Research Supports Conservation
In addition to research relating to seeds and plant reintroductions, we also conduct ecological research that examines the relationships between native South Florida plants and their ecosystems, management, or reproduction. Brief descriptions of some of these studies are given below.
Restoration of Jacquemontia reclinata to the South Florida Ecosystem (1999-present)
Jacquemontia reclinata is a federally endangered vine endemic to the coastal strand and dune habitats of South Florida. Land managers and researchers recognize the need for research to assist with protection, management and recovery of Jacquemontia reclinata. Funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairchild collaborated on a multi-institutional and multidisciplinary project to map existing and potential sites and study the species' habitat requirements, demography, genetic variation, seed and pollination biology, mycorrhizal relationships, propagation techniques and site history. The overall project goal is to restore self-sustaining populations of Jacquemontia reclinata within its natural habitat.
Assessing hurricane impacts on populations and taking conservation steps for the endangered Keys tree cactus Pilosocereus robinii (2006-present)
Pilosocereus robinii is an endangered cactus that grows in rockland hammocks in the Florida Keys. It has experienced a rapid population decline in recent years. Fairchild biologists have surveyed and mapped the populations of this plant and conducted research to explore the causes for the mortality that has occurred. They have also collected cuttings and seeds to augment ex situ collections for conservation of the species and for future reintroductions. They will study seed germination and establishment of this species to understand the ecological conditions needed to support self-sustaining populations. If you would like to learn more about the Key tree cactus, click here to watch a short video about the species.
Effects of fire regime on diversity in pine rocklands (1994-present)
This long-term study will evaluate how different fire regimes affect pine rockland plant communities. Working with Miami-Dade County, we have monitored plots for a decade. Our findings show that understory species richness increases with the number of controlled burns a plot received. More species can grow in this habitat if the shrub and tree cover does not get too dense. These results support efforts to conduct prescribe burns in natural areas to improve and protect biodiversity.
Demography of rare species (1999-present)
Fairchild conducts demographic studies on several rare species to determine the dynamics of populations. We are particularly concerned to learn whether anthropogenic factors are responsible for declines in the numbers of individuals in a population. Long-term demographic monitoring also helps us understand whether global climate change is influencing rare plant population growth and reproduction. Some of the species we monitor demographically are: Jacquemontia reclinata, Linum carteri var. carteri, and Tephrosia angustissima var. corallicola.
The effects of installing a weir on the vegetation surrounding Cutler Creek at the Deering Estate (2002-present)
The purpose of this research is to monitor effects from a hydrological restoration project being conducted by several different agencies at a Miami-Dade County park, the Deering Estate at Cutler. We have chosen indicator species that are expected to respond most quickly to altered hydrology. Ferns are a major focus, given their dependence on water for reproduction. Prior to urbanization, some of the rarest ferns in Florida were found within the Estate, in the hardwood hammock along the limestone embankments of the historic Cutler Slough. A few rare species remain, while others have been extirpated. We hope that rehydrating the slough, (thus more closely approximating the pre-canalization hydrology), may increase the abundance and diversity of native ferns.
The effects of leaf litter depths on the germination and establishment of federally endangered Amorpha herbacea var. crenulata (2004-2007)
The crenulate leadplant (Amorpha herbacea var. crenulata) is known to exist in only four protected Miami-Dade County parks. There has been little documentation of this species reproducing in the wild. Habitat destruction, canalization throughout south Florida, and fire suppression has greatly altered the habitats found in the four parks, potentially disrupting the biological reproductive processes of this species. In 2004, Fairchild biologists found wild seedlings of this species in one of its natural locations. We initiated a study examining the effects that varying leaf litter depths had on the germination and establishment of the crenulate leadplant. We are finding that a litter depth of less than 3 cm is most effective for seedling establishment. This information will help land managers manage the property in the most effective way for better crenulate leadplant seedling survival.
Competitive effects of the invasive grass Rhynchelytrum repens on native plant diversity in a Miami-Dade County pine rockland (2004-2007)
Rose natal grass (Rhynchelytrum repens) is a non-native, invasive grass from South Africa that is naturalized throughout Florida. It has been popular in Florida as landscape plant for its plumes of pink, long-lasting flowers, however the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association (FNGA) agreed to phase this species out of horticultural trade in 2001. In Miami-Dade County, rose natal grass can be a persistent problem in disturbed pine rocklands. This ongoing study focuses on documenting negative effects of this grass and determining at which density an infestation should be treated.
Effects of fire surrogates on vegetation structure and community (2001-2003)
In the pine rockland ecosystem, it has been long understood that periodic fire is a critical natural function. Yet, burning pine rocklands in the urban interface is often prohibited or problematic for land managers. To test the effects of a fire surrogate (thinning) on understory biodiversity, we initiated studies in a pine rockland in spring 2002. One year after thinning, treated plots had more native species and a greater diversity of species than either control or reference plots. Thinning treatments increased the abundance of some, but not all rare species. Fortunately, thinning treatments did not increase the density of exotic species in plots. Thus, thinning is an effective tool for maintaining biodiversity of pine rocklands in urban settings.
Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service