National Park Service

South Florida/Caribbean I&M Network (SFCN)

Forest Ecotones & Community Structure Monitoring

Protocol

The SFCN forest community monitoring protocol is currently under development.

Resource Briefs, Reports, and Data

There are currently no additional SFCN resource briefs, reports, or data concerning this monitoring topic.

For more information contact:

Kevin Whelan, Ph D.

Importance/Issues

Ecotones are transition zones between habitats and are generally dynamic locations for flora and fauna. Due to the transition between habitats, tracking the position of ecotones can indicate their long-term trajectory. Understanding the physical conditions which drive ecotone location change is critical for resource management. Ecotones are expected to move, for example, in response to changes in water management, sea level rise, and fire management. Both hammocks and pinelands are important habitats for rare and endemic plant species and for wildlife. Hammocks are spatially limited vegetation communities within a matrix of pinelands. Pinelands are fire adapted whereas hammock species are less so. In the absence of fire, hammock species expand into pinelands, though fire can reduce or eliminate hammocks. Fire management is critical to maintaining a habitat balance. Invasive species could also impact relationships between these habitats.

Monitoring Objectives

  • Are ecotones shifting due to physical conditions (e.g., hydrology, climate change, anthropogenic factors, sea level rise, fire, episodic meteorological and storm wave events, etc.)?
  • What are the status and trends in plant community composition and structure?

Status & Trends

Figure 1. The gallery forest monitoring plot was completed and two more long-term forest monitoring plots were established in SARI in FY13. Using the restricted stratified random sampling method, the basin moist forest plot was established and sampled, and the semi-deciduous forest plot was established and partly sampled
Figure 1. The gallery forest monitoring plot was completed and two more long-term forest monitoring plots were established in SARI in FY13. Using the restricted stratified random sampling method, the basin moist forest plot was established and sampled, and the semi-deciduous forest plot was established and partly sampled.

In FY13, SFCN continued the process of site selection for core forest monitoring plots. In FY12 an oversample draw of points was done for Salt River Bay National Historical Park & Ecological Preserve (SARI) using generalized random tessellation stratified (GRTS) methodology. This was found to be inadequate for a number of reasons, so the sampling design for site selection was changed to restricted stratified random sampling. This sampling design was used to establish two more permanent forest monitoring plots in SARI, bringing the number of established forest monitoring plots in SARI to five. The gallery forest plot in SARI which was unfinished in FY12 was completed, and one basin moist forest plot was established and sampled in FY13. Another plot was established in semi-deciduous forest and one-quarter of the plot sampled (Figure 1). The Forest Monitoring protocol is being worked on and we completed the ecotonal monitoring digitizing SOP, as well as the tree and sapling portion of the database for core plots. The seedling portion of the database and the reporting analysis SOP needs to be completed. The SFCN staff spent 338 field hours working on this part of the vital sign in 2013 (FY13).

SFCN will install the ecotone markers along the Shark Slough ecotone line and install and sample vegetation transects at the Ochopee and Shark Slough ecotone areas. This will conclude initial baseline data collection for this portion of the Forest Vegetation Monitoring Protocol. SFCN will also continue establishing forest structure plots in network park units and continue collecting data for the Forest Vegetation Monitoring Protocol. Legacy plot evaluation and monitoring will continue as time permits. The first draft of the Forest Vegetation Monitoring Protocol is anticipated to be finished at the end of FY14.

Legacy Vegetation Monitoring: Everglades National Park (EVER) – Hurricane Andrew Recovery Team (HART) Vegetation Plots

Figure 2. SFCN Community Ecologist Kevin Whelan recording data at a HART vegetation plot at Pahayokee in EVER
Figure 2. SFCN Community Ecologist Kevin Whelan recording data at a HART vegetation plot at Pahayokee in EVER.

In a collaborative effort, SFCN and Florida International University (FIU) located and re-established the 12 Hurricane Andrew Recovery Team (HART) vegetation plots in FY12 (Figure 2). In FY13, SFCN supported the re-sampling effort of these plots. The HART was formed to assess the damage to non-tidal, upland forest communities in the southern Everglades immediately following Hurricane Andrew. This project assessed damage and short term recovery in 3 plots each in hammock, pineland, bayhead, and cypress dome communities. Communities were assessed for an array of metrics including tree damage, tree recovery, changes in seedling recruitment, changes in soil nutrient availability, and others. The project was originally headed by Dr. Suzanne Koptur, Dr. Steven Oberbauer, and Dr. Kevin Whelan, and was conducted for three consecutive years following the hurricane's impact. Some additional data was collected 10 years post-Hurricane Andrew.

The plots of the HART project are being re-established 20 years after Hurricane Andrew in order to determine which impacted communities suffered lasting discernible effects. The project is being led by FIU doctoral candidate Jeremy May with continuing support from Dr. Steven Oberbauer, Dr. Suzanne Koptur, and Dr. Kevin Whelan, under NPS permit number EVER-2012-SCI-0031. The project's re-establishment will revisit all sites and previously studied metrics, and will also include a shade/nutrient manipulation experiment on seedling recruitment conducted at the Florida International University campus. The combination of past and present aspects of this project will help describe how hurricane damage affects each of these communities and ultimately how they recover over short- and long-term time periods. In FY14, the SFCN will continue to provide assistance in the resampling of the HART plots.

Legacy Vegetation Monitoring: Biscayne National Park (BISC) – Locating and Resampling of Permanent Forest Plots

Figure 3. SFCN crew resampling BISC tree plots on Old Rhodes Key
Figure 3. SFCN crew resampling BISC tree plots on Old Rhodes Key.

All four long-term forest plots on southern Old Rhodes Key were sampled in BISC in FY13 (Figure 3). Initial analyses of the southern Old Rhodes Key plots indicate a decrease of 46 stems for the 1,600 m2 sampled. This initial analysis suggests a mature forest experiencing general thinning, where tree recruitment rate has fallen below tree mortality rate, and in many cases trees are becoming larger. Pigeon plum (Coccoloba diversifolia) had the highest density and basal area in the 2013 census, but also displayed the greatest decrease in both density and basal area from the 1997 census. The decrease in pigeon plum density is not surprising, as this is the most abundant tree species on the island, and its numbers are thinning out as the forest continues to mature. Crabwood (Ateramnus lucidus) and white stopper (Eugenia axillaris) also had high densities in the 2013 census. In addition, the four long-term monitoring plots on the south end of Totten Key were located and re-sampled in FY13. The four monitoring plots on the north end of Totten Key were located and one of these plots was resampled in FY13. In 2014 (FY14) SFCN will attempt to re-sample the three remaining long-term monitoring plots located on the north end of Totten Key and begin re-sampling the eight plots on Sands Key.

Legacy Vegetation Monitoring: Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) – Locating and Resampling of Permanent Forest Plots

No sampling occurred in FY13. In FY14, SFCN will attempt to locate, assess, and resample the seven remaining plots. The work planned for FY14 will conclude our initial resampling of historic plots in BICY. The return period for revisiting these plots has yet to be determined, but will most likely be every 10 years.

Legacy Vegetation Monitoring: Virgin Islands National Park (VIIS) – Locating Permanent Forest Plots

Figure 4. In Virgin Islands National Park, four permanent forest monitoring plots from the 1980s were re-located for possible inclusion of SFCN legacy vegetation monitoring sites. One plot was located at Caneel Hill, one at Hawksnest Bay, One at L'Esperance, and one at Bordeaux Mountain
Figure 4. In Virgin Islands National Park, four permanent forest monitoring plots from the 1980s were re-located for possible inclusion of SFCN legacy vegetation monitoring sites. One plot was located at Caneel Hill, one at Hawksnest Bay, One at L'Esperance, and one at Bordeaux Mountain.

On a trip to VIIS, SFCN met with local botanist Eleanor Gibney to locate old permanent forest plots from the Man and the Biosphere research effort of the 1980s. Four permanent plots were established in the 1980s at Bordeaux Mountain, L'Esperance, Hawksnest Bay, and Caneel Hill. SFCN was successful in re-locating all four plots and assessing their condition. These plots will be evaluated for possible inclusion of SFCN Legacy Vegetation Monitoring sites. The SFCN spent 337 hrs in the field on all of the legacy plot sampling combined.

Approach

SFCN in cooperation with Jenny Richards of FIU have hired a post-doc to work on vegetation monitoring protocols. SFCN is developing a "Forest Ecotones and Community Structure" protocol which will detail its approach both with new monitoring by SFCN and regarding coordinating with existing programs. Some key points include:

  • SFCN will coordinate with existing programs where appropriate; such as fire monitoring plots in Long Pine Key in Everglades and long-term plots on VIIS and BISC. These existing programs will need to be evaluated for statistical rigor, compatibility of objectives and willingness to share reports and/or data.
  • SFCN will evaluate ecotonal change using both aerial photography monitoring and field monitoring via belt transects or a series of plots set up along a longer transect. Revisit time is likely to be once every 5 years or after a major disturbance event and administered in a rotating panel.

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Last Updated: February 16, 2017 Contact Webmaster