Historically most of north Florida and the southeastern coastal plain was covered by pine savanna—open woodland with widely-spaced longleaf pines and a dense cover of grasses, low-growing shrubs, and herbaceous plants. These conditions supported a vast diversity of plants and animals. The ecosystem was protected from invading hardwood trees by periodic droughts and frequent wildfires. When pine savannas were converted to commercial forests, longleaf pines were replaced with faster-growing and densely-planted slash pines, and fires were suppressed. These pine plantations and invading deciduous forest resulted in the loss of much of the natural diversity. Management underway at the refuge seeks to recreate natural driving forces and recover lost biological diversity.
In the afternoon following the talk, those interested are invited to join the presenter and others at the refuge’s new Tram Ridge Trail to see firsthand the changes underway.
Russ Hall is a biologist who at different stages of his career has been a college professor, a research scientist, and a manager with both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. He came to Florida in 1997 to direct the USGS Florida Caribbean Science Center. Since retiring in 2007 and sharing his time between Cedar Key and Gainesville, he has been a student, learning all he can about the alluring biology of north Florida and the Big Bend region. He has been active in the Friends of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and last month began a one-year term as the organization’s President.