological Station’s involvement with the Avon Park Air Force Range began in 1992, when the Avian Ecology Program began monitoring populations of the federally Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and the federally Threatened Florida Scrub-Jay. In 2003, the monitoring expanded to include another endangered bird, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. In addition, Archbold’s Restoration Ecology Program began a multi-year survey of Gopher Tortoises on the Range in 2009. Archbold staff work closely with the Air Force’s natural resources staff to minimize the impact of military missions on the bird populations and help to manage conservation efforts. Dr. Reed Bowman, the Director of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program, who conducted those early surveys noted, “Populations of endangered birds are at less risk when they occur in networks of connected populations. When adjacent lands within Sentinel Landscapes support these same species, all populations benefit and this also allows the military to train in very natural landscapes, while also reducing regulatory conflicts.”
For more information on the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, including the newly published 2020 Accomplishments Report, please visit