Seed Germination Beyond Child’s Play

It’s just another day at the office for research assistant, Stephanie Koontz, as she heads out of the research buildings at Archbold Biological Station to work with some of the rarest plant species in Florida. “A favorite childhood memory of mine is removing the seeds of an apple core, placing them on a wet paper towel and watching them emerge over the next few days.” But, she adds, “If only germination was this easy with seeds of rare plants. Finding the right conditions for a seed to germinate and then helping that seedling survive to adulthood can be a bigger challenge than one might imagine.” Continue reading

Making Wetlands Wetter and Better

Wetlands are an important component of Florida landscapes. They provide shelter for plants and animals, which in turn attract naturalists, hunters or anglers. Look in the air and you might be able to see a Snail Kite in search of a Florida Apple Snail. Bend over, and there it is, a fascinating pitcher plant digesting its insect meal. In Central Florida, you might even see cows wandering around in freshwater wetlands. Here, they find good quality forage and a nice cooling station during the summer months. Setting aside mosquitoes, what’s not to love about wetlands? Yet, wetlands are threatened worldwide, facing pollution and land conversion. Continue reading

Town and Country Cane Toads

Florida’s landscape varies from sandy beaches to dense forests and swampy wetlands. This range of habitats allows a wide variety of animals to thrive. One of our larger groups of animals is the amphibians, which includes frogs, toads, and salamanders. In Florida there are more than 30 species of frogs and toads. And in Highlands County, our own backyard, one can find 18 different types of frogs and toads. However, not all of these species were originally from Florida; a few are non-native and some of these are considered invasive. Continue reading

From Scrub to the Web

The sun shines brightly, the wind carries the songs of the birds and the buzzing of the bees. Walking the trails at Archbold Biological Station and observing the beauty of the Florida scrub, one’s senses can be easily stimulated. But can the same beauty and nature be seen indoors in a research laboratory? In Archbold’s bug lab, nineteen, seven-foot-tall, hunter-green cabinets tower above scientists and students. Inside each of these cabinets, twenty-five basswood, glass-top drawers protect hundreds of thousands of pinned insect specimens, most of which have been collected over the decades at Archbold Biological Station. Each insect specimen is stored in its correct drawer, like a giant filing system, so that any trained biologist can quickly navigate to the right specimen. Continue reading

Restoring Wildlife Habitat

There are many beautiful natural areas in Florida. In places such as Myakka River State Park and Everglades National Park people can walk for miles across lands barely changed by humans. Florida also has vast areas of lands, such as cattle ranches, which contain both natural habitats, lands improved for agriculture, and disturbed areas. At Archbold Biological Station we own or manage nearly 20,000 acres serving as natural laboratories for scientific research, education, and conservation. Some of the Archbold property is pristine, wild Florida, as it was hundreds of years ago. But many parts of the land Archbold owns and manages were, at some point, and often decades ago, altered from their natural condition. According to Kevin Main, Land Manager at Archbold, “In some places at Archbold, especially on the 3,600-acre area known as the Reserve, we have chosen to focus on restoring these altered lands back to a more natural condition. Most native animals and plants, including many threatened and endangered species, require natural ecosystems in order to thrive.” Continue reading

Archbold Popular During Spring Break

“It has really opened my eyes!” “I have a student about to start graduate school for entomology (the study of insects) and I don’t think he slept at all, just running around the buildings all night looking at insects.” “Your facilities are fantastic!” “The great thing about Archbold is its placement in an ecosystem that is not found anywhere else on Earth, so we had a unique experience.” These are just some of the many expressions we hear from students and faculty that visit Archbold Biological Station with their classes during their college spring break. Continue reading

Mapping the Burn

With the increasingly severe drought during this years’ dry season, there is a lot of news about wildfires. As one of the lightning capitals of the continent, fire has been a natural part of the cycle of life in Florida for millennia. Fire is essential to conserve the Florida scrub that we love and protect at Archbold Biological Station and elsewhere in Highlands County. Fire is essential for maintenance of many other Florida ecosystems including pinelands, prairies, and most wetlands. Continue reading

Playing Lake Annie’s Song

Have you ever thought about the “artistic” side of scientific discovery? In a famous lecture in 1959, British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow, lamented that ‘intellectual life’ was split into two cultures—namely the sciences and the humanities—and that this was a major limitation for addressing the world’s problems. Nowadays scientists are increasingly reaching out to writers, poets, artists, and musicians to help them interpret and share their data and findings, not as tables, figures, and statistics, but rather by creating new works of art that reach a far wider audiences. One such arts-science alliance is a recent interpretation of the long-term data from Lake Annie, a 67′ deep, 90-acre sinkhole lake located on the property of Archbold Biological Station. Lake Annie is celebrated by scientists worldwide for the data from the sediments at the bottom of the lake which document the history of Florida extending back nearly 40,000 years. The lake is also important scientifically for its long-term monitoring of many lake measures including water depth, temperature, pH, color, oxygen levels, and plankton communities. Continue reading

Dunes Thousands of Years Old

The natural areas of Highlands and Polk Counties are dominated by a sandy, shrubby landscape known as Florida scrub. There are many types of Florida scrub all defined by the plant species that inhabit them. One especially interesting type of Florida scrub is the rosemary scrub. Take a walk through a rosemary scrub habitat and you might notice some rather striking things. Bare white sand patches connect like a path, weaving in and out among a maze of large Florida Rosemary shrubs, the dominant plant species for which this unique habitat is named. Most populations of Florida Rosemary occur along coastal dune habitats from Florida north to South Carolina and west to Mississippi. Florida Rosemary are found in relict populations on remaining patches of Florida scrub occurring on the high dry sandy ridge that runs north-south through Highlands County, known as the Lake Wales Ridge. The Lake Wales Ridge dates back to a time, nearly a million years ago, when sea levels were much higher. Found at the top of these ancient rolling sand dunes, the rosemary scrub habitat looks like sandy islands in a sea of a dense vegetation. And yet, it is in this rosemary scrub habitat, along those open pathways between the Florida Rosemary plants, where most of the Lake Wales Ridge endangered plant species are found. Florida Rosemary itself is not endangered although it is listed as a threatened species in coastal Georgia, but rosemary scrub habitat has seen significant decline due to development, earlier conversion to agriculture, and hurricane damage along coastal populations. Continue reading

Plants Say It with Flowers

On Valentine’s Day biologists at the Archbold Biological Station enjoy sending and receiving romantic gifts of flowers just as much as anybody else. The colors and fragrances of flowers make them a perfect gift. Out in nature, however, biologists appreciate the messages of flowers in a different way. Most wildflowers are sending signals to insects, using perfumes or attractive color displays to advertise nectar and pollen. Pollen is the fine powdery substance produced by male plants (think, flower sperm) that is carried by insects (or other animals, or wind) to the female part of the flower and fertilizes it. Some insects, especially bees, eat pollen or provide it to their larvae as food. Nectar is the sugary liquid plants produce, especially in their flowers, to encourage (reward) visits by insects and other animals. Continue reading

Eastern Indigo Snakes on the Move

Meet the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi). Reaching six to eight feet in length, this “blue” beauty is North America’s longest native snake. It is so quiet and elusive, few people may even be aware of its existence. Indigo snakes are nonvenomous, covered in shiny black scales and live only in the southeastern US, where they eat a diverse diet of small prey, primarily other snakes, frogs, mice and other small mammals. The indigo snakes are “top predators,” even though that term usually conjures images of animals like panthers and wolves.  Continue reading

Woodpeckers on the Go

A few months ago researchers from Archbold Biological Station’s Avian Ecology Program traveled to Osceola National Forest in north Florida to bring six Federally Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers back to Avon Park Air Force Range. Called ‘translocation’, moving birds from large populations to small populations is a conservation tool used on critically endangered species throughout the world. Along with prescribed fire and management of the trees used by the woodpeckers for their nest cavities, translocation is an increasingly important tool for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Osceola National Forest’s Red-cockaded Woodpecker population is large enough that it is considered a donor population, able to sustain the removal of a few birds to help other smaller populations grow. Continue reading

Environmental Educators to Unite

On March 18, Florida’s environmental educators are gathering for the 2017 League of Environmental Educators of Florida (LEEF) Spring Mini-Conference in Apollo Beach. One hundred are expected to attend, including Archbold Biological Station’s Education Coordinator, Dustin Angell. “These conferences never fail to inspire me and I am able to apply so much of what I learn back at Archbold,” says Angell. So, what is an environmental educator and why do they have a league? Continue reading

Keeping Ranch Wetlands Wild

Research led by Dr. Betsey Boughton at Archbold’s MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center (MAERC), together with a team from University of Central Florida has been addressing how Florida ranchers might maintain and enhance wetlands found on their ranches. About one-third of the headwaters of the Everglades is ranchland, like MAERC, and we all benefit from valuable natural services provided by wetlands on ranches. Continue reading

Archbold Studies Avon Park’s Elusive Harebell

Plants like Avon Park Harebells (Crotalaria avonensis) make other rare, endemic (only found in one area) plants seem common. This yellow-flowered, deep-rooted pea occurs at just three Florida scrub sites, all in Highlands and Polk counties, near Avon Park (hence the Latin name). Discovered by Avon Park botanist Kris DeLaney in the 1980s, the Harebell is an exciting find for any plant enthusiast. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, It is ‘at grave danger of extinction’ and ‘without active and concerted conservation efforts, this species may be lost’. Highlands and Polk counties support one of the highest concentrations of endemic plants and animals in the United States. Many of these endemic species are endangered or threatened and the Avon Park Harebells are among the rarest of these. Continue reading

The Mysterious World of Ants

Florida is full of ants, ranging from burly carpenter ants parading up tree trunks to microscopic species tunneling deep in the sand. From Archbold Biological Station comes the first book on Florida ants, covering all 239 species found in the state. The author, Dr. Mark Deyrup, scientist at Archbold, has spent more than 25 years studying the strange lives of Florida ants, including about 130 species found here in Highlands County. Continue reading

Every Nest Counts for Florida Grasshopper Sparrows

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Archbold researcher Emily Angell repairs damages to the predator exclusion fence made by an unknown animal. Photo: Dustin Angell

With a total wild population of less than 100 birds and falling, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is facing the very real possibility of extinction. Habitat loss and other factors have brought this Florida endemic (found only in Florida) sub-species to this point, but biologists haven’t given up.

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Costa Kids Learn Science at Archbold

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Campers meet Miss Poser the Florida Pine Snake

“Sometimes things fit together so well you wonder why you didn’t think to try them earlier,” says Dustin Angell, Archbold Biological Station’s Education Coordinator. He is referring to Archbold’s ongoing collaboration with Costa Farms (formerly Delray Plants), to offer a science camp for their employees’ children. “This was our third summer running this custom program. It is our last week of camp, and I look forward to running it all season.”

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Worldwide Grassroots Science Initiative at Buck Island Ranch

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Collaboration is the key to successful science and conservation. Most of Archbold Biological Station’s research collaborations occur at local or regional scales, involving working with other scientists or institutions who can offer complementary expertise, or share facilities, resources, or study sites. Some questions, however, are best answered through larger collaborative networks. The Nutrient Network (NutNet) is bringing together grassland researchers from around the world to contribute location specific data to a multi-year planet-wide ecology experiment, and Archbold is part of the project.

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Overlooked and Imperiled Sparrow Gets the Spotlight

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Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo: Dustin Angell

Newcomers to Highlands County are often impressed with the local bird life. Sandhill Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, and Great Egrets dazzle with their size and beauty. Wood Storks feed in roadside ditches and Osprey nest in trees and on utility poles. Locals appreciate the delicate beauty of Tree Swallow flocks in the evening and know to await the appearance of Swallow-tailed Kites as one of the first signs of spring. Over 200 kinds of birds can be seen in Highlands County and some are better known than others. “There is one bird in Highlands County that most people who live or visit here have never heard of, and that’s unfortunate, because it’s Florida’s rarest and most imperiled one,” says Archbold’s Education Coordinator Dustin Angell. He aims to change that with a new photo essay called “Saving the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.” Continue reading

The Abduction of Tortoise #1721 (Part II)

Reflections on 1721’s Ordeal:  1721’s ordeal sparked strong emotions among Archbold researchers and other staff, the first obviously being a sense of outrage, not to mention extreme relief upon her safe return. For me, this was also mixed with a large dose of frustration. I am not naïve enough to think societal attitudes and cultural practices change overnight. However, I wish we could find ways to expedite human behavioral changes in response to new scientific knowledge. (Click here for Part I of this story)

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The Abduction of Tortoise #1721 (Part I)

Her Narrow Escape:  On Tuesday 8th November 2016, while our country was holding national elections, Gopher Tortoise #1721 was grazing along the entrance drive to Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Florida. She was sporting a painted “1721” on her shell, for easy observation, and also had a small transmitter glued to her shell—so Archbold scientists could monitor her whereabouts.

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Florida’s Ranchland Water Solution

Florida cattle ranches provide more than beef and beautiful views. Cattle share the land with a rich mix of wildlife, including birds like Crested Caracaras, Wild Turkeys, and Sandhill Cranes. Some ranchers are even helping solve Florida’s water management problems. They are working with the state government on controlling the flow of water on ranchlands to make things safer for people and wildlife downstream. Researchers from Archbold Biological Station are helping with the science.  Continue reading

Stacy, Queen of Thorns

Imagine a species so rare and endangered that the person who named it thought it was extinct. What if you were one of the scientists chosen to save it from extinction? For the last ten years, that’s been the story for Stacy Smith, one of Archbold Biological Station’s plant ecologists. Last month she brought me along to see some science in action. Continue reading

Meeting one of America’s rarest wild birds

If you want to find one of the rarest birds in America, you have to start early.  You also need to train your hearing.  The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is hiding in a field of palmetto and grass, and the only way you’ll find him, without scaring him away, is to listen for a call that sounds remarkably like that of a grasshopper.  And to catch him, you must convince him you’re another male, come to claim his territory.

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Not All that Glitters is Nectar

There’s incredible beauty in nature; often you just have to get on your hands and knees to see it. While working at Archbold Biological Station, I often took walks that required me to step around a large puddle. It was probably because I was too preoccupied with not getting wet that it took me two months to realize that I had been tiptoeing over my favorite plants in the world: carnivorous plants. Continue reading

Thank You for Success in 2014

We love sharing our nature and conservation stories from Florida’s heartland! That is why we started The Scrub Blog in late October. Since then we published 10 posts, and received 1,500+ views from 29 countries! Thanks so much for your support. Please subscribe and share our posts with friends. Continue reading

Wetland Explorer

Most people think of Florida’s scrublands as high and dry, but field biologist Becca Tucker knows that’s not always the case.  Part of her job is to monitor some of the 350+ wetlands found at Archbold Biological Station.  Exploring seasonal ponds is one of my favorite things to do with students, so when Becca offered me the chance to tag along, I didn’t hesitate  to grab my camera and a pair of rubber boots. Continue reading

Searching for Scrub-Jays

It’s a cold, windy morning at Archbold. The sun has not yet risen and the clouds are tinted purple. I’m riding with Dr. Reed Bowman, director of Archbold’s Avian Ecology Program, on the morning of the November 2014 Florida Scrub-Jay Census. This particular census is much colder and windier than usual, and Dr. Bowman and I are chilled even in our jackets and gloves. We know that finding the jays is going to be tough in this weather. Our mission is to locate all members of 18 scrub-jay families, using only a truck, binoculars, a notebook, and a jar of peanuts. In total, the census team is trying to locate over 200 birds in 85 families, all in one day!

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A Rare and Amazing Flower

As I was going for a sunset walk one evening I spotted a flower that I never thought I would get to see. I was so excited that I got up before sunrise to go photograph it the next morning. Meet the Dicerandra frutescens, aka Lake Placid Scrub Balm, one of the rarest plants at Archbold with one of the most amazing pollination stories. Continue reading

Tortoise Tracking

Did you know that perched atop the highest point of Highlands County, Florida, there lives a well-studied colony of Gopher Tortoises? Twice a week, an Archbold biologist locates 18 adult tortoises that are part of a study on the movements and social behaviors of this threatened species. But how does she find 18 tortoises in a field the size of a baseball diamond? Keep on reading to find out! Continue reading

Bird Battle!

You never know what you’ll observe during a walk at Archbold. As I was walking around the Explorer’s Loop one morning, I noticed some commotion in the distance. Looking with my binoculars, I saw a Blue Jay and a juvenile (young) Red-headed Woodpecker harassing an American Kestrel. I’m so glad that I was carrying my camera, because the battle about to begin was epic. Continue reading

Controlled Chaos

When I got back to my room yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find my face covered in black soot. My eyes still stung from the  smoke and my cheeks felt slightly stiff from so many tears drying on them under the intense heat of fire. I put down my camera, which had been damaged by either smoke or heat, and took off my blackened Nomex jacket, which smelled strongly of burnt palmetto. I had participated in my first controlled burn.  Continue reading