Split Oak Forest - Habitat and Management

Habitat

In addition to pine flatwoods characterized by an open canopy forest, and hardwood hammocks, with their ancient oaks and relatively open understory, Split Oak Forest contains several less common communities.  These include oak scrub (with low canopy of myrtle oak, Chapman's oak, and sand live oak), and the sandhill community, consisting of scattered longleaf, pine and turkey oak with wiregrass and palmetto understory.

photo pine flatwoods community
Shane Belson
Pine flatwoods community

Split Oak Forest is bordered by Lake Hart to the north and Lake Mary Jane to the northeast. The wetland fringes of both lakes are habitat for a large number grasses, wild flowers, and shrubs. The area also includes cypress swamps and wet prairies, which are seasonally flooded transitional areas between freshwater marshes and pine flatwoods.

Management

controlled burn in pine flatwoods
Thaddeus Penfield
Controlled burn in pine flatwoods

Prescribed burns are one of the chief management tools for this area. Fire is crucial to maintain the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. Numerous protected species, including the gopher tortoise and Sherman's fox squirrel, make their homes in this fire dependent habitat. Prescribed burns are used to reduce fuel loads of pine needles and oak leaves, to return valuable nutrients to the soils, and also to keep understory hardwoods at bay. Curtailing understory and midstory hardwood growth in longleaf pine habitat is crucial to maintaining the open landscape that is necessary for the species that depend on this natural community to thrive.



FWC Facts:
The world's whooping crane population has gradually increased from a low of 22 birds in 1941 to 503 birds in 2009.

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