Archbold: Scrub and Fire

As I continue to explore more and more habitats, I am continually amazed how many of them are dependent on fire for both formation and regulation.  It is truly amazing the number and diversity of habitats that are classified as pyrogenic, meaning that they are entirely regulated by wildfire.  The scrub of the Lake Wales Ridge is definitely one of those habitats and I’d like to use this series of panoramas to show you how.

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Intersection of Burns - Archbold Biological Station, Florida

This first panorama isn’t exactly the most exciting image as it is directly on top of a road, but I am including it because it is illustrative.  At this intersection, you can clearly see three different sections of scrub at different stages of fire succession.  Looking straight ahead when the image loads, you’ve got a recent fire, less than a year ago.  If you pan to the right and cross the first road, you see a taller patch of scrub.  This patch burned about 8 years ago.  Continuing to the right, you will cross another road and see an even taller patch that hasn’t burned for at least 25 years.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these forests…

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1 Year Since Burn - Archbold Biological Station, Florida

As you can see from this recent burn, the scrub is set to regenerate very quickly.  Already, the Scrub and Saw Palmettos are have new fronds out and are nice and green.  You can also see that there is still a fair amount of dead grass in the vicinity that hasn’t burned.  This shows that when these fires come through, they don’t burn everything but rather burn in a patchy pattern, leaving some trees and plants untouched.  Many plants will use fire for seed dispersal and will germinate soon after a fire.

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8 Years Since Burn - Archbold Biological Station

This patch of scrub was burnt about 8 years ago in 2002 or 2003.  It isn’t the ideal habitat for Florida Scrub Jays, but there are families that use this patch of scrub.  However, the oaks are much taller than what is ideal for jays.   At just over head height, it makes it difficult for jays to efficiently scout for predators and are in greater danger than they would be in a habitat of shorter stature.

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25 Years Since Burn - Archbold Biological Station

This final patch of scrub is incredibly dense.  This panorama was taken about 15 feet off the road but it took me about 20 minutes to simply get into position due to the dense oaks and palmettos. The tall oaks make it dangerous for Scrub Jays to live in this habitat due to the threat of predators and difficulty in patrolling the territory borders and chasing away other intruding families.  Due to the dense vegetation and huge amount of available fuel, when this patch burns next it will likely burn extremely hot, leaving little vegetation untouched.

So what is the ideal habitat for the Florida Scrub Jay?  Well, I’ll show you tomorrow…

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