Hello, and welcome to the WFSU Ecology Blog. I’m Rob Diaz de Villegas, WFSU’s ecology producer, and this blog is something of a passion project for me. No one at WFSU ever asked me to do lengthy write-ups to post with my Local Routes segments. And some weeks, that’s a lot of extra work! The thing is, I find natural north Florida deeply fascinating- much more than I can fit in a few dozen six-minute segments every year. And I feel that it’s worth recording as much of that story as I can.
Part of this fascination has to do with the richness of life in the WFSU viewing area. We’re in the Coastal Plain region of the United States, which is one of its biodiversity hotspots. That’s the thing I have to lead off with, of course. It just means our plant and animal communities are hopping- this area is full of rare and endangered species (Red cockaded woodpeckers! Chapman’s rhododendron!), many of which are found nowhere else.
That scratches the surface of my fascination. We’re also on the Gulf coast, and we have these great rivers that feed a working coastline. People make their living on the critters that inhabit our estuary ecosystems, and we love to eat those critters. Our coasts also make us a critical stop for migratory birds and the monarch butterflies I like to raise with my children.
We have North America’s largest spring (Wakulla Spring), rivers that vanish underground only to reappear miles downstream, and lakes that empty every few years. All of this is due to geologic processes that have unfolded over millions of years.
Now we’re getting closer to what’s driving my curiosity. We also have things here that are found almost nowhere else. Coastal dune lakes. Steephead ravines. Two of our rivers, the Wacissa and Aucilla, are hotbeds of Paleo-Indian archeology. Yes, we cover archeology, too. Our oldest sites have not only helped to push back the dates of humankind’s first incursions into the Americas, but they give us a glimpse into Florida at the end of the ice ages, when local ecology was going through radical changes.
Yes, archeology, paleontology, and geology are a part of the story, too.
And here’s where we start getting into why I like doing this blog. I have a love of making connections. Our butterflies have connections to specific plants, and many of those plants are dependent on regular fire. We’ve even seen how fire, miles from the coast, can affect the way water flows to it. We’ve looked at artifacts and fossils to see cycles of sea level rise and fall, from when much of our region was covered by a shallow sea where the world’s largest ever shark roamed, to a time when Paleolithic hunters saw mastodons and mammoths vanish, and Florida’s coast retreated 80 miles inland to where it is today (at least, for now).
So, in every video, we have an individual story to tell. What we can’t fit into every video is that every story we tell is part of several other stories we’ve already started telling. Those stories might be connected by a hundred miles of river, by a series of underground waterways, or through thousands of years of changing landscapes. This is what’s most fun for me, these connections.
Every story builds on the last, and fills me with questions that lead me to the next story. We have eight years of stories and are continuing to build our repository of ecological content. And I always welcome questions, comments, and story ideas.