Tonight (Wednesday, February 29) at 7:30 PM/ ET, Georgia Ackerman and Rick Zelznak of the Wilderness Way help you prepare for your kayak camping trip on WFSU-TV’s dimensions. Heading out on the water with everything you’ll need to survive for a few days is not something you undertake lightly. Tonight’s segment is meant to be an overview, to get you thinking about what you might bring and how you’ll fit it into your kayak. This post is a companion to the video piece (hi to everyone who came to this url after the segment aired). The links on this page give you a more comprehensive toolset to plan a multi-day kayak camping trip. If there is an additional resource that you think people should know about, tell us about it in the comments section. Continue reading →
A cage filled with oysters, spat tiles, and clams. Different sets of cages had different combinations of mud crabs and their predators (toadfish, blue crabs, stone crabs, and catfish).
One of David and Randall’s oyster collaborators, Dr. Jeb Byers, was recently featured in a lengthy segment on Georgia Public television’s Georgia Outdoors. The episode is about crabs in general, but at 8:28 in they take a look at the large cage experiment that Randall, David, and Jeb, along with Dr. Jon Grabowski and Dr. Mike Piehler at UNC, conducted last summer. You see a little more of the cages being filled than you do in Testing the Ecology of Fear, which covers the oyster study in Florida to that point and which was into the editing process as they set up the experiment. The video is not available for embedding, so click on the link below to watch.
In the video above, we spent a day hitting Apalachicola River WEA Paddling Trail System and Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail sites. Luckily for me, I had Liz Sparks and Andy Wraithmell to show me the cool spots and tell me what animals I was looking at. With spring approaching, birds will be migrating back through the area, and the warmer weather makes for better paddling, greener trees with flowers blooming, and more appearances by other critters like alligators and turtles. In other words, it’s time to start planning your own adventures. Continue reading →
The longleaf pine/ wiregrass ecosystem was historically common in the coastal plain (low lying flat areas adjacent to the coast) of the Southeast United States. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this ecosystem has seen a 97% decline. In our recent excursion along the Apalachicola River, we visited this habitat and learned about efforts to restore it.
There’s a certain terminology we use when we talk about the wild places of the world. We use words like “pristine,” or “untouched.” When you hike through a forest along the Florida Trail, there are times where you can imagine that you are the first person ever to walk under the trees that you see. Of course, much of the time, not only are you not the first person to have seen the trees, the trees look the way they do due to someone’s careful manipulation. The practice of land management and why it is used can change the way you think about what is “wild.”
Prescribed burn. Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The video above is about how the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using prescribed burning in its restoration of longleaf pine habitats. Longleaf pine had historically thrived because they have the evolutionary advantage of a thick, fireproof bark in what are known as Fire Climax Communities. This is a habitat in which fire (typically started by lightning strikes) is the primary controlling factor, and so lesser equipped competitors to longleaf pine are eliminated. This natural process makes for an ecosystem dominated by the thick barked pines. So why are humans assuming a role usually played by nature?
That goes back to our conception of what is “wild.” That forest you hike through looks untouched, like I said earlier, but human influence reaches even into its deepest reaches. For one, we have roads cutting across the forests, and while there are often large expanses of unbroken forest, paved roads keep fire from spreading as far as it once might have. Another factor is that there is human settlement all around the forest, and uncontrolled fire is a threat to life and property.
Courtesy of the Florida Archive.
Prescribed fire is one tool in the toolset for restoring the longleaf/ wiregrass system. This was the dominant habitat of the southeast, characterized by a wide spacing of trees (wide enough to ride a wagon through, FWC’s Liz Sparks tells me) that allows for a diversity of ground cover plants. These cover plants, as Matt points out in the video above, are attractive to the many species that thrive in a longleaf/ wiregrass ecosystem. Ironically, this ecosystem has been drastically reduced as a result of another type of land management- silviculture. As you’ll see in the video above, timber operations replaced longleaf for slash pine, a faster growing variety of pine with a lesser quality wood but that is far more profitable to grow. The slash pine grew closer together, eliminating the ground cover that is so important to the many birds, reptiles, and amphibians that make the longleaf/ wiregrass system so diverse. That’s why FWC does timber thinning before the burns.
Marsh burn. Courtesy Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
And since this is In the Grass, On the Reef, I did want to mention something I left out of the video, which is marsh burns. Every 4-6 years, they burn the sawgrass in the freshwater marshes on the Apalachicola River system. This clears the plants out and allows for new growth; the less dense grass provides nesting cover for many birds. Wintering waterfowl like canvasback, scaup, and redhead eat submerged vegetation called widgeon grass; periodic burns increase access to this for birds. As with longleaf ecosystems, fire was a naturally occurring, controlling factor. The systems evolved with the plants and animals that could best take advantage of these fire events. Nature may not be able to provide fire to these systems as effectively as it once had; luckily, mankind has flame throwers and ping pong balls full of potassium permanganate.
For more information about these and other Florida Fish and Wildlife land management initiatives, visit their web site.
Watch our latest EcoAdventure, where we visit a lot of this managed land around the Apalachicola River on WFSU’s dimensions- Sunday, February 19 at 10:00 AM/ ET.
This WFSU documentary, which aired November 30, 2011, takes an in depth look at prescribed burning and its safety and ecological benefits. The video is running off of WFSU-TV’s video on demand site, which features PBS programs like NOVA and Nature as well as local programs, like In the Grass, On the Reef and Florida War Diaries, a look at our local involvement in WWII.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent the last 6 weeks or so on a research trip to Australia. Most of my time was spent at the University of Technology in Sydney, but for the last 2 weeks, I traveled to Port Phillip Bay (the bay that Melbourne is on) to meet with some colleagues about their seagrass resilience project. One of our days was spent snorkeling around their field sites. The video above was taken by Dr. Peter Macreadie, and it provides a great sense of just how pretty these seagrass sites are. (I make a cameo snorkeling nearby in the blue shorts.) It was chilly (~ 70 degrees in and out of the water), but it was fun to take a look around!
Lake MacQuarie, near Sydney. In Randall's last post, she describes the research they did on foundation species like oysters, algae, and clams.
Tune into WFSU-TV’s dimensions on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30 PM/ ET to watch our paddling and wildlife watching EcoAdventure throughout the Apalachicola River system.
Zoom into the clusters of flags to see each site in more detail.
This marsh island might be comprised of several genetically distinct cordgrass individuals, or just a few.
In composing and researching this post, I seem to have stumbled upon a diversity of biodiversity. In Randall Hughes’ salt marsh biodiversity study, you don’t always even physically see it. Within a salt marsh, you might be looking at a variety of cordgrass individuals, or just one. You wouldn’t know until you got the DNA results back from the lab. That’s genetic diversity, the variation of genes within a species. A little more obvious is the diversity of plant and animal life within a habitat: what other plants are mixed in with the cordgrass, what different predators are eating and terrorizing periwinkle snails, etc. This species diversity is also crucial to a system’s health, and to the services it provides us. Continue reading →