Developing Ecological Criteria for Prescribed Fire in South Florida Pine Rockland Ecosystems

James R. Snyder, U. S. Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center
Michael S. Ross, Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University
Suzanne Koptur, Florida International University, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Jay Sah, Florida International University, Southeast Environmental Research Center

Document Type Article

Published as USGS Open File Report OF 2006-1062


The pine rocklands of South Florida, characterized by a rich herbaceous flora with many narrowly endemic taxa beneath an overstory of south Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa), are found in three areas: the Miami Rock Ridge of southeastern peninsular Florida, the Lower Florida Keys, and slightly elevated portions of the southern Big Cypress National Preserve. Fire is an important element in these ecosystems, since in its absence the pine canopy is likely to be replaced by dense hardwoods, resulting in loss of the characteristic pineland herb flora. Prescribed fire has been used in Florida Keys pine forests since the creation of the National Key Deer Refuge (NKDR), with the primary aim of reducing fuels. Because fire can also be an effective tool in shaping ecological communities, we conducted a 4-year research study which explored a range of fire management options in NKDR. The intent of the study was to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service and other land managers with information regarding when and where to burn in order to perpetuate these unique forests.