Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Avon Park Air Force Range

A Red-cockaded Woodpecker takes a quick break from pecking at the hole it started in a pine tree that may someday become its new roost cavity. Photo by Greg Thompson.

Author: Greg Thompson

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.” 

Artificial cavity boxes are installed to ensure that the woodpeckers have safe places to roost and nest. Trained installers use a chainsaw to cut a rectangular chunk out of the tree, and the cavity box is then inserted and secured into place. The health of the tree is not compromised by the installation. Photo by Emily Angell.

Archbold employee spotlight: Nancy Deyrup

Nancy Deyrup on a ‘Scrub Camp’ buggy tour of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch. Photo by Archbold Education.

Authors: Jennifer Brown, Laura Reed.

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:

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

An Unexpected Alliance

  A Florida Grasshopper Sparrow perches on vegetation near the Avon Park Air Force Range. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Author: Laura Reed

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

The Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape Boundary. Photo from the APAFR Sentinel Landscape Fact Sheet.

What grows when no-one mows

Photo 1: Leafless Beak Orchid (Sacoila lanceolata) growing along Old State Route 8 just north of Archbold’s Red Hill entrance. This species is often most evident along grassy roadsides with longer frequencies between mowing.
Photo Credit: Scott G. Ward.

Author: Scott Ward

Driving along Old State Route 8 or State Route 70, most drivers must keep an eye on the bevy of oncoming semi-trucks and hurried SUVs and sedans. As someone who uses these roads quite often, Plant Ecology research assistant Scott Ward is wary of taking his eyes off oncoming traffic, fearful for if they may swerve towards his own lane. As a botanist; however, his eyes can’t help but sway to the all-too-alluring band of roadside plant communities found along both roads. Like many paved pathways in south-central Florida, the stretch of Old SR8 running southward towards the entrance of Archbold Biological Station from its junction with SR70 is prone to repeated rounds of mechanical disturbance, or as many might call it: mowing. During the initial quarantine period in the spring months of 2020, these roadside strips went un-mowed for an extended period of time, allowing plant species to grow free and unabated. As Ward and other Archbold employees began to work primarily from home in the early response to COVID-19, visits to the Station were less frequent than before. Upon intermittent returns to the Station, Ward noticed that the diversity (and height!) of vegetation along Old SR8 had dramatically increased. Ward remarked, “Bright colors assembled along the otherwise predominantly non-native, grass-dominated roadside strips—from showy native species such as dayflower (Commelina erecta), cottonweed (Froelichia floridana), and Florida alicia (Chapmannia floridana), the latter of which is endemic to (growing here and nowhere else) Florida.” Sometimes even, these disturbed roadside assemblages can give way to more interesting elements, such as the state-threatened Leafless Beak Orchid (Sacoila lanceolata, pictured), observed in flower along Old SR8, north of Archbold’s Red Hill entrance. The Leafless Beak Orchid grows at the northern end of its range here in peninsular Florida, but can be found elsewhere across Central and South America. It is a particularly showy species of orchid, and can grow in a variety of disturbed habitats such as grasslands and pastures, but never seems to be readily abundant when found. So while these disturbed roadsides often favor noxious weeds and aggressive grasses (see The Bad Seed: A Tangled Tale,, published 23 December 2019), these same areas often provide refuge to rare species that otherwise have diminished native habitat or are at the fringes of their more widespread range. Would passers-by have seen this orchid blooming had the regular-scheduled mowing frequency been in place? Ward notes, “This pattern is of course not only unique to plants, as many reptile and amphibian species like to use warm road surfaces as spots to soak up sun and gather body heat. In fact, shortly after witnessing this blooming orchid, I observed a Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) thermo-regulating during a somewhat cloudy day along Old SR8 (pictured). Fortunately, no oncoming traffic was present at the time so I was able to safely pull over and escort this unwitting individual off the road.” Thus, while roadside areas can often be prone to periods of intense disturbance, their ecology can be quite dynamic, giving way to sometimes unexpected levels of life.

Most people cannot conceive of a world in which they let their own lawns or neighborhood roadsides grow un-chopped by the relentless blades of the ever-present mower. However, the few seeking a change from their typical low-cut, Bahia grass reality may allow their yards to grow taller, more natural, and more diverse. They may even receive some surprise visits from wildlife that prefer denser cover of herbaceous vegetation.

 “I still remember my first visit to Apalachicola National Forest in the spring of 2018,” Scott comments, “The scarcely-mowed margins of State Route 65 displayed incredible native wildflower diversity, which colored the roadside ditches with a rainbow assortment of plant vibrancy. Here is an area of Florida where infrequent road-side mowing actually promotes botanical diversity and even provides habitat refuge to a number of rare plants.”

Roads serve a primary function, to transport us from one point to another in a safe and efficient manner. Scott concluded, “When so many plant and animal species have been relegated to increasingly smaller pockets of their once abundant habitat, we must consider the role that fragmented habitats, and the roads that run through them, serve in preserving life. Changing the timing of mowing to after flowering season, and reducing the frequency of mowing on roadside verges, can have beneficial effects for wild plants. Breaking from our traditional expectations of what roadsides should look like—mowed, sterile, and uniform—means we may accept a world more hospitable for biodiversity.”

Dr. Swain, Archbold Director added, “In Texas, native roadside wildflowers have become a beloved feature. Lady Bird Johnson saw roadside protection and restoration as an opportunity to bring rich plant and animal biodiversity to what might otherwise be unhealthy roadsides lined with billboards and invasive species. The Texas Highway Beautification Act, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, has been her signature achievement toward promoting roadside conservation.”

Dr. Swain continued, “In Florida, the Department of Transportation has a Wildflower and Natural Areas Program. The core goals of the program are to improve aesthetics and driver safety while lowering maintenance costs, and FDOT has increasingly emphasized the importance of preserving naturally occurring stands of wildflowers on Florida’s 12,000 miles of state-maintained roads. There is more information on ‘Preserving Natural Stands’ on the FDOT web site, showing how protecting naturally occurring native flora will increase habitat for pollinators while safely reducing the cost of managing roadside vegetation.”

Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox), sitting in an open, warm spot on Old State Road 8. Unfortunately, one of the leading causes of death for many of Florida’s reptile species is road-collisions. Wildlife should only be escorted off of roads if conditions are safe to do so. Be aware that Florida Softshell Turtles can bite, and have a very long neck to reach backwards.Photo Credit: Scott G. Ward.

Fred Lohrer and the Story of Richard Archbold’s Expeditions, Part 2

Seven 2nd Expedition members showing some of the physical effects of exploring “Papua, Oroville Camp;[left to right] Juhlstedt, Rand, Tate, Archbold, Burke, Healy, Brass. Archbold Expeditions Collection, Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History.”

Author: Joe Gentili

The First and Second New Guinea Expeditions:

In the early years of the 20th century, the island now known as New Guinea was a place that very few Westerners knew much about or had visited. This island is the second largest in the world at over 300,000 square miles, and much of the interior is mountainous and very difficult to navigate. The island’s plants and animals were only beginning to be seriously studied by biologists when Richard Archbold decided to lead the first of his Expeditions there, in 1933.

Archbold and his crew attempted to traverse through the unforgiving terrain of New Guinea during the first expedition largely on foot. A scientific expedition requires an immense amount of goods, clothing, equipment, food, etc. to be transported along with the expedition members. According to Archbold Biological Station Librarian Emeritus, Fred Lohrer, “On the first New Guinea expedition, the expedition scientists learned that hiring local tribesmen [to help transport food and goods] was inefficient; first because the men did not want to travel beyond the boundaries of their tribal domain, so a second group of men had to be hired, and second, because a man can carry only so much, which has to include his own food. Foraging off the land was not an option because there was limited local food cultivation. Therefore, penetration deep into the interior of southern New Guinea was difficult.”

The lessons learned from this first expedition suggested that a new strategy would be needed for future explorations. Lohrer says, “The first expedition experience convinced Archbold that for future New Guinea expeditions he needed an amphibious plane to carry men and supplies deep into the interior, to the base of the central mountain ranges, and taking advantage of New Guinea’s several large rivers.” For the second Expedition of 1936-37 Archbold purchased an aircraft, named Kono, for use in the transporting of people and goods.

A critical member of these expeditions was Richard Archbold’s friend and confidant of more than 40 years, Dr. Austin Rand. Rand had a remarkable scientific career and he lived six years longer than Archbold, dying in 1982. Rand spent the last years of his life in Lake Placid working on local Florida fauna, spending time with Richard Archbold, and serving in several capacities at Archbold Biological Field Station. Lohrer mentions that, “Austin Rand told me that on the second New Guinea expedition up the Fly River, the expedition was camped along the river at the base of the mountains, and the airplane, Kono, was ferrying supplies and food. Then, at Port Moresby, a sudden storm, a ‘Guba’, turned Kono over, and the plane was later damaged beyond repair when it was hoisted out of the water. So, the expedition was ‘up the creek without a paddle.’ Luckily, they had radios… [and] built rafts to float specimens, supplies, and men down the Fly River to the coast, where they could be rescued by ship. Rand told me that one night he was awakened by noise or movement and he quickly discovered that the river was rising rapidly because of rain upstream, and the rafts, tied to trees, were in danger of being capsized in the rising water. The expedition dealt quickly with that emergency; did not lose any specimens or supplies; and floated down river to the rescue ship.”

The expedition members were adventuring through territory that was little charted and were forced to battle the elements, and insects as well. However, the experiences of these two expeditions did not sour the members and many would join Archbold on his Third New Guinea Expedition of 1938-39.  This last Expedition led by Richard Archbold himself will be discussed in part three of this series. 

More details about Archbold Expeditions and Richard Archbold can be found in the book “Richard Archbold and the Archbold Biological Station,” by Roger A. Morse. Details on the aircraft used by Archbold and crew can be found in a five part series written by Aviation enthusiast Curtis Adkisson, at,C.S.-199697-ArchboldHappenings-AviationArchboldExpeditions.pdf. The official logs, journals, specimens, etc. from the Archbold Expeditions are housed in the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Mammalogy, Archbold Expeditions Collection located in New York City.

Map of Papua New Guinea. The Fly River is located in the SW part of the map and Port Moseby in the South Central region. Courtesy of

New Tortoise Royalty on Red Hill

Stemle holding the small “heir” of Gopher Tortoise 21, whom Archbold researchers affectionately call the Queen of Red Hill. This picture shows how young tortoises are a different color from adults, as they change from yellow to brown with age.
Photo credit: Leyna Stemle.

Authors: Leyna Stemle and Dylan Winkler

In the deep, rust-colored sands of Red Hill resides one of the oldest known Gopher Tortoises at Archbold Biological Station. Tortoise number 21, affectionately known as the Queen of Red Hill, is one of the original marked tortoises from the Station’s long-term tortoise mark-recapture project started in 1967. “She was already an adult when she was first found back in 1968, making her at least 63 this year!” explains Herpetology & Restoration Ecology intern Dylan Winkler. Every week Winkler enjoys finding Gopher Tortoise 21 as a continued part of the long-term tracking study. “For decades she has lived at Archbold, being recaught by many researchers. But until last July we had never found her nest, partly because tortoises bury their eggs and scientists still do not fully understand how they decide where to nest.”

Researchers from Georgia Southern University were at the station in 2019 studying how climate change may affect Gopher Tortoises, which are already a threatened species. Collaborating with Archbold Herpetology staff, they hatched tortoise eggs from 18 nests, then collected blood samples before marking and releasing each baby tortoise back at the nest site. DNA extracted from the blood samples was used to genotype each hatchling to determine its parents. This process revealed that Gopher Tortoise 21 had five babies with the male tortoise 158 (another long-time resident of Red Hill) in 2019.

“Not only was this the first time her nest was found and linked to her with genotyping, but those five babies mean that she has the ability to reproduce even after 50+ years of being sexually mature!” said graduate researcher Leyna Stemle from University of Miami. We know Gopher Tortoises can live a very long time, but little is known about how long they are able to produce healthy babies, in other words, what is their reproductive longevity. Many tortoises can live for a long time, over 100 years in captivity for some species, but it is important to consider how long they can keep adding to a population. Such information is not known for most turtle species and is one reason why long-term studies are essential. “This find is very encouraging and we hope to continue to track Gopher Tortoise 21 and her reproductive success!” says Herpetology Research Assistant Amanda West.

It seems West’s wish was heard. In July 2020, Stemle, and Winkler were in the field assessing the condition of previously mapped tortoise burrows. Stemle remembers: “While walking through the scrub, I discovered a tiny yellow tortoise sitting in the sand. Looking closely, I saw notches along its shell, evidence it had been previously marked and released last year. Notching is a marking technique used by turtle researchers to uniquely identify tortoises. According to the notching code, this tortoise was Number 1328 – one of Gopher Tortoise 21’s babies from 2019!”

This little individual was in a restored sandhill area, about 50 meters from 21’s confirmed nest site. Stemle and Dr. Betsie Rothermel, director of the Archbold Herpetology & Restoration Ecology program, took detailed measurements of the tortoise and found it grew 19 mm in length and nearly doubled in weight during its first year. “We were interested in where it would go once we finished measuring it,” Winkler recalls, “so we followed it until it reached its destination – a tiny burrow! We probably would not have noticed this burrow if it hadn’t led us right to its home. Young tortoises are very understudied because their small size and great camouflage make them so difficult to find.” For the herpetologists at Archbold, every recapture is vital to uncovering the secrets of immature tortoises. 

Stemle states, “Overall, this was an uplifting encounter and we now know the Queen of Red Hill is still adding to this special population of Gopher Tortoises – even at 60+ years old!”

You can see a video about Gopher Tortoise 21 on YouTube, search “Queen of Red Hill”, or read this blog post from 2018:

Gopher Tortoise 1328 after being measured and weighed. Young tortoises grow very quickly, but their shells are still soft for around four years. Photo credit: Leyna Stemle.

Yearling Gopher Tortoise 1328 in fire-restored sandhill habitat, heading for the safety of its burrow. Gopher Tortoises create and occupy their own burrows from a very young age.
Photo credit: Leyna Stemle.

Surpassing two decades of support for plants

Archbold research intern, Maria-Paula Mugnani, measures a Scrub Blazing Star (Liatris ohlingerae), one of the long-term datasets funded by the Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program. Photo by Stephanie Koontz.

Author: Stephanie Koontz

This summer, the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station received its 21st award from the Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program. This program has supported two-decades of continuous data collection, following tens-of-thousands of individually marked rare plants. It has provided opportunities for more than 40 research internships, many of whom published their first peer-reviewed scientific paper from research done at Archbold and are now employed in agencies, consulting firms, non-governmental organizations, and universities across the country. Furthermore, research supported by this funding has helped guide landscape level management decisions on how to best manage for our native plants.

The Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program is funded through grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help conservation and recovery actions for federally listed species on non-federal lands. Applications are competitive and are evaluated by the Endangered Plant Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Council advises on the endangered, threatened and commercially exploited status of native plants of Florida. Grant recipients provide scientific data on the basic biology and ecology of these plants so the Council can review and update their status and inform strategies for their recovery and management.

With this grant support, Program Director Eric Menges and his team at Archbold have been able to better understand life history strategies, habitat requirements, seed ecology, and pollinator interactions of some of the most imperiled Florida scrub plant species. “One species that has benefited from this funding is the critically endangered Avon Park Harebells (Crotalaria avonensis), found only near Avon Park and Sebring,” explains Menges. “We have been able to examine many life history aspects of this species including its responses to fire, but also to human-made disturbances such as off-road vehicles. We have observed pollinators and monitored seed set. With our collaborators at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, we now know patterns of genetic diversity of this rare plant.” Armed with this information, Menges’ program has successfully planted and established two new protected populations. “Without the knowledge gained in the first 20 years, we would have been guessing on critical components and most likely, our introductions would have failed,” describes Menges.

Another rare species that has benefited from this long-term support is the Highlands Golden Aster (Chrysopsis highlandsensis). “This species is more or less restricted to Highlands County, with a few populations in southern Polk and northern Glades Counties,” describes Research Assistant Scott Ward. “Twenty years of data have shown that, contrary to popular belief, plants move! We have noticed declines in many of our permanent annual monitoring plots. However, rangewide censuses done every five years show new plants recruiting nearby, maybe 50–100 yards away. This plant disperses seeds (known as achenes) with the wind, so plant ‘patches’ appear to move slowly across the landscape. This is important for land management, recommending that, for this species, both the occupied habitats and a surrounding buffer area needs to be managed appropriately.”

Beyond single species research, grant funding has supported broader questions. Archbold’s Population Dynamics of Endemic Plants project (PDEP, pronounced P-DEP), documents the response of multiple rare plant species to management such as mowing, tree thinning and prescribed burns. “In our PDEP project, we document the presence and abundance of specific rare plants prior to a management activity, and then one-, two-, and five-years after the activity is completed,” describes Research Assistant Stephanie Koontz. “The take home message from this project has been, it is hard to replace Florida’s natural disturbance, fire, but mechanical treatments are sometimes necessary to make applying prescribed burns safe for land managers and the general public.”

The Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program promotes engaging in educational opportunities. This funding has been instrumental in training the next generation of scientists through Archbold’s research internship program. “This funding supports two interns for nine months,” explains Menges. “While these interns are vital in helping us collect our long-term data, one of the biggest rewards is watching them grow as young scientists as they learn about ecology and conservation of the Florida scrub. They bring a fresh set of eyes, ideas, and perspectives into our research.” Interns are required to develop their own independent project, which they then present to the scientific community through seminars and scientific publications. The independent research project is frequently cited as one of the top reasons students apply for Archbold internships and is often a highlight during their experience.

The long-term support from the Florida Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program has produced new science, tests of land management techniques, and development of young scientists. It has expanded the depth and reach of Archbold’s Plant Ecology Program and helped point the way for future research, conservation, and education. “We are thankful for their continued support. Much of what we have accomplished over the last 20+ years would not have been possible without it,” remarks Menges. “I hope this program will continue to support research programs such as ours, with a common goal of conserving the native plants of Florida.”

Fruits of Avon Park Harebells hang from a plant as part of an introduction to a new protected property. Flowering and fruiting are key parts of successful introductions Photo by Stacy Smith.

Dr. Hilary Swain, 25 years at the Helm of Archbold!

Colleagues, friends, and family members gather online to honor Dr. Swain as her son, Nicholas offers congratulations. Photo (screenshot) by Dustin Angell.

Author: Betsey Boughton

July 31, 2020, marked Dr. Hilary Swain’s 25th anniversary as the Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station. Given this momentous milestone, Archbold Board members, Archbold supporters, staff, colleagues, friends, and family from across Europe, recently surprised Hilary with a virtual Zoom celebration to reflect on and celebrate Hilary’s achievements over the years. Schellie Archbold, one of Archbold’s Board Members, started out the festivities with a toast, “To Hilary, someone extraordinary and beloved to us all.”

Hilary fell in love with field stations in the mid-1970’s while working on a project on limpets, or marine snails, for her Zoology class at the Marine Biological Station in Millport, Scotland.  However, she never would have envisaged that her dream job would be as the Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station in Florida. After nearly 10 years in a faculty position at the Florida Institute of Technology, Hilary decided to apply for the Executive Director opening at Archbold Biological Station in 1995. Dr. Mark Deyrup, Emeritus Entomologist, recalls one of the lines in her letter of application. Hilary wrote, “I value among my accomplishments the number of acres of natural habitat protected as much as the number of scientific papers published.” True to her word, in 25 years, Hilary has worked to bring Archbold’s conservation footprint from 5,000 to 20,000 acres. In addition, Hilary has helped neighbors and state agencies establish 53,000 acres of contiguous conservation lands around Archbold Biological Station, with more acres targeted for the future. One of her strategic priorities is that, “Connected conservation lands are important for the protection of species of conservation concern, like the Florida Scrub-Jay and the Florida Black Bear. Linking Archbold’s lands with other conservation lands, public and private, is critical to maintaining the integrity of the Station and conserving it and surrounding areas for future generations.”

Archbold Chairman of the Board, Dr. Mary Hufty, reflected on the first time she met Hilary, “I knew you were amazing when you showed up to your interview with two small children. Your attitude was that you could do it all. You could make great research happen and inspire others to be creative. Your unending optimism and energy have transformed my life and certainly Archbold.” Since Hilary arrived at Archbold, there have been more than 1,300 scientific papers published, 353 grants awarded, and 383 college classes hosted. 

For these past 25 years, Hilary and Mary have both been deeply involved in the Organization for Biological Field Stations (OBFS), an umbrella network that represents >200 field stations around the world. Friends from OBFS joined the virtual event to congratulate Hilary and share how much Hilary’s leadership and contributions meant to OBFS. Sarah Oktay from the University of California-Davis shared, “Hilary has done an amazing job with her team and the Board, and Archbold is a shining example of what a field station can be.” When asked about what a job at a field station entails, Hilary, a self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades,” explains, “When you work at a field station, all life’s experiences count. No amount of training and experience can truly prepare one for the spectrum of responsibilities. A field station can carry a daunting combination of roles: research and teaching campus, nature preserve, environmental education center, small museum, lodging and conference facilities, and in Archbold’s case, a 3,000-head working cattle ranch. There is no substitute for the practical skills that often don’t appear on a resume: it helps if one knows how to drive a boat or 4WD vehicle, operate a winch, read a building plan, and barbecue for 50 people. Those who were raised on a farm, restored old homes, pottered around boats, or served as an apprentice mechanic have an advantage.”

Fred Lohrer, Archbold’s Emeritus Librarian, who worked at the Station for 40 years, congratulated Hilary on her accomplishments that span from adding acreage to new infrastructure and new programs for Archbold, all in the context of hurricanes, droughts, a recession, and now a pandemic. Many staff commented on how much Hilary’s leadership and friendship meant over the years.  Gene Lollis, Buck Island Ranch Manager said, “Many things come to mind, but one of the most important is your friendship.”

At the end of the celebration, Hilary, who had been completely taken by surprise, thanked everyone for their memories and kind words. Here are some of the things she said: “Working at Archbold has been a privilege. It has lifted me up much more than I’ve lifted Archbold. I don’t think you understand that when I help you, that helps me. I’ve always felt that whatever I’ve contributed, I’ve learned more from contributing. It is all of you that made me, not that I’ve made Archbold over the last 25 years. I want you to know how you helped me do this, not what I have done myself.”

Here’s to Hilary!  Her passion for science, conservation, and education at Archbold has inspired everyone. Archbold looks forward to many more years.

Dr. Hilary Swain, Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Dusk to Dawn: Archbold’s nocturnal visitors

Photo 1. A White-Tailed Deer approaches the camera trap in January, 2020 on Red Hill. Photo by Paul Ruben.

Author: Paul Ruben.

If you have walked on one of the public trails at Archbold Biological Station, you’ve probably noticed one recurring theme: Sand! Bright, white, sugary sand. Sandy slopes, sandy depressions, and sandy shoes (inside and out). Although deep sand may not be ideal for walking, it does create the canvas for something wonderful…animal tracks!

Wildlife is abundant at Archbold, although many species are rarely seen during the daytime. Each species’ unique tracks add their signature to the sand and sand does a great job of capturing them. Florida Black Bear, Bobcat, Coyote, Gray Fox, White-tailed Deer, Turkey, Otter, Gopher Tortoise, Florida Sand Skink, Opossum, Armadillo, Marsh Rabbit, feral pig, mice, insects, and even Florida Panther—you name it, and researchers can identify their tracks at Archbold. Even better, the scrub becomes a fresh blank canvas after every downpour of rain. With the current COVID shut-down human visitors aren’t currently able to access Archbold’s walking trails, but wildlife visitors are taking advantage of the empty trails.

In November, 2019 Archbold Research Assistant Paul Ruben purchased a simple trail camera. He wanted something that was affordable, took quality photos, and was waterproof. The latter proved challenging, as Ruben found later. Between November and February, 2020 Ruben positioned his camera in an area of Archbold called Red Hill, an area of high scrubby sandhill. He recorded a group, or ‘rafter’ of turkeys, a pair of Bobcats, a solitary Gray Fox, deer, and a band of hunting coyotes. A trend was occurring. Each week when he checked the camera, Ruben found not only cool pictures, but a story behind how wildlife behave when they are not in the presence of humans. Ruben remarked, “Most behaviors were obvious. For instance, predators like Bobcats move covertly, in a stalking or curious stature. Deer were also secretive, always on the fringe of the trail and ready to flee through brush, although less so than when I’ve seen them in person. Turkeys traveled in numbers for protection.” The most interesting observation was how some wildlife seemed to follow a routine. “What looked like the same Gray Fox would visit the camera multiple days in a row. Bobcats and Gray Foxes would share the same trail, separated only by an hour or so.” This was likely more dictated by the patterns of their prey, but Ruben found it was fun to watch nonetheless.

Unfortunately, in late February 2020 Ruben approached the camera to find moisture inside the body housing. He attempted to dry it out, but it seemed the seals had failed. He returned the camera and could not begin camera trapping again until June 2020.

Wildlife at Archbold became more active during the summer.  Ruben regularly moved the new camera throughout the Station. In late June he caught only one sighting of a coyote and deer. So far in July he’s had observations of multiple Bobcats, a Coyote, Opossum, Armadillo, a Brown Thrasher (bird), and a feral pig. “On July 19, I was walking up to the trail camera and noticed large angled prints with five clearly defined toes, and most important, they were walking towards the camera!” exclaimed Ruben. “My excitement was justified when I viewed the captured photos and saw a Florida Black Bear.”  A sighting of a bear in November 2019 at the Station was what originally inspired Paul to start camera trapping, so this moment brought his efforts full-circle.

So what’s next? According to Ruben, “a photo of a Florida Panther would be a great; I haven’t seen one in person. Archbold records intermittent panther tracks on site so it is possible. Our neighbors have photo records and a trail camera photo from here would be valuable to better understand the panther movements as they range further north.” Ruben says he will continue to document these sightings, even if it is just for fun.

Ruben takes a lot of joy thinking about the best places for wildlife photos and the background scenery of each location. “Every time I check the camera it feels like I’m opening up a present. You never know what you might see. Archbold’s Station and adjacent Reserve total 8,840 acres: that’s enough space for many of Florida’s wide-ranging nocturnal animals to survive. We have a lot to learn about these elusive animals and what I am recording can help build the knowledge to improve the quality of their lives.”

Photo 2. A curious Florida Black Bear visits the trail camera in July 2020, on the northeast portion of the Station. Photo by Paul Ruben.

Lake Annie and the art below the surface

Lake Annie alga, Staurastrum nova-caesareae. Photo by Kristy Sullivan.

Author: Laura Reed

Lake Annie at Archbold Biological Station has been an important research site for many years. In fact, there are records of research and sampling there even before the Station was built. One recent visiting Lake Annie researcher found fame this year as she was short-listed for an international photography award.

Kristy Sullivan is working towards her master’s degree in Biological Sciences at Florida International University under the guidance of Dr. Evelyn Gaiser. She first became interested in algae after observing cyanobacteria under a microscope during a harmful algal bloom workshop for citizen scientists in 2016. Sullivan’s thesis focuses on long-term trends of phytoplankton assembly in Lake Annie.

Dr. Gaiser and others have collected long term phytoplankton data at Lake Annie since 2005. According to Gaiser, “There is an incredible dataset here. It’s pretty rare to have the basic parameters for lake health, like temperature, structure, water clarity, and nutrient data, for 35-40 years. This is what we have with Lake Annie.” Sullivan is using the phytoplankton dataset for her masters at FIU, in collaboration with Archbold. She said, “What we are finding is phytoplankton in the lake are very sensitive to weather and climate patterns. The lake is fed 80-90% by groundwater and periods of intense precipitation create runoff containing lots of humic matter, turning the water brown. During these periods, we find a totally different phytoplankton community than during times when the lake is clear.” This research is important for lakes in other regions as well: many northern lakes are starting to turn brown, possibly due to recovery from acid deposition or land use changes. Lake Annie’s natural fluctuation between brown and clear water periods may aid us in understanding northern lakes that are warming and browning with climate change.

 Between 2009 and 2013, the lake was in a clear water phase and the specimen in this photo (Staurastrum nova-caesareae) was a dominant species in the algal community. However, the lake entered a dark phase in 2013, and this species has not been seen since. In the uncertain future of climate change, the weather may continue to be rainy and wetter, causing the dark phase to persist. The researchers are now left wondering, “Will we ever see S. nova-caesareae in Lake Annie again?”

Sullivan collected the noteworthy specimen during Lake Annie’s clear phase, dried the water sample, and used a scanning electron microscope to create the almost three-dimensional image. The photograph joined FIU’s growing collection of 170 reference images from monthly samples taken since 2005. She submitted the photo to the 2020 Canter-Lund Award competition.

The British Phycological Society established the Canter-Lund Award in recognition of Hilda Canter-Lund, whose photographs of freshwater algae “combined high technical and aesthetic qualities whilst still capturing the quintessence of the organisms she was studying.” Sullivan submitted her photo to the 2020 competition, and in June found herself in the final phase of judging. Sullivan’s photo ultimately did not win the award, but her otherworldly photo of S. nova-caesareae and the rest of the finalists can be viewed here: This fall, Sullivan plans to start her first phycology job as a student contractor for the United States Geological Survey studying harmful algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee, FL.

Archbold visiting researcher Kristy Sullivan. Photo by Charles Bond.

Backyard science for all ages

Archbold’s virtual campers hold up their science notebooks. Photo by Archbold Biological Station.

Authors: Dustin Angell and Laura Reed

Quarantines, closed summer camps and activities, canceled travel plans, social distancing…parents are all too familiar with the struggle to maintain some normalcy this summer. With children out of school, many are probably a bit stir-crazy and parents are wondering what to do with these kids all day. Or maybe you are in need of some activities for yourself.

In June, Archbold Biological Station’s Virtual Ecology Summer Camp focused on campers doing at-home science projects that use household supplies. Now that all the camp sessions are over, Archbold has opened up the camp website for the public. The link can be found on Archbold’s website or by visiting ‘’. You can now enjoy the same fun backyard science projects at your own pace. The website includes simple directions, tutorial videos, photos of campers-in action, and even educational nature videos made by teen camp volunteers.

Archbold’s Director of Education, Dustin Angell, encourages people of all ages to visit the website and try the projects, saying, “Becoming better acquainted with the weather, wildlife, and habitats in your neighborhood is an enjoyable pursuit for families and individuals that benefits their health and wellbeing. Have fun with these projects and customize them to your needs and interests.” The first step is to create a science notebook—use a small notebook or make your own book from paper to record observations and ideas.

One activity is weather monitoring: observe the weather at the same time each day, include the date and time to log in your science notebook, and describe or draw what kind of weather you see and feel. Is it raining, cloudy, or sunny? Does the air smell like it will rain soon? Does it feel hot and humid, windy, or cool? If you have a thermometer you can record the temperature each day, or find the temperature using an app on your phone or computer. Can you predict the weather after a few days of careful observation?

For those who love to examine live animals, a pitfall trap is a fun backyard activity. Dig a small hole in a shady location, and place a plastic cup inside (be sure to poke some holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage!). Check the trap at least once a day to see what kind of insects you caught, note them in your science notebook, and release them. Draw pictures of your bugs, or take photos to help identify them using the internet or a field guide. Try putting the trap in different locations. Do you catch more bugs in one place versus another? Do you catch more bugs during the day or overnight? Do your observations about the bugs create a pattern that matches your weather observations?

A scavenger hunt can be a treat for all ages, and with a little imagination, you or your family can build a ‘nature senses scavenger hunt’ right in your own backyard! This activity is adapted from Nature Bridge, and it involves more than just seeing the items listed…some examples to get started in nature are: 

TOUCH: find something smooth; something spiky; something squishy.

SEE: find something red; something left by an animal; something round.

SMELL: find something green—what does it smell like? Pick up a handful of dirt—what does it smell like? Find something that smells sweet.

HEAR: how many different bird calls do you hear? Listen for something far away, something close by. Listen for water…if you can hear water, where is it?

Use these examples to build a scavenger hunt tailored to your own yard or neighborhood—what is interesting about the ecosystem where YOU live?

Spending more time at home is essential this summer, but not all of that time must be spent inside. Kids and adults of all ages can enjoy the outdoors while exercising their bodies and minds with a handy science notebook and a little imagination!

Touch, look, listen, and smell your way through an at-home nature senses scavenger hunt. Photos by Archbold Biological Station.

Fred Lohrer and The Story of Richard Archbold’s Expeditions, Part 1

Librarian Emeritus Fred Lohrer has spent nearly five decades associated with Archbold Biological Station and is the primary source for Archbold historical knowledge. Photo by Cheryl Henderson.

Author: Joe Gentili

Richard Archbold, founder of Archbold Biological Station, was a world renowned scientific explorer. He participated in a scientific expedition to Madagascar as a young man, led three long expeditions to New Guinea during the 1930’s and then after permanently moving to Venus, Florida, he sponsored seven more expeditions to the South Pacific. All told he was directly involved in 11 scientific expeditions, which added immeasurably to the overall biological and ecological knowledge of the areas in question as well as providing cultural and anthropological data on Native peoples living in these locales.

Richard Archbold died in 1976 after spending the last 35 years of his life in Highlands County, Florida. Archbold Biological Station is fortunate enough to have several current and former employees who knew him during the latter 1960’s and early 1970’s. This last decade of Archbold’s life was a time of expansion and change for the Station which included the creation of a formal on-campus library. The first librarian to hold the position and current Librarian Emeritus, is Fred Lohrer.  Lohrer achieved a Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Ornithology, under the tutelage of renowned ornithologist and Florida Scrub-Jay behavioral ecologist, Dr. Glen Woolfenden. Lohrer was hired as the first Station Librarian as well as a research assistant. For years he meticulously studied a variety of the bird species of Central Florida, in addition to his library duties. He published several dozen papers in established scientific journals and held prominent positions in a variety of professional ornithological societies.

Fred Lohrer began work at Archbold in 1972 and retired in 2018. During the 46-year period since his start date, Lohrer has become the authoritative source for the history of Archbold Biological Station and for all things Richard Archbold. Current Librarian Joe Gentili said of Lohrer, “He is an amazing mentor with a wealth of knowledge of all kinds. In addition to deep familiarity of ecological information on the local flora and fauna of this area, he has a vast historical knowledge of Highlands County and its surroundings. If you have a historical question for him; you will always get detailed fact-based answers. For any question about Richard Archbold, Fred is the go-to source. In addition to working personally with Mr. Archbold for four years, Lohrer has spent countless more hours researching and collecting information about Archbold and his endeavors.”

Just before the end of last year, Lohrer created a new synopsis of the biological expeditions of Richard Archbold. In this work he describes the “11 Archbold Expeditions [which] were conducted in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where Richard Archbold was a Research Associate of the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy (1931-76)…The combined results of the 11 Archbold Expeditions 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 [collected]…”

More information and a full summary of the 11 Archbold Expeditions are here:

Stay tuned for later articles continuing the story of the Richard Archbold Expeditions.

A photo from the Richard Archbold Archives.

The Virtual Field: Collaboration in a Crisis

Dr. Eric Menges presented ‘Fire effects in Florida scrublands’ during the virtual field event on July 1, 2020. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Authors: Hilary Swain and Laura Reed

On March 25, 2020 the newly formed Community Response Team at Archbold Biological Station received an invitation:  to join a pilot program focused on a clever idea for field stations across the country (like Archbold Biological Station), to mitigate for the loss of biological field opportunities for students under the COVID crisis, and to create and present multi-site virtual field trips. Dr. Claudia Luke of Sonoma State University in California sent out the call to the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), for those who would like to collaborate. So began a whirlwind of activity, with Archbold’s Community Response Team members Laura Reed and Dustin Angell committed to furthering this field station goal. 

The ‘OBFS Virtual Field Trips’ collaborators met weekly to home in on what various learning opportunities would be suitable to present. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Executive Director, is a co-lead collaborator, alongside Dr. Luke and Dr. Kari O’Connell at Oregon State University. Swain explained, “We used our connections with other professional research and education organizations, and identified and applied for federal funding. By mid-April, OBFS received notification of a significant award from the National Science Foundation. The Virtual Field: Educational Mitigation for the COVID-19 Pandemic program will be managed from Sonoma State University in California. It will make a significant contribution to enhancing virtual training among the all the field stations involved.”

Archbold is investing some of this funding in professional video production training for the OBFS group, provided by consultant Jennifer Brown. Brown’s company, Into Nature Films, has produced several inspiring films for Archbold, including the recent ‘Colors of the Florida Scrub,’ featured recently on Earth Day. Brown has already shared her expertise with the field stations across the country through interactive virtual Zoom meetings and has provided critiques of the ‘first time’ draft videos being filmed by the scientists at field stations across the nation to improve their skills. She is producing a ‘How To’ video to help train these scientists in this new skill.  Individual field station teams are producing and editing short videos aimed primarily at students and faculty, showcasing the unique habitats at their stations and illustrating ecological concepts. Brown states: “Each of these field stations has a unique ecosystem story to share. Using just their cell phone video cameras and free editing software, we will create a series of educational, engaging videos to share with students and the public. The collaboration is a testament that anybody can create a nature video after learning the basics of documentary video production and storytelling.”

As well as making the site videos, the other activity of the OBFS award funded is to prepare ‘real-time’ field experiences for students and faculty from colleges and universities across the world and to learn from the research experts in the field. Swain added, “Although nothing will ever replace the reality of being in the field, this will give a new opportunity, something like you are on a field trip in nature with three professors in three totally different places all at the same time. This has the advantage that students will able to compare and contrast ecological patterns and processes across locations, a skill that is fundamental to enhancing their ecological understanding.” Archbold is happy to announce the first of these cross-site real time virtual events was held on July 1st:

Live from the Field:  Fire Research across the Continent is a free virtual event hosted for OBFS by Archbold and featuring fire ecology research from Archbold Biological Station, Pepperwood Preserve in California, and Southwest Experimental Garden Array in Arizona. This inaugural virtual event features Archbold Senior Research Biologist, Eric Menges presenting ‘Fire effects in Florida scrublands.’ The Live from the Field series of events is geared toward college students but the inaugural event was open to everyone. Interested viewers can find the video posted on Archbold’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

The inaugural Virtual Field Project event featured presentations from across the country.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Mrs. Frances Hufty’s rattan dining table now resides in the Eisner Room at the Learning Center. Photo by Laura Reed.

Author: Hilary Swain

When you are trying to construct a green ‘sustainable’ building, the words Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue are just as applicable as they are for a wedding! Archbold Biological Station’s Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center provides some appropriate examples. This is another in the series of articles on the principles of ‘green building’ design, as illustrated by the Learning Center.

Although the Learning Center was essentially ‘Something New’ in 2011, it incorporated many of the maxims of reuse, reduce, and recycle. Overall, 18% by value of the building materials used in construction included pre-consumer recycling, or ‘Something Old.’ Dave Dale, overseeing the project for the construction management firm, Owens-Ames-Kimball, explained, “Reducing and recycling construction waste was an important job for everyone on the construction site.” The windows and doors, all aluminum, have 23% pre-consumer recycled aluminum content. The concrete, a local product produced by Jahna Concrete based in Highlands County, contained a high proportion of pulverized fuel ash, the ash resulting from the burning of pulverized coal in coal-fired electricity power stations. This has significant environmental benefits such as increasing the life of concrete by improving durability and providing a stable place to dispose of fly ash waste safely.

Reducing the use of new concrete was a recurring theme, as concrete production uses a lot of energy and releases greenhouse gas emissions. The different concrete components included 12-100% pre-consumer recycled content. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director noted that, “Jeff Mudgett from the architects Parker Mudgett Smith in Fort Myers, was somewhat disconcerted when I insisted that the car park retain as much as possible of the 1930 concrete, dating from the original Roebling construction.” She went on to note, “We know from experience how horrendous it is to try and dig up Roebling concrete. With strength of about 9,000 PSI it’s like drilling into the Brooklyn Bridge. Removing all that perfectly serviceable old concrete would have meant tons of waste and then we would have had to pour modern, somewhat inferior replacement concrete. Our final car park might look like a patchwork of ‘old concrete, new concrete, permeable paving, and asphalt’ but it’s much more sustainable. Some observant people notice it’s a patchwork and ask questions, allowing us to tell the story.”

Another ‘Something Old’ that was reused may be familiar to a few Lake Placid locals. A large slab of concrete originally from the dock at the old pump house at Lake Sirenia, was moved to Archbold to make a bridge leading to the Learning Nature Trail. This reduced carbon emissions by as much as 600 pounds.

Although two pine trees had to be felled to make way for the center’s construction, the wood from those pine trees was taken to a mill in Zolfo Springs to be cut into planks, some of which have been incorporated into a lovely varnished wooden bench built by Larry Riopelle, former Archbold Research Assistant and long-term volunteer.

Not many ‘Something Borrowed’ items can be found at the Learning Center, although there is one nostalgic candidate. When Mrs. Frances Hufty, Richard Archbold’s sister and long-term Chairman of the Board, died in 2010 her family faced the question of the best location for her beloved round rattan dining room table. The choice was to house it at Archbold where Hufty family board members as well as staff and visitors can continue to share happy memories gathering around it and its large central lazy Susan.

‘Something Blue’ There are a rainbow of color-coded interpretive signs at Archbold’s  Learning Center: green for the nature trail, brown for history, purple for native landscaping, light green for sustainable building, orange for K-12 education, yellow for welcome signs and of course ‘Something Blue’ for all the signs about water. Dustin Angell, Director of Education noted that, “Everyone interested in the environment is concerned about water. Our blue signs lead the way for visitors to learn about where the water in the building comes from, how it is used and conserved, and where it goes. With all the details we show, it adds up to a huge amount of learning.”

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. For a wedding, those words ward off evil and symbolize good luck and a long future. Hopefully they’ll mean exactly the same for Archbold’s Learning Center.

Placement of the concrete slab that became the Nature Trail bridge. Photo by Archbold Biological Station.

Citizen science: the origin and application of eBird

Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will present a webinar on eBird. Photo courtesy of Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Author: Reed Bowman

In the late 1990’s, a group of ornithologists, scientists that study birds, and bird conservationists articulated a simple idea: that there were millions of birdwatchers world-wide, and their numbers were growing even as those of the birds themselves were declining. They recognized that each birdwatcher had unique experiences and knowledge about birds they had seen and that knowledge, gathered together in the form of checklists of birds seen in particular areas at particular times and freely shared on the internet, could change the science and conservation of birds forever. Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick (known by everyone as “Fitz”), the Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and former director of Archbold Biological Station, was at the forefront and by 2002, he and his team had launched eBird, an on-line resource where birders could enter when and where they went birding, and a list containing a count of all the birds they saw or heard. It started just in the US but had grown to include the entire world by 2010. Over half a billion bird observations have been entered and the data increases by 100 million each year. It is now the world’s largest citizen-science project. At an award ceremony for this innovation, Dr. Fitzpatrick said “eBird was an audacious idea, the notion that humans can act as biological sensors through bird watching… By instantly recording trends in bird populations, eBird acts as a real-time monitor of ecosystem health around the world.”

John Fitzpatrick is a bit of an ornithological prodigy. He identified his first bird from a field guide in kindergarten, and studied birds across South America throughout college and graduate school, describing new species and new behaviors. In 1972, he was an intern at Archbold Biological Station where he met Glen E. Woolfenden, who had recently begun his now famous long-term study of Florida Scrub-Jays. Thus began a life-long collaboration between the two, which ultimately attracted Dr. Fitzpatrick to Archbold as its Director in 1988. In 1995, he became the Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but he has continued his long-term collaboration on the scrub-jay project and he and his students return to Archbold every year to collect data. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, under Dr. Fitzpatrick’s leadership, has grown to be one of the preeminent centers for the study of birds and their conservation in the world and eBird is the crown jewel among their many achievements.

eBird data contributed to a recent paper in the journal Science that showed that bird populations in North America have declined by over three billion, nearly 30% over the last 50 years. The causes of these declines might be diverse, but eBird can help identify where bottlenecks might be occurring¾on the breeding grounds, during migration, or on the wintering grounds, or even in specific habitats or sites. Dr. Fitzpatrick thinks that citizen-science can educate people about the role birds play and how they affect us, and increase “understanding about how humans and natural systems can begin coexisting more stably than we do today.” Archbold Biological Station is pleased to announce that Dr. John Fitzpatrick will present a webinar on Thursday, June 18th at 3:30 pm titled “How birds can save the world: Lessons from eBird, the world’s largest citizen science project.” He will show how eBird generates remarkable data about bird populations and individual species across their entire range. This talk is geared toward very general audiences of all ages and is accessible even to individuals with only passing interest in nature.

The free webinar will be hosted on Zoom, Thursday June 18 at 3:30PM (EDT). Interested parties may register online at, or attend the Facebook Live-stream. Visit eBird online at

For more information, call 863-465-2571 during business hours M-F 8AM to 5PM.

Is a Dry Pond a Broken Pond?

A seasonal wetland during the dry and wet season. Photos by Rebecca Tucker and Amanda West.

Author: Amanda West

We can now say it’s officially the rainy season here in Florida. At Archbold Biological Station, at least 7 inches have fallen in the past 2 weeks. This year’s dry season was very dry, and researchers at Archbold were able to keep track of how low water levels dropped by continuing to monitor a set of seasonal ponds that have been checked monthly for the past 21 years. “All our ponds dried out this year, which hasn’t happened since Hurricane Irma” says researcher Amanda West in the Archbold Restoration Ecology & Herpetology Program. West has been leading seasonal pond monitoring since she started at Archbold in 2018, right after Hurricane Irma hit Highlands County. As she remembers, “The scrub was so wet. Ponds were so full, they were connecting with each other across the landscape. It rained a lot in 2018 as well, so most ponds never dried up in 2018 or 2019”. In contrast, this year had only an average of two inches of rain a month from November 2019 to April 2020, which brought water levels in wetlands and larger lakes down across Highlands County. “All our ponds finally dried up, as is typical in the dry season which is good.” commented West.

One would think the drying up of ponds is a bad thing for the plants and animals that depend on these ponds for food, water and shelter. Seasonal pond communities, however, are adapted to experience dry and wet periods and without these cycles of dry and wet, the ponds can become unhealthy. “Intermittent drying up is typical and good for the soil, for the amphibians, and for the plants,” explains West. “Pond soil doesn’t get a lot of oxygen when covered with water. When the pond dries, the soil microbes get a chance to process some of the nutrients they couldn’t when deprived of oxygen.” When there is standing water, much of the organic matter from plants can float on top of soil and doesn’t completely break down without oxygen and contact with soil microbes. When the water leaves, this organic matter settles on the soil surface and can be broken down by different microbes that work in oxygenated environments.

Seasonal ponds are very important for frogs and toads to lay their eggs because of the lack of fish predators. Fish eat their eggs and developing tadpoles. West explains “Since seasonal ponds dry out periodically, fish usually can’t live there. When the landscape gets really wet during a wet season or hurricane, the ponds can connect via sheet flow with each other and fish will travel between ponds, repopulating them. Now that our ponds have dried out for the first time in 2 years, amphibians like the Pine Woods Treefrogs have a safer place to lay their eggs.”

Plants, it turns out, are also well-adapted to dry and wet cycles. “Some herbaceous plants, such as Hatpins or Meadow Beauty, need open areas of ponds, but can’t be flooded over when they are seedlings or small plants. These plants need dry times to grow and sometimes to reproduce. They usually are able to finish their life cycle and set seed before they get drowned out by the ponds filling up: then their seeds germinate the next time the soil is exposed.” West recommends those interested in learning about the seasonal ponds at Archbold to sign up and attend the Virtual Field Trip hosted by Dustin Angell on June 16th.

On Tuesday June 16th at 9:30AM, join Dustin online as he visits a seasonal pond to discuss the ecosystem and search for life. To register for Archbold’s Virtual Field Trips with Dustin Angell, please visit the Archbold website at, or plan to attend live on our Facebook page. 

Sundew, Hatpins and Bladderwort flower in the exposed edges of a dried-down seasonal pond. Photo by Dylan Winkler.

Weed Inspires Research

Beggar-tick plants (Bidens alba) at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Laura Reed.

 Author: Mark Deyrup

Highlands County gardeners are all too familiar with beggar-ticks and their daisy-like flowers that turn into annoying seed heads. Its seeds have two sharp points that can cling by the hundreds to socks or pants legs, but an even worse fault is that it can quickly overwhelm a garden. Along dry roadsides beggar-ticks are modest, attractive, 2-foot plants persistently in bloom even during droughts. In a well-watered, fertile garden, however, this plant can morph into a 6-foot monster with inch-thick stems and deeply embedded roots. 

Like many local residents, Archbold Biological Station entomologist Mark Deyrup is currently working at home. When tired of peering through his microscope he takes gardening breaks; yanking up young beggar-ticks is a primary chore. While weeding, he noticed that beggar-tick leaves are aromatic, with a somewhat camphor-like fragrance. Intrigued, he Googled beggar-tick, using its scientific name, Bidens alba. It turns out that beggar-tick tea is used in traditional medicines throughout the tropics in response to a wide range of ailments from allergies to cancer.

The active chemical composition of supposedly medicinal plants is a hot topic in chemistry, so Deyrup called his son Stephen, who is a natural products chemist at Siena College, Albany, New York. Stephen located a scientific publication listing a whopping 301 ‘biologically active’ compounds found in beggar-ticks. Some of these, says Stephen, “I would not want to put in my body.” The bottom line is that none of the medicinal virtues purported for beggar-ticks have been validated in clinical trials. This is not unusual in the field of traditional botanical medicine because it is difficult to get standardized doses of particular plants, and trials with human patients are appropriately regulated.

Among the less worrisome chemicals of beggar-ticks are terpenes, including pinene and camphene (hence the camphor smell). Terpenes, such as limonene in citrus, are often attractive to humans, but repellant to most insects. Plants with high concentrations of terpenes are usually protected from most leaf-eating insects but attacked by certain specialized insects that are resistant to specific terpenes. Deyrup wondered if beggar-ticks might be attacked by an unusual group of specialized insects. 

To test this idea, Deyrup collected samples of beggar-tick flowers and young seed heads from plants found growing all around the buildings of Archbold Biological Station. Samples were placed on paper towels in plastic freezer bags ventilated with many tiny holes made with a sewing pin. The bags were hung with clothespins on curtains in the Deyrup home. “Some scientific research in its preliminary stages is totally low-tech,” remarks Deyrup.

Within a few days insects began to emerge. Over about 6 weeks a successive series of flower head samples have produced one species of moth, 5 species of flies, and 7 species of small wasps that probably attack the moths or flies. “Here’s the thing,” says Deyrup, “the insects of the Archbold Biological Station have been studied by various scientists for over 65 years. Thousands of species of insects are known to live on the Station, but 6 of the species found on the beggar-ticks had never been seen here.” The abundance of beggar-tick plants right next to the insect research lab makes this even more surprising.

 At the Archbold Biological Station insects have been vigorously surveyed by several methods: light traps at night, different kinds of fine netting traps, soil extractions, water traps on the ground, watching for insects on flowers, and sweeping insect nets through vegetation or aquatic habitats. A good many insect species, however, may be missed by entomologists depending on such techniques because they spend their lives hidden in some special location where nobody is looking. “The medicinal value of beggar-tick plants remains unclear,” says Deyrup, “but for me they have warded off complacency about the depth of my entomological knowledge after 37 years of research at the Archbold Biological Station. Many generations of biologists will be enlivened by exploring the secrets of the natural world.”

Photo 2:  A beggar-tick seed head ready to disperse its seeds. Photo by Laura Reed.

Scrub Camp at Archbold…2020 Version

Director of Education Dustin Angell to host Virtual Eco-Camp. Photo by Emily Angell.

Author: Laura Reed

Readers who keep up with the Archbold Biological Station weekly articles know that we have had an interesting couple of months! The station has been closed to visitors and staff transitioned to working from home, communicating through virtual meetings, and only performing the bare minimum ‘essential’ activities permitted on-site. One of the most challenging transitions was for the Education Program—how would Director of Education Dustin Angell continue to teach schoolchildren and visitors about Archbold and the local habitats?

When Florida began sheltering in place, the Archbold Communications Team acted quickly. Thursday seminar events normally presented in the Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center moved online as free Zoom webinars. The Education Program rolled out the Discovery Classroom online learning series, which featured Dustin exploring different scrub locations in real time with a phone and a selfie-stick, to the delight of children and adults alike! Dustin says, “I was worried it wouldn’t feel real, like I was just practicing for a tour by myself, but we found ways to use technology to interact with the viewers and even have guests each episode.” The execution of both series of events quickly evolved as the Archbold team became ‘Zoom experts,’ and the public reaction was more than the team could have imagined. Executive Assistant Laura Reed was relieved, “The Communications Team put so much work into the development, preparation, and presentation of those events…the entire process was completely new and we dove straight in, learning as we went along, with no idea how it would be received. It was enormously gratifying to see that we had reached over a hundred viewers for most of our events!” By May, the Archbold events were much more polished and streaming live on Facebook, reaching even more viewers.

Now as June approaches, Dustin Angell normally would be in full preparation mode for Archbold’s annual Ecology Summer Camp, known by alumni as “scrub camp.” Sadly, this, the 29th year of scrub camp, had to be cancelled along with hundreds of other events in the area…so what did Dustin do? You guessed it…he created the first ever Archbold Virtual Ecology Summer Camp! “Cancelling our in-person camp was hard, especially knowing how much it means to so many families, but I’m honestly excited about what we are planning for virtual camp,” says Dustin. “It is a chance to support the campers’ explorations of the nature in their own yards and neighborhoods. I hope they gain a deeper appreciation for where they live and make connections between what they observe and the bigger picture of science and conservation in our region.” Laura elaborates, “Following the success of the Discovery Classroom events, we knew Dustin could host an engaging and accessible virtual camp for children, but he has gone above and beyond by creating an exceptional experience packed with activities that can be done with simple household items, right outside our own homes.”

In this virtual camp, campers will complete fun at-home assignments, video-chat in small moderated groups, and watch live virtual field trips where Dustin will live-stream from different ecosystems. At home, campers will create science notebooks and explore the nature in their yards and neighborhoods, then share their science notebook projects with their groups. Dustin will also give live demos with snakes and animal skulls.

Virtual camp sessions will run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during four weeks in June. Parents can register their children ages 7-12 for one week sessions at Archbold’s website. In addition to camp sessions, on Tuesdays in June Dustin will lead Virtual Field Trips to different locations on Archbold’s properties. Field trips are included with all camp registrations, but are available to all ages without a camp registration. For more information on these and Archbold’s other online events for June, visit

Backyard Birding Provides a Breath of Fresh Air During Shelter-in-Place Order

Author: Angela Tringali

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A male Purple Martin perches. Photo by: SUSAN YOUNG

Every spring billions of birds migrate from wintering grounds in the south to their breeding grounds in the north. These birds join the hemispheres, and at a time when many people are feeling isolated, can provide both a feeling of connectedness and a rewarding hobby. “Serious birders frequently travel to find specific birds and grow their life list,” notes Meredith Heather, graduate intern in Archbold’s Avian Ecology program, “but during migration the birds come to us and you don’t have to travel to enjoy them.”

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A New Virtual World for Science Collaboration

Author: Hilary Swain

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Dr. Phil Robertson and Dr. Peter Kleinman with their presentation on the USDA LTAR network at the annual meeting, held this year via Zoom. Screenshot by Caro Cordova.

Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, partnering with the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona, is one of 18 sites nationwide in the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research LTAR network of the U.S. Department of Agriculture ( This year’s annual LTAR scientist meeting was originally planned for the last week of April, 2020 at Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University (MSU).  At the LTAR Leadership meeting in Beltsville, Maryland at the beginning of March the full dimensions of COVID-19 became apparent. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold Director describes the deliberations, “It was clear that an in-person LTAR meeting would be impossible. Recognizing that the LTAR scientists nationwide had set aside meeting days in their calendar, the organizers at Michigan State University made a bold decision—rather than canceling or postponing they pivoted to offer an on-line Zoom meeting, and furthermore agreed to get this done in less than 8 weeks!” Continue reading

Nameless Insects Roam the Archbold Biological Station

Author:  Mark Deyrup

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Microgaster archboldensis collected at Archbold by Dr. Mark Deyrup, Archbold Entomologist. Photo by Stephanie Leon.

For hundreds of years naturalists have been busily discovering, describing, and naming the many plants and animals that share our world. In spite of these centuries of dedication the task is incomplete. Many species remain to be discovered and named, even in such well-explored places as Florida. The main reason for this is the mind-boggling number of different kinds of small animals, especially insects.

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Live, Love, Lichen

Author:  Scott Ward

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Florida Perforate Lichen Cladonia perforata growing in scrub habitat in Highlands County, Florida. What make this species of lichen unique are the perforations (holes) present along the lichen’s branches. Photo by Scott G. Ward

What do you think of when you hear about mammals, birds, or plants? You probably picture in your head your pet, a backyard bird, or even your favorite flower. If you’re like Seth Raynor, an intern in the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station, more often than not you probably think of lichens instead. Raynor has been studying lichen ecology at Archbold for the past few months, discovering all sorts of species previously unknown at the Station. So what is a lichen? Raynor elaborates:

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Celebrate Earth Day with Archbold’s ‘Colors of the Florida Scrub’

Author: Hilary Swain

April 22nd, 2020 marked the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. On this day in 1970, 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.

To celebrate Earth Day, and to serve all those anchored at home seeking inspiration and solace from the beauty of nature, Archbold Biological Station launched its latest short video ‘Colors of the Florida Scrub’ filmed by Into Nature Films. This new online offering is part of Archbold’s ‘Wonders from Wonderland’ series. Filmmaker Jennifer Brown shared, “The film begins with a flaming orange-red sunrise and a time-lapse of a bright yellow Prickly Pear cactus flower opening. I organized colors into sequences so there is a yellow sequence, a green sequence, a pink sequence, and so on. Florida Scrub-Jays doing different behaviors add splashes of blue and some drama throughout the film. Macro close-up shots of tender pink oak leaves and multi-colored blueberries represent the joy of Spring in the scrub. There are two sequences in the white-brown-black-gray spectrum as a juxtaposition to the more vivid color sequences. In the tradition of abstract expressionism art, I played with removing recognizable forms so viewers can really ‘see’ the colors.”

You can view the 2-minute video from Archbold’s Facebook page and from its YouTube Channel. Also on Earth Day, Archbold hosted a ‘Zoom webinar’ with a viewing of the film followed by a few Archbold panelists on hand to share their personal perspectives of color in the scrub, and to answer public questions about the ecosystem and the film. Please check out Archbold’s YouTube page and its Facebook page to see the replay of the panel discussion.

Archbold Biological Station was established in 1941, nearly 30 years before the first Earth Day. Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain describes Richard Archbold, “As a visionary who founded an organization that was way ahead of its time and with a mission, core values, and purpose that have proven timeless. For nearly eighty years, since the day it was founded through to the modern era, it’s been Earth Day every day at Archbold. The organization has always worked in service of the Earth: collecting and nurturing data and findings, managing lands and waters, informing wise policy decisions, and sharing this knowledge with schoolchildren, students, decision makers, and scientists around the world.”

She added, “By holding a mirror up to nature, Archbold allows us all to see the Earth from our own perspectives. The curious find out about the complexity of nature, the analytical explore how things work, artists interpret the intriguing beauty and meaning of colors, shapes and shadows, activists find motivation and inspiration, and those who grew up with the scrub ecosystem as their back yard recall childhood memories and reflect on the heritage of place. All are wonderful reasons to join us to celebrate Earth Day.”

For more information on Archbold events, please visit

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Colors of the Florida Scrub: the wonderful purples of False Foxglove Agalinis filifolia against the saturated greens of Saw Palmetto and Dwarf Huckleberry. Photo by Reed Bowman.



A Fiery Passion for Science


Maintaining the fire line. Photo by Alan Rivero.

Author: Alan Rivero

Have you noticed distant smoke plumes while driving along US Highway 27 or State Road 70? Earlier this year, pre-COVID and before the recent drought-triggered burn ban, it was burning season for many ranchers and land managers in Highlands County. As usual, the research and operation crew at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch had an active prescribed fire season. Fire is an important management tool for Florida pastures and rangelands and for other Florida habitats. Many native Florida plants and animals require fire to maintain certain vegetation heights and openness. Some plants even require fire to germinate and flower! For ranchers, fire is an important tool for fresh forage and removal of dead vegetation and shrubs. Each year, Buck Island Ranch burn managers, Laurent Lollis and Gene Lollis, in collaboration with the ranch scientists, create a burn plan for the ranch that meets both ranch operational and research needs.

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Archbold Provides Free Online Learning

Author: Dustin Angell

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A still shot from the film “Misty Morning: Hatpin Season,” by Into Nature Films. Watch the full video on Archbold’s Facebook page. Photo by Into Nature Films.

As the people of Highlands County adjust to the first week of the Governor’s “Safer at Home” order, many are tackling home projects or finding time to check out new TV shows, while also trying to stay connected and safe. Parents, teachers, and students are living in a new world, with the difficult responsibility of sustaining learning goals without attending school in person, or visiting parks and museums. Archbold Biological Station is excited to offer some support to our community with a variety of free online learning events, educational science resources, and social media content.

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Where the Nightjars Are…Research on Nightjars at Archbold Biological Station

Author: Dr. Reed Bowman


A Chuck-will’s-widow perched on a branch during the daytime. These are nocturnal birds that capture flying insects in the dark. “Chuck-wills-widow” by Scott Heron is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Native Floridians probably grew up listening to the rhythmic call of the Chuck-will’s-widow, singing its name over and over. The Chuck-will’s-widow is nocturnal, a member of a family of birds known as nightjars. In Highlands County, they breed in the spring and summer but fly south for the winter, only to be replaced here in the winter by the Whip-poor-will, another nightjar that breeds farther north. A vast trove of folklore exists around these birds. Their scientific name Caprimulgidae, literally means “goat milkers,” as they were thought to feed on the milk of lactating goats at night. Rather both species are aerial insectivores, mostly catching flying insects on the wing in the middle of the night. The birds have tiny bills that belie their enormous mouths and stiff whiskers to catch moths flitting in the dark. The whiskers are sensitive to touch and help direct insects into their mouth. Think of them as large catcher mitts and the ball is the flitting unpredictable insects. Both species are declining in numbers throughout their range, especially in Florida, yet relatively little is known about them here. In 2019, Dr. Reed Bowman, Director of the Avian Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station, and Yosvany Rodriguez, a post-baccalaureate research intern from Franklin and Marshall College, began studying them at Archbold. Dr. Bowman said “The decline of these species may be driven by changes in flying insect populations or changes in species’ breeding or wintering habitat. We wanted to understand their preferences for different habitats and patches burned at different times here at Archbold. Does our fire management benefit them?”

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A Brief History of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch 2S cattle-holding brand

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The Buck Island Ranch 2S branding iron. Photo by Mary Margaret Hardee.

Author:  Hilary Swain

There have been many stories over the years regarding the meaning behind the Buck Island Ranch 2S brand. Some say it had no significance at all. However, those in the cattle business know there is always some meaning behind a ranch’s holding brand.

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Long Live the Florida Rosemary

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From left to right: intern Seth Raynor, intern Lily Fulton, research assistant Lexi Siegle-Bates, and research assistant Scott Ward work together to measure large rosemary. Photo by volunteer Linda Gette.

Author:  Lexi Siegle-Bates

Scientists at Archbold Biological Station work in some of Florida’s unique habitats. One of these interesting habitats is known as ‘Rosemary Scrub’ or, more informally, a ‘rosemary bald.’ You may have walked through a rosemary bald before without even knowing it. A rosemary bald is a relatively open landscape characterized by large Florida Rosemary shrubs (Ceratiola ericoides), and a few other dominant plants. Not many other plant species can grow in this habitat.  This is partly due to allelopathy, which is when plants release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. In particular, Florida Rosemary plants secrete a chemical known as ceratiolin, which prevents most other plants from germinating in the area surrounding the rosemary shrubs.  Allelopathic interference, droughty soils, and other environmental limitations, result in patches of bare sand forming between rosemary shrubs, hence the name ‘Rosemary Bald.’ Since there is not much competition from other plants, rosemary shrubs can grow in large clusters, often with 100’s of individual plants in a small area. Florida Rosemary is also a long-lived perennial shrub with a steady growth rate, meaning it can often grow taller and wider than the scientists at Archbold!

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The Red Widow Spider: A Secretive, Harmless Resident in Florida Scrub

Author: Dr. Jim Carrel

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Female Red Widow Spider. Photo by Jim Carrel.

Hidden away in the native scrub habitats at the Archbold Biological Station is a rare spider whose presence generally goes unknown to all but ardent field biologists. The Red Widow Spider spends most of its life hidden in short palmetto bushes.  Its world-wide range is restricted to undisturbed sand ridges in four central counties and two counties near Florida’s Atlantic coast. Dr. Jim Carrel, Research Associate at Archbold and former professor of biology at the University of Missouri, explains, “Although this species has a toxic venom like the dreaded Black Widow, there is no record of it having ever harmed a person. This is not at all surprising considering how much work I have to do to find them. The likelihood of anyone encountering a Red Widow by chance is near zero.”

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Settling down and having kids changes birds’ social lives too

Author: Dr. Angela Tringali

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Four Florida Scrub-Jays perch above oak scrub at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Dr. Reed Bowman.

There are numerous articles on how friendships change in your 20s, 30s, and after marriage or parenthood. What we do not know is how ubiquitous these changes are throughout the animal kingdom. Researchers at Archbold Biological Station describe the social lives of Florida Scrub-Jays in different stages of life.

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Eavesdroppers and snoops in the scrub!

Authors: Eli Haines-Eitzen, Abby Parker, Natasha Radic, and Keith Tarvin


A model Florida Scrub-Jay mounted on the top of a 15-foot pole appears to be ‘on sentinel,’ scanning its surroundings for predators. A rope and pulley system allows the researchers to raise the box below the model, causing the sentinel to ‘disappear.’ Photo by Keith Tarvin.

Have you ever noticed how strange or awkward it feels when a murmuring crowd suddenly goes quiet for no apparent reason? As a member of such a crowd, perhaps in an auditorium before a speech or performance, chances are you never really notice the murmuring until it stops. But once it ceases, you may look up and scan the room to see what caused the sudden hush–is there a problem? Does someone know something that you don’t?

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Oberlin College Biologists Study Mosquito and Bird Behavior at Archbold


Oberlin College Researchers at Archbold Biological Station. From left to right: Keith Tarvin, Eli Haines-Eitzen, Madeleine Gefke, Mary Garvin, Natasha Radic, Abby Parker, Katherine Karson. Photo by Katherine Karson.

Authors: Madeleine Gefke, Katherine Karson, and Mary Garvin

During their winter January Term, faculty and students from Oberlin College visited Archbold Biological Station to research mosquito and bird behavior. Biology Professors Mary Garvin and Keith Tarvin established a base at Red Hill and were joined by Oberlin students Katherine Karson, Madeleine Gefke, Natasha Radic, Eli Haines-Eitzen, and Abby Parker. Having returned to chilly Ohio in early February for their spring semester, the students are grateful for the opportunity to have experienced Archbold and the amazing Florida scrub. Below, we describe the Garvin team research, and next week we will report on the Tarvin team research.

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The Richard Archbold Archive


Richard Archbold circa 1930, mounted in the original cardboard frame from the photographer. Photo credit:  Kaiden Studios, Inc.

Author:  Joe Gentili

Richard Archbold, founder of Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Florida, spent the period from the late 1920’s until the beginnings of WWII on a series of expeditions that took him across the globe. In conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History, he led three scientific expeditions to New Guinea and participated in an earlier one to Madagascar. During his travels to and from these expeditions, he and his crew visited places as far flung as Hawaii, Australia, and Equatorial Africa. Along the way, he accumulated a wealth of photographs, documents, artifacts, and more. The official Archbold Expeditions materials are archived at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but his personnel collection from the expeditions, as well as other personal and family memorabilia are housed at Archbold Biological Station. These materials are collectively known as the Richard Archbold Archive: Archbold Librarian Joe Gentili said, “The overarching goal of the Richard Archbold Archive is to protect and preserve Mr. Archbold’s materials.”

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Small Footprint, Substantial Facelift

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BEFORE: Disturbance, buildings, an old tennis court, and a large stand of non-native bamboo on the future location of Archbold’s Learning Center and Lodge in March 2005. Main Drive is on the right. Photo credit: Archbold Biological Station

Author:  Dr. Hilary Swain

Every real estate person lives by the maxim—location, location, location.  When Archbold designed and built the Station’s Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center, location was the pressing issue. But it wasn’t about where to site a new facility to increase market value. Dr. Hilary Swain explained there were many questions for Archbold staff, the architect, and the engineers: “Could Archbold add a large new facility dedicated to outreach and education while minimizing impacts?  Could a building serve as a portal to the Florida scrub and be in harmony with nature? Could it be built without disturbing or degrading any native scrub or wetland habitats? Could the design complement the existing historic buildings and not detract from their appearance?” The answers were all yes; Archbold selected a location that met all these goals, but it took a lot of thinking and planning to get there. This is the second in a series of monthly articles on the principles of ‘green building’ design, using Archbold’s Learning Center to illustrate how to build while also enhancing rather than degrading the environment.

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Found Nowhere Else: Florida Ziziphus


Seedlings grown from seeds placed into an introduction Photo Credit: Archbold Biological Station’s Plant Ecology Program

Author: Rohan Patel

We are situated on a unique landscape, the Lake Wales Ridge. Formed millions of years ago when most of Florida was underwater, it is one of the most diverse spots in Florida, home to dozens of rare and endangered species found nowhere else on Earth. One of the rarest is Florida Ziziphus..

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Restoring Florida Scrub Across Ridges


The Plant Ecology Program crew along with St. Lucie County land managers begin clearing encroaching oaks from a population of Lakela’s Mint. Left to right: Seth Raynor, Lexi Siegle-Bates, Angela Soto, Drew Cunningham (St. Lucie County) and Stephanie Koontz. Photo credit: Scott Ward.

Author: Stephanie Kootnz

Running north south along the eastern coast of the Florida peninsula, the original habitat of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge exists as small remnants of Florida scrub dotting the landscape, nestled between hospitals, county buildings and major highways. These scrub patches are relics of what the ridge looked like long before development. Similar to the Lake Wales Ridge in central Florida, the Atlantic Coastal Ridge is an ancient sand dune paralleling the Atlantic coast of Florida from St. John’s County south to Palm Beach County. It shares many of the same plant and animal species found in Florida scrub habitat in Highlands and Polk counties; however, this ridge is much younger at around 130,000 years old compared to the Lake Wales Ridge which likely exceeds 1-2 million years in age. Even so, while the Lake Wales Ridge has many more endemic species, plants and animals found only on the Lake Wales Ridge, the Atlantic Coastal Ridge has endemics unique to its dune system.

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Mint Monitoring: near and far



Titusville Mint (Dicerandra thinicola) grows only in Brevard County, FL. Photo by Scott Ward


Author: Scott Ward

In November of 2019, the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station completed its 19th year of monitoring, of a rare mint, Titusville Balm (Dicerandra thinicola), found only in Brevard County. In addition to this species, staff also worked in Highlands County to monitor populations of two other rare mint species that only grow in Florida: Garrett’s Mint (Dicerandra christmanii) and Lake Placid Scrub Balm (Dicerandra frutescens).

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Color the Scrub!


Some awesome fourth grade students and their wonderful teachers posing with the new Scrub Coloring Books after a field trip out in the Scrub at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Dustin Angell.

Author by: Megan Selva

Archbold Biological Station is pleased to announce its release of its fourth edition of The Scrub Coloring Book! Thanks to a wonderful and generous donation by Dr. Warren Abrahamson and his wife Chris, Archbold was able to revise and print the latest edition of its coloring activity book. This book is given as a gift to children that participates in an Archbold field trip with their school, or visits with their family.

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Archbold visits Ringling Museum for Arts Solutions


Art and Science Incubator participants on a tour of Ringling Museum of Art. Photo by Gavin Bacon.

Author: Dustin Angell

There is a saying that goes, “It’s not like ecology is rocket science… it is much harder.” That facetious phrase reminds us that ecosystems—habitats and the web of life they support—are more complicated than perhaps they seem. Communicating environmental issues can be challenging as well. How do you make something relevant that to many people is… uninteresting? Depressing? Frightening? Challenging? Archbold Biological Station in Venus, FL is turning to the arts to help connect people with science and hoping it can bring out the human side of environmental issues.

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Harvesting the Sunlight


Building design features for harvesting sunlight in Archbold’s Learning Center. Drawing credit: Archbold Biological Station.

Author: Hilary Swain

Have you ever wondered why some buildings feel so light and airy throughout whereas others have dark corners, even in rooms with plenty of windows? Or, been frustrated switching on indoor lights on a bright, sunny day in Florida just to see what you are doing? Or, felt gloomy losing your view and the sunlight when pulling down the blinds to keep out the heat? Archbold Biological Station’s Frances Archbold Hufty Learning Center provides answers to these and other questions. This is the first in a series of monthly articles on the principles of ‘green building’ design, using this building to illustrate how to save water and energy and to improve the quality of life indoors.

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Archbold’s 4th Annual Research Symposium: Transending Scientific Borders



Presenters at the 4th Annual Archbold Research Symposium. Archbold scientists were joined by collaborators from the University of Florida, University of Miami and University of Central Florida.
Photo by Bill Parken.

Authors: Stephanie Koontz and Becky Windsor

On Thursday, December 12th, 2019 Archbold staff, collaborators, and visitors gathered for the 4th Annual Archbold Research Symposium to learn what Archbold Biological Station scientists were up to the past year. A crowd of nearly 60 people listened to talks and viewed posters from scientific programs such as Avian Ecology, Plant Ecology, Herpetology, Restoration Ecology, Agro Ecology, and Invertebrate Ecology, but also heard from the Education, Archives, and Land Management Programs. “The diversity of topics in this year’s research symposium were great,” said Dr. Angela Tringali of the Avian Ecology Program. “We jumped all around Archbold, from birds, to summer campers, to plants, to history, to cattle ranches. There is just so much going on and it’s incredible to hear about it all at once.”

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Archbold Air Support


A photo of Archbold Biological Station taken during sunrise. Photo by Kevin Main.

Author: Paul Ruben

Archbold Biological Station continues to implement new data collecting technologies using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as ‘drones’. The Archbold Drone Program is expanding due to the kindness of generous donors, which allowed the Station to recently hire Geographic Information System (GIS) Research Assistant Paul Ruben. Ruben joins a small group of Archbold staff and consultants who are FAA Part 107 certified drone pilots. “I’m excited to work for such a storied science and conservation organization and to have the opportunity to use the newest technology in my field,” said Ruben. “Honestly, it’s a lot of fun and really amazing what drones are capable of teaching us,” he continued while watching a drone fly overhead on a mission to map the details of an earlier prescribed burn on the Station. “We use drones to map the boundary of a prescribed burn and document the fire intensity where the burn spread across different plant communities”.

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Weather, Weather, Weather Data


Main Weather Station at Archbold Biological Station. Photo by Kevin Main

Author: Kevin Main

Weather data have been collected at Archbold Biological Station for nearly 90 years,” said Kevin Main, Land Manager for Archbold. “We have daily high and low temperature, and daily rainfall going back to 1931. In 1982 additional sensors were added to measure humidity, soil temperatures, and evaporation, and in 2006 we got an automated system that records even more detailed weather data.” The Station currently records 15-minute data for temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, soil temperature and moisture (at three depths), barometric pressure, and light intensity. Archbold uses the data in conjunction with the many research projects that require precise information about weather conditions and trends.

“Weather data are also useful during prescribed fires,” Main said. “I can access the data from my smartphone and look at trends in humidity, wind speed and wind direction during the day, which helps me make decisions for managing the fire.”

The Archbold weather station happens to be located in a rather cold spot. “I have received several calls over the years questioning our low temperatures. It can be 5-10 degrees colder at the Archbold weather station than other locations just a few miles away, and it’s not because of a faulty temperature sensor. We have two professional grade sensors on site, and both are always within a degree of each other,” said Main. “The record low recorded at Archbold was 13 degrees Fahrenheit, on January 12, 1982 and January 5, 2001. The temperature has sunk into the teens 23 days in the last 50 years. Snow was recorded for one day, January 19th, 1977, when a “trace” of snow was recorded.

While Florida certainly feels hot in the summer, the actual temperature rarely gets above 100 degrees F. The highest temperature recorded at Archbold in the last 50 years was 103 degrees F, on July 3rd, 1998. The daily high temperature was 100 degrees F, or higher, just 24 times since 1969.

Hurricanes are a big driver of weather during the summer months. The weather station has recorded tropical winds and rain multiple times. The single largest rainfall event was caused by Hurricane How on October 2nd, 1951, when 12.15 inches of rain fell in a one-day period. The most recent hurricane to affect this area was Hurricane Irma, in 2017. Archbold received 8.89 inches of rain over a two-day period and had peak winds of 97 mph (which ended up being one of the highest reliable wind readings on the Florida peninsula during the passing of the storm).

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Hurricane Irma’s path across Florida. Archbold received heavy rains
and wind from the eastern eye wall of the storm. Photo credit: National Weather Service

Archbold’s weather data are provided to the National Weather Service through the Service’s Cooperative Observer Program. “We have been an observer station for the National Weather Service since 1969, and we recently received an award from them for 50 years of service,” said Main.

“The Archbold weather data are not currently publicly available online in real time from Archbold, although you can retrieve daily data from the National Weather Service”, says Hilary Swain, Archbold Director. “Data from private weather stations like Archbold can also be viewed on websites such as Weather Underground. Vivienne Sclater, who heads up data management at Archbold, is moving us over to a new data management system in the coming months and that should rectify some of the challenges of making more Archbold monitoring data available to the public in the future.” If you are interested in local weather, there are several other weather stations in this area that provide data. NOAA maintains a very extensive Climate Reference Network (CRN) station on Archbold property a little further south towards Venus with 15-minute data for many meteorological measurements. ( Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch has an extensive network of weather stations and data from the Ranch’s main weather station are streamed to the US Department of Agriculture for posting online. The Florida Agricultural Weather Network (FAWN) is another source of weather data locally, supporting a weather station in Sebring and another in Palmdale ( with publically accessible data.

The Bad Seed: A Tangled Tale


Dense stand of Tanglehead Grass along Old State Route 8 beside the Archbold Biological Station. Photo credit: Archbold Biological Station

Author: Mark Deyrup

As one approaches the Archbold Biological Station on Old State Route 8 both sides of the road are lined with dense even stands of knee-high grass. A distinctive feature of this grass is its clumps of messy blackish seed heads. The same grass can be found along many roads through Highlands County. While not unattractive to look at, woe betide anybody attempting to walk through this grass when it is producing seed, for they will end up with hundreds of sharp-pointed seeds working through socks and even through fabric running shoes. This plant is Tanglehead Grass (scientific name Heteropogon contortus). Tanglehead seeds also work their way into the fur of animals, and where tanglehead is abundant in other states it can prevent raising sheep because of the intense irritation caused by seeds penetrating the wool and lodging in skin.

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A Big Batch of Beetles


The Gray Blister Beetle Epicauta heterodera visiting flowers of Palafoxia for nectar and pollenPhoto Credit: Archbold Biological Station

Author: Mark Deyrup

The living world may be richer and more interesting than we imagine, so much so that it is a major challenge to formally assess this wealth. At the Archbold Biological Station scientists have recently measured one dimension of this rich living heritage. After much patient work in the field and laboratory, Archbold staff and visiting researchers have recorded and collected specimens over decades allowing compilation of a mammoth list of 1,709 different species of beetles that that have been documented on the Station. There is probably no other site in North America with such a comprehensive specimen-based catalog of beetles.

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Spiders at Archbold: What Has Been Learned in Past 70 Years

Week 143_Photo 2 by Giff Beaton

Female Workman’s Jumping Spider found on low growing shrubs in dry, open scrub and sandhill habitats on the Lake Wales Ridge. Notice bright green jaws.
Photo by: Giff Beaton

Author: Jim Carrel

In the past three years information about every spider species archived in the museum collection at the Archbold Biological Station has been computerized. Each listing for 482 preserved individuals includes the spider’s scientific name (taxonomic family, genus, and species), latitude and longitude for where it was collected, as well as the month and year it was found. This information recently became available free-of-charge to anyone in the world at the web site Global Biodiversity Information Facility (

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Helping Rare Plants Survive

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From left to right: Angela Soto, Megan Verner-Crist, and Lexi Siegle-Bates wrap up the project.
Photo Credit: Katherine Charton

Author: Lexi Siegle

This summer, biologists with the Plant Ecology Program at Archbold Biological Station were on a mission: to bolster a newly discovered population of a rare mint plant called  Scrub Balm (Dicerandra frutescens). The property where the new population was found is near Lake Placid and managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. It was recently surveyed for rare plants. When the previously undocumented population of Scrub Balm was found, biologists were excited about the discovery since only a dozen populations of this rare plant were already known. There were, however, very few plants in the newly discovered population, meaning it was vulnerable to extirpation. Thus began a plan to augment the population.

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To Move or Not to Move, That’s the Frog’s Question

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Adult Gopher Frog following capture. Photo by Garrett Lawson

Author: Garret Lawson

Habitat alteration is one of the greatest threats facing wildlife species that have specialized food and shelter preferences. Discovering whether—and how—native species use human-modified habitats is an important part of understanding their likelihood of persisting in changing landscapes. This is an especially interesting question for amphibians that use both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, like the Gopher Frog.

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Archbold Students Disperse Far and Wide

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Rachel King (left) discusses her research poster with Jennifer Jones at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
Photo Credit: Eric Menges

Author: Dr. Eric Menges

Over the years, hundreds of students and scientists get training and research experience at Archbold Biological Station. What happens to all these bright minds? Many things, it turns out. Some are graduate students, some professors, some work for government agencies, and others for non-profits. But they never forget their Archbold roots. This August, thousands of ecologists gathered for the largest such conference, The Ecological Society of America’s  Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. Among them were over a dozen Archbold alumni.

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Archbold joins Ranch to Ridge Expedition traversing Highlands and Polk Counties


The route of the 2019 Ranch to Ridge Expedition from Highlands Hammock Park to the Tiger Creek Preserve. Photo Credit: Florida Wildlife Corridor

Author: Hilary Swain

On Saturday, October 19, three intrepid Florida Wildlife Corridor explorers, Carlton Ward Jr., Mallory Dimmitt, and Joe Guthrie completed the final day of their 7-day 2019 expedition south to north through Highlands, Hardee, and Polk County. Joe Guthrie described their route: “We started in Highlands Hammock State Park, going west of the Ridge, turning north to traverse private ranches and public lands on foot and horseback, then trekked east across US 27 near the Frostproof junction into a conservation bank and state and federal lands, and ended up on paddleboards at The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve on the Ridge near Lake Wales.”

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