Objectives-Based Vegetation Monitoring: Home Security for Florida's Wildlife

Researchers study how Florida's vegetation responds to specific land management actions.

fwri researcher demonstrating proper vegetation sampling methods, caption below

An FWRI researcher, and a partner from the
Florida Natural Areas Inventory, demonstrates
proper vegetation sampling methods to private contractors during an OBVM training workshop. Private contractors must be certified before collecting OBVM monitoring data.

Many of Florida’s wildlife species face shrinking habitat as once undisturbed land is developed. The disappearance of natural environments can have devastating effects on wildlife populations. To curb this habitat loss in Florida, the state has maintained more than 5 million acres of land that the FWC oversees as Wildlife Management Areas and Wildlife Environmental Areas. Managers maintain these lands with controlled burns and other methods to limit invasive vegetation and secure a foothold for native plants and animals.

Until recently, land managers had no method of measuring the effects of their actions on the plant communities that provide habitat. In 2001, FWRI’s Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration researchers began assisting the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation with a project called Objective-Based Vegetation Management, which measures the cause-and-effect relationships between land management actions and habitat conditions.

Each year, researchers select several random locations in natural plant communities on state-managed lands. Project scientists, with the help of staff from the non-profit organization Florida Natural Areas Inventory, obtain information about vegetation and tree cover and density and shrub height on those sites. Researchers compare that information with the features of ideal habitats to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions. Summaries of their observations help land managers decide whether to adjust management strategies to reach ideal habitat conditions.

This project makes FWC one of the few public agencies in the nation able to constantly fine-tune its land management strategies based on habitat data. Since sampling began in 2006, researchers have compiled data on hundreds of plant communities across the state. Project scientists believe that, in time, the study will reveal trends in vegetation responses to specific management practices. A look at those trends will help land managers throughout the state make plans appropriate for local plant communities and the animals that call them home.

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