Upland-Pine Ecosystem

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Introduction   Management   Docs, Maps, Pics, Data


The upland-pine ecosystem, sometimes termed the sandhills ecosystem, occurs on upland, well-drained sites. In its pristine state, it is dominated by widely spaced longleaf pines with few understory shrubs and a dense ground cover of grasses and herbs. Other plants commonly occurring in this community are turkey oak, bluejack oak, southern red oak, live oak, persimmon, gopher apple, and leadplant. Animal species include green treefrog, gopher tortoise, eastern fence lizard, red-bellied woodpecker, loggerhead shrike, cotton mouse, and fox squirrel.

This ecosystem occurs on the rolling hills in the panhandle and in north and central peninsular Florida. Fire is a dominant factor in the ecology of this community because it reduces hardwood encroachment and facilitates pine and wiregrass reproduction. Without fire, longleaf pine seedlings cannot establish and oaks and other hardwoods become more numerous, shading out young pines and associated species. In the absence of frequent fires, this community succeeds to a hammock-like ecosystem. Historically, the natural fire frequency was about every 3 to 5 years. These fires usually were started by lightning strikes during summer thunderstorms. The thick bark of longleaf pines protects adult trees from fire damage. Even seedling trees, with their buds protected by a thick mass of needles, survive frequent, light ground fires. The trees are widely spaced, and wiregrass and pine needles provide most of the fuel to carry fire through this community. Implementation of an appropriate management strategy can successfully restore this ecosystem in areas where fire has been suppressed and succession has proceeded toward a community dominated by fire-susceptible hardwoods.

The loose, well-drained soils of this community allow rapid downward movement of rainwater into groundwater supplies (aquifer recharge). Most of the pristine upland pine in Florida has been converted to other uses such as residential and commercial development, agriculture, and forestry, severely curtailing many of the species adapted to this once extensive ecosystem. While not large enough to maintain populations of some of these species, the NATL tract, if properly managed, should display to visitors a substantial, representative sample, including sandhill katydids, gopher tortoises, and poppymallows.


Upland pine depends on burning for its continuance. In large natural tracts, lightning-caused fires are frequent enough to maintain the ecosystem. However, NATL's upland pine has not burned for decades, allowing hammock species to invade and nearly overwhelm the upland-pine species. Carefully controlled burning will be needed to restore the upland-pine ecosystem. Once restored, it will be maintained by burning part of its area each year. Burning at 3 to 6-year intervals will maintain the upland pine species, and the burn schedule will allow students each year to see the immediate and longer term effects of burning.

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