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D. Bruce Means, Ph.D. Professor


Upland Ecosystems of the Big Bend--Wilderness I

Purpose: To teach students and area residents 1) what the original upland native biotic associations of the Coastal Plain were and how to recognize them; 2) what the ruderal (man-made) ecosystems are that have largely replaced them and how they got that way; and 3) how the physical forces of wind, water, fire and substrate interact to affect the local occurrence of animals and plants. The course integrates geology, meteorology, hydrology, biogeography, and ecology in an attempt to give the student an overview about the biotic character of the north Florida region, a subregion of the Coastal Plain.

The course format is centered around six all-day Saturday field trips, usually on alternate weekends, each preceded by a 3-hour evening lecture session. Students are given a twenty-question essay final exam requiring one week to complete at the end of the course.

Field trip itinerary:

Trip # 1.Tallahassee Red Hills-Tifton Uplands in northern Leon County, Florida and southern Thomas and Grady counties, Georgia. Class meets in the parking lot behind the Center at 8:30 AM. Travel to Tall Timbers Research Station. Stop #1. Agricultural field, 1-, 2-year oldfields to demonstrate plant "succession." Stop #2. Oldfield shortleaf pine/loblolly pine woodlands in 1-, 2-, 3-year burn experimental plots to demonstrate the effects of the periodicity of fire on oldfield vegetation. Stop #3. Fine fuels demonstration in shortleaf/loblolly/broomsedge association. Stop #4. Oldfield shortleaf/loblolly forest in 15-year stage with annual burning. Stop #5. Fine fuels demonstration in pure hardwood (sweetgum) litter. Stop #6. Mature Beech/Magnolia forest at Woodyard Hammock; explain dynamics of internal forest replacement, windfalls, "virgin," tropical lianas, 28 species of southern hardwoods, structural and composition contrast with pine savannah vegetation, fire history, etc. Stop #7. Bruce's pine/wiregrass plot: Longleaf, slash, shortleaf, loblolly adults and seedlings. LUNCH. Stop #8. Drive to a longleaf pine forest either Wade Longleaf Forest, Greenwood Plantation, or Melton Plantation; explain fire ecology of longleaf and associated species of plants and animals, Gopher tortoise ecosystem and ca. 100 ecological associates, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and associates, etc.

Trip #2. Apalachicola Ravines beginning in Torreya State Park and The Nature Conservancy’s Bluffs and Ravines properties in Liberty County. Demonstrate baselevelling by gully erosion in Miocene clastics then to steepheads of Sweetwater and Beaverdam creeks to demonstrate baselevelling by Florida's peculiar steephead sapping in Plio-Pleistocene sand deposits of the upper Coastal Lowlands. Stop #1. Examine from ridge crest to escarpment toe down eastern valley wall of the Apalachicola River, explaining gully erosion and Florida's unique mixture of Appalachian cove valley species and Torreya endemics, animals and plants. Stop #2. Pick up lunch materials at country store, then travel to headwater steephead of Sweetwater Creek and have lunch in steephead. Demonstrate the unique valley forming process of steephead action and begin explaining xeric-mesic-hydric slope/moisture gradient affecting animal and plant distributions. Stop #3. Beaverdam Creek; demonstrate variation in steepheads and walk out the sharp slope/moisture gradient where the following native Coastal Plain communities are ordinated in their natural relationships: xeric longleaf-scrub oak-wiregrass fire community, then xeric oak-redcedar-scrub community, then mesic beech-magnolia forest, then evergreen shrub zone, then mesic Star Anise-sweetbay forest creek wetland. Develop model for stream hardwood forest community ordination after Strahler Stream Classification system. Walk out lst order, 2nd order, 3rd order portions of Beaverdam Creek and examine slope hardwood forests. Stop #4. Rare ridge crest hardwood forest of magnolia-pignut hickory and other elements of the beech-magnolia association, naturally protected from fire. Stop #5. Walk down first order stream on Traveller’s Tract of TNC Bluffs and Ravines properties. Stop #6. Visit Alum Bluff on Nature Conservancy property.

Trip #3. Woodville Karst Plain. Stop #1. Drive along drainage from C.P.D. to stadium, out Lake Bradford Road, Springhill Road following city of Tallahassee storm runoff surface stream and conduits leading to municipal sewage treatment plants, explaining topographic-geologic features along the way. Stop #2. City of Tallahassee spray irrigation field. Stop #3. Viewing Cody Scarp at several points proceeding east on truck route. Stop #4. Blue Sink to demonstrate sinkhole, piezometric surface of Floridian Aquifer, depth of sands overlying limestone, proximity to Munson Slough and eutrophication of groundwater. Stop #5. Gopher Sink showing fossil limestone reef, collapse of subterranean cavern in dissolved conduit, depth of capping sands, slash pine silviculture, evolution of blind cave crayfish. Stop #6. Big Dismal Sink. Dark waters, isolated mesic slopes in the middle of xeric longleaf woodland, collapsed cavern, seepage escaping perched water table, mechanisms of overland dispersal of plants and animals. Stop #7. Munson Sand Hills illustrating second growth longleaf pine-scrub oak-native groundcover woodland on sandhills soils, turkey-blackjack-blujack-runner oak clonal species, sharp dipping of limestones westward/major geologic-physiographic break. Stop #8. Fisher Creek Drain showing subterranean stream capture of a blackwater creek by solution cavities in limestone terranes, groundwater recharge, cypress-tupelo gum forest. Stop #9. LUNCH at McBride's Slough showing groundwater discharge by hydraulic head, calcareous spring and stream hardwood forest. Stop #10. St Marks National Wildlife Refuge experimental burn plots to demonstrate effects of season of fire on native longleaf pine-wiregrass flatwoods community, demonstration of effects of interaction between small changes in elevation, high water table, and plants and animals to produce high beta diversity, flatwoods ponds, slash pine ecotone between longleaf pine flats and pond pine wetlands, evergreen shrub community. Stop # 11. Florida's unique sand pine-rosemary scrub community on ancient coastal dune stranded on Pleistocene terrace. Entire day compares and contrasts biota of the more youthful Coastal Lowlands physiography with older Red Hills environments of the past two field trips (i. e. the effects of limestone and calcium carbonate on topography and biota versus clastic deposits of clay and sand).

Trip #4. Apalachicola Lowlands biotic region south of Telogia Creek in Liberty County and coastal processes. Stop #l. Review of silvicultural, oldfield, and native communities along State Route 20 to Hosford. Stop #2. 60-year second-growth longleaf stands in Apalachicola National Forest under control burn regime, red-cockaded woodpecker sites. Stop #3. Coastal Plains Institute's 80-acre longleaf restoration project west of Sumatra. Class will conduct a control burn. Seepage bog demonstrating slope, perched water table, effects of seepage on terrestrial biota, herb bog grading into shrub bog grading into stream hardwood forest--all controlled secondarily by fires sweeping downslope from longleaf upland. Stop #4. Walk into a relict sand body left over from previous higher sea level stand. Stop #5. Visit sand pine scrub habitat along U. S. 98 and other high sand deposits, and relict delta features en route to Carrabelle. Optional if time permits: Stop #6. St. George Island: Visit the barrier island topographic features and examine the present-day coastal upland communties.

Trip #5. Marianna Lowlands/Dougherty Plain karst plain and caves. The day is spent slowly and carefully examining the air passages of several caves west of Marianna. Subjects discussed: provenance of the karst plain; biotic distinctiveness of physiographic region; formation of caves; joints, cracks and bedding planes while actually standing in them; effects of light, moisture, temperature, air pressure changes on cave biota; demonstration of epigean, twilight, and troglobite animals and plants and their adaptations; viewing of blind cave organisms in situ; nutrient inputs from detritus and guano; secondary limestone deposits; Eocene-Oligocene-Miocene fossil beds; use of caves by man. Florida’s small, walk-in caves are superb for developing a feeling of ecosystem function because their physical dimensions are small. Caves demonstrate the interdependence of plants and animals, import and export of nutrients, and the control of the physical environment on biota.

Trip #6: To be announced. Each semester I choose a special field trip for the class which features some important new environment, research project, or other timely purpose. Examples from the past are: a trip to Eglin Air Force Base; measurement of Hurricane Kate destruction of a virgin Atlantic White Cedar forest; measurement of gopher tortoise response to fire on St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge; census of 6,000 old growth trees on the Titi Hammock Preserve in Grady County, Georgia.


Trips #5 & 6. Saturday/Sunday overnight campout on Eglin Air Force Base. Day 1. Travel to Eglin to view the largest stand of remaining old-growth longleaf pine forest left in the world. Stop #1. Sand pine forest along Fla. Road 20. Stop #2. Old-growth longleaf pine stand on Chochawhatchee Bay--rare example of longleaf pine close to the coast. Stop #3. Jackson Guard Station for permit. Stop #4. Liveoak Creek floating bog. Stop #5. Patterson Natural Area. Stop #6. Miscellaneous stops to view longleaf pine/upland management on Eglin. Stop #7. Visit an Eglin steephead to view slope hardwood forest (Southern temperate hardwood forest). Stop #8. Camp out at Eglin put-in for Little Boiling Creek. Day 2. Breakfast, then drive to Blackwater River State Forest. Many stops along the way for viewing and discussing management of second-growth longleaf pine on Citronelle Formation clays and sands. Stop # X. Flat-top mountain.

Thursday night lectures

In addition to preparing the class for each field trip, Thursday night lectures provide continuity between trips by featuring slide presentations, handout materials, and blackboard artistry to illustrate the major concepts and facts I want the student to get out of the course. It is my goal that each student learns to understand panhandle Florida in the context of all those factors that, over time, have interacted to create the present mosaic of plant and animal distributions. I expect the student to come away with a feeling for l) the major physiographic regions of the panhandle and how these sometimes do and sometimes do not coincide with biotic distributions; 2) the major plant and animal assemblages that characterize the region, and how these vary; 3) the effects of fire in sculpting the distributions of plants, especially; 4) the effects of soil moisture in controlling plant and animal occurrence; 5) the biological features that most characterize our region, and why; 6) biological features of north Florida that are unique natural resources; 7) the impacts of man on native communities and the ability to recognize edificarian communities; 8) what is a pre-settlement site in its pre-settlement ecological state (or close to it); and 9) the trophic structure of local communities and the flow of nutrients through communities from the physical world and back again.