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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Update from the Field: Investigating Gopher Tortoise Burrows

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).  Photo by Dan Hipes.

FNAI has worked with various state and federal land managers over the last 22 years to conduct gopher tortoise surveys using burrow scopes.   Currently, we are working with the US Forest Service to do surveys of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in two high quality sandhills, the Munson Hills area of the Apalachicola National Forest and Riverside Island in the Ocala National Forest.  FNAI biologists use a burrow scoping camera, exploring each burrow encountered, to determine tortoise occupancy and record the identity of any commensal animals present.  Dozens of species of vertebrates and invertebrates inhabit gopher tortoise burrows, many of which are obligate commensals (species that require gopher tortoise burrows as habitat).  The beautiful and rare Carolina gopher frog (Lithobates capito) is a common inhabitant documented in high quality habitat.

Gopher frogs (Lithobates capito) and gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as seen through a burrow scoping camera.

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrow in the Ocala National Forest, Marion County.  Photo by Amy Jenkins

FNAI biologist using a burrow scoping camera to investigate a tortoise burrow.  Photo by Paul Russo.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Species in Focus: Malachite

Photo by Dean Jue.

Named after the bright green mineral, the malachite (Siproeta stelenes) is a striking butterfly species found in south Florida, south of Lake Okeechobee.  It may be found in tropical hammocks and overgrown citrus groves where its host plant (Brown’s blechum, Blechum pyramidatum) is available.  Commonly found from Brazil through Mexico, the malachite originally strayed into Florida from the Caribbean before becoming established in the 1970s.  Populations were reduced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and again by cold weather in the early 2010s.

The malachite is one of 83 species of butterflies and moths tracked by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Heritage Global Rank:    G5 (globally secure)
Heritage State Rank:       S2 (imperiled in Florida)
Federal/State Listing:     none
Element Occurrences:   4 (documented sub-populations)

Find out more about Florida’s rich butterfly fauna in the FNAI butterfly gallery.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Value of a Natural Heritage Network: Florida and Colorado Heritage Programs Exchange Staff to Share Ideas

Although FNAI operates as an independent science organization housed at Florida State University, we benefit from membership in an extensive natural heritage network:  programs like FNAI are found across all 50 U.S. states, throughout Canada, and several Latin American countries, under the coordination of NatureServe, a “Network Connecting Science with Conservation.”

NatureServe Network members span most of North and South America.

Recently, staff from the Florida and Colorado heritage programs got a chance to walk in each others’ shoes.  FNAI hosted Gabrielle Smith, a GIS Specialist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), for a few days in January 2015, and CNHP returned the favor by welcoming Jon Oetting, Conservation Planner at FNAI, in February.  Both visits involved meetings with a variety of staff from the host program to learn how each group tackles similar projects and tasks differently.

Jon Oetting presents an overview of FNAI conservation planning projects to CNHP staff in Fort Collins, CO.

 “I learned a lot and have several ideas already for ways FNAI could benefit from CNHP’s example,” Jon noted after the exchange, “I was really impressed with the skills, experience, and energy their staff all bring to their work, and I had a lot of fun getting to know everyone.” 

Some ideas FNAI plans to follow up on after the exchange include:  new ways to promote county inventory work, ideas for funding program infrastructure not typically covered in contract work, and approaches to networking & outreach to partners that have proven successful in Colorado.

We're Not in Florida Anymore!  Jon visited a natural area near Fort Collins that is home to Bell’s twinpod (Physaria bellii), a rare plant tracked by CNHP.

“It really just reinforced what I’ve felt since probably the first NatureServe conference I attended,” Jon continued, “that the greatest strength of this network is how many great people are out there doing similar work and dealing with similar issues.”