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

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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Update from the Field: Gearing Up for Another Busy Fall Field Season!

FNAI staff are in the field year-round, but fall and spring are especially busy times.  That looks to be especially true this year, with FNAI biologists working in at least 27 different sites across 24 counties over the next few months!

This fall's fieldwork includes ecological sampling to inform land management, natural community mapping to reflect restoration efforts, rare plant surveys and monitoring, invasive plants surveys, and surveys for reptiles and amphibians.  

Our partners for these projects include the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy, among others.

FNAI has recently hired three skilled field biologists to support these efforts.  Data from these projects informs the efforts of conservation land managers around the state, and helps build our Element Occurrence database of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.

When it comes to science to inform conservation, FNAI has the state of Florida covered!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Online Form Available to Submit Rare Species Observations to FNAI

This week FNAI finalized a new online data submission form (accessible from any device here) that allows users to submit their observations of rare plants and animals that FNAI tracks.  Observations will be reviewed by FNAI scientists and then imported into our Biotics database of rare species occurrences (what we call element occurrences or EOs) where they will be made available to natural resource managers to support conservation efforts.  Your data may be used to create a new EO record or it may be included as an update of an existing record if the species has already been documented in the vicinity. 

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Photo by Dan Hipes.
FNAI’s element occurrence data set (FLEO) serves as the best single source of rare species occurrence locations in the Florida and is used to inform the work of resource managers, non-profits, planners, and consultants statewide.  Ensuring that your observations are incorporated into FLEO is the best step you can take to make sure that they are used to support conservation. You can find the form by following the “Submit Data” link on our website, or by just clicking here.  If you have any question comments or suggestions get in touch with Frank Price, FNAI data manager.

If you have more than a dozen or so observations to submit you’ll also want to contact Frank, and he can work with you to get you data incorporated into our database as efficiently as possible.   For incidental observations, or small data sets, the new form should work great! 

On a mobile device the form will look like this. Just fill it out and Submit Entry!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Florida Nature Almanac: An Anadromous Migration

Illustration by Duane Raver.

In February, Alabama Shad (Alosa alabamae) began their migration of over 100 miles, from the Gulf of Mexico up the Apalachicola River to the Chattahoochee area, where they will spawn.  Shad are an anadromous species.  This means that, like northern salmon, spawning occurs in freshwater rivers but adults spend most of their lives in the salt waters of the Gulf.

FNAI scientists monitor research on the status and trends in the Florida population.  Historically, shad spawned in rivers across the northern Gulf Coast from the Mississippi to the Suwannee and were abundant enough to support a commercial fishery for them in Apalachicola.  In recent years, spawning in Florida has been limited to the Apalachicola River system.  The Florida population is ranked S2, meaning that shad are rare and vulnerable to extinction in the state.  Scientists believe declines in shad abundance are mainly due to dams which block the upstream migration of spawning fish.  
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists capture, tag, and release adult Alabama Shad to monitor movement and aid in the development of accurate population estimates.  Once a portion of the shad population is tagged and released, biologists can later catch more fish and use the percentage of fish that are caught with tags to estimate the size of the entire shad population.  Photo by Rick Long, FWC.

The Nature Conservancy has a great post on efforts to operate the Jim Woodruff dam on the Apalachicola River in a way that should help to increase spawning success:  Conservation Locking at Jim Woodruff Dam.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Butterfly Conservation in North America

Dukes' Skipper                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Dean Jue

A recent book, Butterfly Conservation in North America: Efforts to help save our charismatic microfauna, edited by Dr. Jaret Daniels of the University of Florida, is unique in its geographic and species focus-- butterfly conservation in North America-- and  emphasis on efforts to protect all North American butterfly species rather than just a few bellwether species such as the monarch.  A recent review in the Journal of Insect Conservation states that the new book delivers practical advice on butterfly conservation while being informative and free of jargon.  One of its nine chapters highlights FNAI’s recent development of a rare butterfly database.  Written by Dean Jue, staff scientist with FNAI and the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center (FREAC), the chapter includes a detailed discussion of the challenges and problems encountered in developing such a database and possible ways to resolve those issues.
Dean Jue and citizen scientists surveying for rare butterflies at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Sally Jue 

In the mid-2000s, FNAI took action to expand its rare species database to include more comprehensive data on invertebrates, and hired a full-time invertebrate biologist to help accomplish this goal.  In addition, Dean Jue obtained six years of state wildlife grant (SWG) funding from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to survey Florida conservation lands specifically for rare butterflies.   With volunteer time providing the required SWG match, FNAI staff developed a state-wide, coordinated survey methodology utilizing citizen scientists to accomplish this task.  Over one hundred citizen scientists participated in this project.  As a result of their efforts, the number of FNAI database records for rare Florida butterflies increased from fewer than two dozen in 2006 to more than 400 records in 2015.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Young's Deepdigger Scarab Beetle

© DT Almquist 2016

This is Young's Deepdigger Scarab Beetle (Peltotrupes youngi), which is mostly active from November to April, and we are highlighting this species because it is very active now and because we have recently received distributional information about it. It only lives in a very small area in Florida in and near Ocala National Forest primarily in open, well-managed, scrub habitat. 

© Machele White 2016

The related Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle (Peltotrupes profundus), above, is known from surrounding areas in xeric (very dry) habitat in the northern Florida peninsula. 

Image courtesy of Henry Howden and the Scarabs newsletter

The above image is of Henry Howden, who was the world expert on the family of Earth-boring Scarabs, standing  in a hole that he dug to excavate a Deepdigger Scarab's burrow to learn more about its biology. These beetles dig burrows about 6 feet deep, and sometimes down to 10 feet, which is pretty impressive since it’s only about ¾ of an inch long! It provisions its burrow, where is lays its eggs, with pine needles, pine cones, and leaves.  Adult diet is unknown, but they have been recorded under a nibbled-on mushroom, under horse dung, captured in pitfall traps baited with dung, and will gobble down moistened dry cat food in captivity.

© DT Almquist 2016

Fresh burrow mounds of Deepdigger Scarabs have a "chunky" texture to them because the beetle loosens sand at the bottom and then pushes it all the way up the burrow and out the entrance.  

© DT Almquist 2016

Although they have somewhat impressive mandibles ("jaws"), I have never had a Deepdigger Scarab try to bite me and I think that this one just posed nicely for me because it wants me to put it back down so that it can get some more food.  

Many thanks to Paul Moler for sending me these interesting and beautiful beetles so that I could get pictures of them and write about them.

© DT Almquist 2016                                                                                The End

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Noteworthy Discoveries: Rare Plant Finds in the Florida Panhandle

Ann Johnson, FNAI community ecologist, has been busy this fall season looking for rare plants at Box R Wildlife Management Area under a contract with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  A rare plant survey was last conducted on the site back in 2007, and a lot has changed since then!  FWC management activities have focused on thinning densely planted pine trees, and the application of prescribed fire to restore former flatwoods and prairies.   

Flatwoods at sunrise, Box-R Wildlife Management Area, Franklin & Gulf Counties.  Photo by Amy Jenkins.

Ann’s efforts and sharp eyes have found two rare plants never before documented on Box R, both of which depend on frequent fire to bloom and persist.  Pine-woods aster (Eurybia spinulosa) is a small herb found only in mesic and wet pine flatwoods in the central Florida Panhandle.  This species is considered to be critically endangered due to its rarity, limited range, and threats to its habitat.  Wiregrass gentian (Gentiana pennelliana) is a rare winter-blooming species with showy white petals, occurring in open wet prairies.    

Wiregrass gentian (Gentiana pennelliana).  Photo by Gary Knight.

Cathy Ricketts, biologist at the nearby Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area, also found this beautiful plant growing in a restoration wet prairie location.  We are hoping for more exciting field finds this spring!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Frost Flowers

Photo by Amy Jenkins

Frost flowers (also known as ice flowers, ice blossoms, and frost castles) are delicate ribbons of ice that can form when the air temperatures are freezing but the ground remains unfrozen.  Longitudinal cracks form along the stems of some plant species because of freezing sap.  Water from the ground is then drawn out through the cracks in the stem and freezes upon contact with the air.  These beautifully intricate ice structures swirl and curl into flower-like structures as the water oozes out through the cracks and freezes.  FNAI scientists observed these frost flowers along the edge of a marsh a few days ago on a cold morning at Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area in Wakulla and Jefferson Counties.  Be on the watch for them on cold mornings!!

Photo by Amy Jenkins