Upland Pine, Blackwater River State Forest. Photo by Gary Knight

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Update from the Field: Striped Newts (Notophthalmus perstriatus)

Paedomorphic striped newt, photo by Dan Hipes.
FNAI scientists conducted dip-net surveys for Striped Newts (Notophthalmus perstriatus) at potential breeding sites in Apalachicola National Forest from March through May of 2017. The striped newt is a small, semi-terrestrial salamander found in sandhill, scrub, and similar xeric habitats in Georgia and Florida, typically breeding in shallow, isolated, ephemeral wetlands. The striped newt is considered a federal candidate for listing as a threatened species (June 7, 2011 Federal Register). After many years of no evidence of breeding striped new ts were presumed to be extirpated in the Apalachicola National Forest; however, a few individuals were found during the spring of 2016 and winter of 2017, renewing hope for the population.

Striped newt male and female aquatic adults, photo by Dale Jackson.
FNAI scientists conducted dip-net surveys using the Standard Protocol For Ephemeral Wetland Dip-Netting Surveys, a method developed by FWC. The scientists surveyed 176 sites, 80 of the 176 ponds holding enough water to sample for striped newts.

Typical striped newt breeding site in ANF, photo by Dave Almquist.
Although many other amphibians and reptiles were captured during surveying, there were no striped newts captured during the effort, providing additional evidence of the decline of the striped newt population in Apalachicola National Forest.  We hope to continue searching for this secretive member of our local sandhill community.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

White-top Pitcherplant (Sarracenia leucophylla)

Pitcher plants have very specialized leaves that form elongated conical tubes. They are carnivorous, and capture their prey, primarily insects, by drowning them in these structures. We have two species of pitcher plant moths, genus Exyra, in Florida that are not only able to avoid capture, but eat the pitcher plants.

White-top Pitcherplant (Sarracenia leucophylla), photo by Gary Knight.

FNAI scientists recently observed pitcherplant mining moths (E. semicrocea) at two state forests in white-top pitcherplants (Sarracenia leucophylla), a globally vulnerable species which is restricted to the SE region from the Florida panhandle to southeastern Mississippi.

Pitcherplant mining moths (Exyra semicrocea), photo by Amy Jenkins.

These moths use the pitchers for food, shelter, and protection from predators. They live most of their life in the pitchers as caterpillars, slowly eating the insides of the walls, but leaving the outer surfaces intact and even repairing unintentional holes using silk. Younger caterpillars protect themselves by causing the tops of the pitchers to close up like a cap and older ones use silk to make a net-like barrier across the opening of the pitcher. The caterpillar overwinters inside of a pitcher and then goes to different pitcher to make a cocoon in, sticking itself to the side with silk after making a drain hole at the bottom of the pitcher. Adults hide in the pitchers during the day, feed from extrafloral nectaries on the pitchers towards dusk, and then fly out to mate and/or lay eggs. Much of the information about this species is known from research by Jessica D. Stephens and Debbie R. Folkerts (published here).
White-top Pitcherplant (Sarracenia leucophylla), photo by Amy Jenkins.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Update from the Field: Rare Plant Monitoring

FNAI botanists are working with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week to monitor populations of the federally-threatened Florida Skullcap (Scutellaria floridana) in the Apalachicola National Forest. The permanent plots will be monitored before and after restoration activities.  In addition to Florida skullcap density, species composition and cover in all forest strata (canopy, midstory, groundcover) are being recorded.

All photos by Amy Jenkins

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Noteworthy Discoveries: Jingle Bell Orchid in Hendry County

Jingle bell Orchid                                            Photo by Michelle Smith

During recent field surveys to document rare plants at
Spirit of the Wild Wildlife Management Area, FNAI botanists located several thriving populations of the jingle bell orchid, (Harrisella porrecta, syn. Dendrophylax porretcus) in a strand swamp growing on branches of the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). The fruits of this tiny leafless orchid are a well-named characteristic, as they do look just like little bells. According to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, jingle bell orchid has never been collected in Hendry County, so FNAI scientists were excited to discover these populations.

               Photo by Michelle Smith

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gary Knight Retires as FNAI Director

Please join our staff in extending warm wishes to Gary Knight, who retired from FNAI last month.  Gary joined FNAI in 1990 as staff botanist, and served as Director from 1995 to the present.  Under Gary’s steady leadership, FNAI has continued to grow and thrive as one of the premier heritage programs in the NatureServe international heritage network.  Gary forged strong partnerships with key state and federal agencies and NGOs, and expanded FNAI’s role in several important conservation efforts around the state, including scientific evaluation of Florida Forever land acquisition proposals, mapping and monitoring of 2.6 million acres of natural communities on conservation lands, and creation of an invasive species database for Florida.  During Gary’s tenure FNAI scientists have added or updated approximately 21,000 documented occurrences of rare species and natural communities to our element occurrence database, for a current total of more than 35,500 occurrences across the state.  Gary was the driving force behind three major FNAI publications:  field guides to the rare plants and animals of Florida, and the Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage.  Through it all Gary fostered a supportive, team-oriented, and fun work environment for the many staff who have been part of FNAI over the past twenty years.  We will miss his leadership but wish him the best in a well-deserved retirement.

Gary will be succeeded as FNAI Director by Dan Hipes.  Dan started work with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory in 1993 as a field biologist.  He was promoted to Senior Zoologist in 1995 and has served as the Chief Scientist and primary assistant to Gary since 2001.  Dan’s experience provides for a seamless transition and continued growth in FNAI’s partnerships and influence in Florida conservation.

Silene polypetala.  Photo by Gary Knight.