Wildlife and Ecology Research Projects
Paleoecology of the Aucilla River Basin.
systematics, ecology, and management.
The southeastern U. S. is the worldwide center of familial diversity
and probable geographical region where salamanders evolved. Florida,
having 27 species, is abundantly endowed with salamanders and yet they
still are poorly studied. Little life history and other ecological information
is available about them, but they are very sensitive ecological indicators
and should be thoroughly studied and monitored. An indication of the
poor state of knowledge about this important group of animals is the
fact that there are at least five additional species of salamanders
in Florida that have not been formally recognized and are new to science.
One of CPI's most important research projects is to rectify the problem
of lack of knowledge about these very important animals. Following is
some of the progress we have made and are underway with in this regard:
pholeter. Several research papers have been published
on this species' biology and a first-draft manuscript has been completed
on its life history, ecology, and food habits.
A ten-year drift fence study on the life history, ecology, and distribution of this rare and
declining species was funded by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Forest Service, and
Florida Department of Transporation. A large monograph on this project is in preparation,
to include five years of data on larval phenology of the Striped Newt in temporary ponds, and
hydrological analysis of some 26 ponds in which the Striped Newt and Gopher Frog breed.
Altogether, some 30 species of amphibians and reptiles utilize ponds in the Munson Sandhills
where the study has been underway. An alarming decline of the use of Munson Sandhills ponds
by the Striped Newt has been documented. Possible causes of the decline and suggestions for
management of the sandhills will be discussed.
CPI has published several important papers on the biology of this
species. Based upon our work and that of others, the flatwood salamander
in 1999 was listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened
species. We plan a drift fence study of the immigration, emigration,
and larval ecology and phenology in selected temporary ponds on
the Apalachicola National Forest. In addition, we plan to study
the use of longleaf pine terrestrial habitat by the metamorphs and
adults, and the population response of the species to prescribed
burning at different seasons.
auriculatus. Vital research on this species' biology
and conservation has been completed and several important research
papers and manuscripts have been generated, including the SSAR Catalogue
Account and "Contributions on the ecology of the Southern Dusky
Salamander, Desmognathus auriuclatus (Holbrook) in Florida, Georgia,
and Alabama." In 1998 field work supported by a grant from Eglin
Air Force Base lead to the discovery that the southern dusky salamander
appears to have declined dramatically since the mid-1970s and has
been extirpated from many parts of its original geographic range
(Virginia to east Texas). This is the first amphibian in the eastern
U.S. for which a range-wide, unexplained decline has been documented
and the first salamander to merit declining amphibian status similar
to that of many frogs.
An important research paper about this is scheduled to be published in the March issue of Southeastern Naturalist, entitled "Declines in ravine-inhabiting dusky salamanders of the southeastern U. S. Coastal Plain." Research is continuing on this problem.
Although CPI has published many research papers on this genus in
Florida and adjacent states, there still is some work to do to thoroughly
understand the systematic relationships of this genus in Florida.
Having described the new species, Desmognathus apalachicolae, in
1989, apparently there is at least one other undescribed species
still in the Florida panhandle. Biochemical and morphological research
and field work are underway to clarify the status of this genus.
quadridigitata complex. Field work by CPI biologists
in the past two years has revealed that there are three species
masquerading under the same name in Florida.
FSU graduate student Kenny Wray is working with Bruce Means and other members of his Ph. D. committee to elucidate the phylogenetic relationships of this large complex of populations from east Texas to North Carolina. Kenny is using the techniques of DNA analysis of these populations to acquire evolutionary insights.
comprehensive technical monograph on the "Salamanders of Florida"
or "Salamanders of the southeastern U. S. Coastal Plain"
is sorely needed. Over the years since 1968, B. Means has amassed
a tremendous amount of information on the biology of Coastal Plain
salamanders, including an alcohol preserved collection of about
20,000 specimens. This is a major project that CPI would like to
seek funding for and complete in the next five years.
of fire on amphibians and reptiles.
1982 Means and Campbell published the only review entitled, "Effects
of prescribed burning on amphibians and reptiles." This paper was
buried in an obscure symposium (Prescribed fire and wildlife in
Southern forests of the Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute,
Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina) and should be updated
with 16 years of new data and published in a more visible outlet.
A worldwide literature search through 1994 has been completed, and
further review and a publication is planned for the near future.
Food Web Relationships of Southeastern US Large Snakes.
A major research goal of the Coastal Plains Institute is to study the
ecology of all the large snakes of the longleaf pine ecosystem and determine
their importance in the larger food web of the all the vertebrates.
The nine species of snakes are the gray rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta),
red rat snake (E. guttata), coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), black
racer (Coluber constrictor), pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus), indigo
snake (Drymarchon corais), eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus),
eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), and cottonmouth
(Agkistrodon piscivorus). Unfortunately, the indigo snake has been largely
extirpated from panhandle Florida. Snakes may have a much greater role
in the population dynamics of other vertebrates (such as ground nesting
birds and small mammals, for instance) than wildlife biologists realize.
With densities of up to several of these predators per acre in many
cases, these large snakes have been unassessed in their potential positive
and negative impacts. Snakes take rats that feed upon the eggs of ground-nesting
birds, for instance, but on the other hand kingsnakes and ratsnakes
feed upon eggs, themselves, and upon birds. Moreover, kingsnakes and
indigo snakes feed upon snakes that feed upon other vertebrates. What
sorts of ecological responses have taken place following the extirpation
of the indigo snake, how do snakes affect ground-nesting birds, and
dozens more questions are the focus of our studies. Some of our progress
Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
long-term study of the world's largest rattlesnake was undertaken
in 1976 on Tall Timbers Research Station in northern Leon County,
Florida. Research on this species has been supported by the
Coastal Plains Institute since 1984. Presently a flatwoods population
is under radiotelemetry study near our Sumatra property in Liberty
County, Florida, and it is planned to inaugurate a study on
a population inhabiting a mature beech/magnolia forest.
write-up of a 20-year study of the life history and ecology
is close to being completed as a book-length monograph to be
entitled "Diamonds in the rough: natural history of the eastern
diamondback rattlesnake." CPI is presently seeking a publisher.
utilization, home range, population density, and the effects
of collecting are being assessed on Little St. Simons Island,
Georgia. Funding is through CPI and some is being sought through
the Georgia DNR.
utilization, home range, and population density in flatwoods
habitat is underway utilizing radiotelemetry in Compartment
100 on the Apalachicola National Forest.
(Agkistrodon piscivorus) From 1976-1984, a population
of the cottonmouth was studied in the Red Hills on Tall Timbers
Research Station utilizing radiotelemetry. CPI now has Coastal Lowlands
populations in flatwoods and river swamps under study near its facility
in the Apalachicola National Forest, also using radiotelemetry.
Results of all these studies are planned for a book on the species'
kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus) o Culminating research
on the populations of kingsnake across the Florida Panhandle, a
research paper entitled, "Pattern variation in the kingsnake, Lampropeltis
getulus, across the Apalachicola Region of Florida," has been published and is entitled, Biogeography and pattern variation of kingsnakes, Lampropeltis getula, in the Apalachicola region of Florida. You can access this research paper by clicking on this URL: http://www.calacademy.org/research/herpetology/ch/ch/2001/5/index.htm. Drs. Kenneth Krysko and Walter Judd published a follow-up second paper that can be read here (PDF file).
and the remaining large species o Limited knowledge about
the other snakes has been accumulating. Unfortunately, the research
that was underway on Tall Timbers Research Station was cut short
in 1984. However, plans to resume it in the near future are underway
funds are being sought to do a controlled study of the
use by vertebrates of root cavities formed by rotting and/or burned
out bases of longleaf pines and other trees.
In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, B. Means worked the bottom
sediments of the Aucilla and Wacissa rivers for vertebrate fossils.
Following that time, he and Harley Means and Ryan Means have accumulated
a large data set of the occurrence of living vertebrates in the same
drainage basin, which heads up in the Red Hills region of southern Georgia
and flows through the Florida Big Bend. Presently CPI is working up
all this material in the attempt to do a paleoecological study comparing
the present-day vertebrate fauna with that of the recent past (through
the end of the Pleistocene about 10,000 years ago). This study will
compare all the vertebrates, small and large, that have lived in this
drainage basin over the past 15,000 years and try to advance some reasonable
hypotheses about 1) what impacts the extinctions have had on the present
flora and fauna, and 2) how and why have the surviving species been
able to survive.
Results of a 17-year transplant experiment.
In 1980 B. Means transplanted wiregrass, Aristida aristida, onto
burn-study plots on Tall Timbers Research Station. In the summer and
fall of 1999 Trina Mitchell surveyed the site and mapped all the new
plants that have recruited there in the past 20 years.
Tom Ostertag is working with Bruce Means to do a second follow-up census and publish the results. This will be
the first research paper to describe the results of wiregrass establishment
over such a long time period. Research paper planned for submission
Isolated Water Bodies (Temporary Ponds).
Twenty-five to thirty-five percent of the
amphibians and reptiles living in any longleaf pine forest are obligately
dependent upon small isolated water bodies (temporary ponds) in their
life cycles. Beginning in 1968, B. Means has seined and dipnetted temporary
ponds widely in the north Florida-south Georgia area for the purpose
of determining the life cycles of many of the vertebrates using such
water bodies. Then, in 1994, Means initiated long-term intensive studies
of 250 temporary ponds in the Munson Sandhills physiographic region
south of Tallahassee Florida. This research is funded by 1) the U. S.
Forest Service, 2) the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 3) the Florida
Department of Transportation. Three subprojects of the larger study
Conservancy and Regional Biodiversity Conservation Activities
- To work out the breeding cycles of the gopher
frog (Rana capito) and striped newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus)
in the Munson Sandhills. Both species of amphibians are under consideration
by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for threatened status.
- To determine the seasonal and annual use of
Study Pond #1 by 31 species of amphibians and reptiles, and to assess
the impacts on their populations of U. S. Highway 319 adjacent to
the eastern side of the pond.
- To determine whether certain silvicultural
practices are harmful to the biodiversity of the Munson Sandhills.
property longleaf pine/seepage bog restoration
In 1994 the Coastal Plains Institute acquired a superb 80-acre in-holding
in the Apalachicola National Forest about 3 miles NW of Sumatra,
Liberty County, Florida. Unfortunately, the dry uplands (about 40
acres) had been bedded and planted to slash pine about 1980, but
our tract is surrounded by the very best stand of second-growth
longleaf pine/wiregrass (by the Forest Service's own reckoning,
Compartments 98 & 100) left on the national forest. In addition,
it has 3 small (2-5 acres) seepage bogs, joins a 150-acre wet flat,
and has a blackwater stream running through it. It is our goal to
fully restore this site to its natural conditions, and to build
a small facility there to serve as our biological research station
and environmental education center.
Bay/Crown Pointe Preserve
In 1996, the Coastal Plains Institute acquired a superb 170-acre
white-topped pitcher plant bog on the eastern shores of Perdido
Bay in Escambia County, Florida (west of Pensacola). We acquired
this property as a mitigation package that allowed a developer to
create a subdivision on about 20 acres of wetlands in exchange for
giving CPI the ownership and a small endowment to assist in our
management over time. CPI signed a conservation easement with the
Florida Department of Environmental Protection in which our mission
is to restore and maintain in perpetuity the wet flat to its presettlement
condition. Mainly, this means applying prescribed fire frequently
to suppress the evergreen shrubs (especially titi) that have invaded
it. We have already divided the property into 40-acre management
compartments and prescribe burned them for the first time in 1997.
Coastal Plains Institute is looking for more such tracts to own
and manage. We are available to receive mitigation lands, and looking