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Conservation of native landscapes is a valuable way to protect Florida’s ecosystems, and continuous management of habitat is often imperative to maintain function and value for wildlife species.  This chapter categorizes habitats into terrestrial, aquatic, and marine communities.  A summary of characteristics are provided for each habitat type identified in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), and links to other relevant information are provided.

Identifying Habitats

Finding a land cover mapping scheme that adequately communicates the potential for wildlife usage of a site can be a challenge.  Three commonly used classification schemes for Florida habitats are:

  • The Florida Land Use Cover and Forms Classification System (FLUCFCS) (Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), 1999) is commonly used in regulatory permit applications
  • The Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida (Florida Natural Areas Inventory, 2010) is often most suitable for identifying imperiled species habitats or for planning habitat improvement projects.
  • The Florida Land Cover Classification System (FLCS) (2010) as applied to the Cooperative Land Cover Map (CLC) is a single-statewide classification system designed to focus on conserving “Priority Habitats” identified in the SWAP. The FLCS incorporates classifications used by Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI), the water management districts (WMDs), and the FWC.  The habitat classes which are assigned to polygons in the CLC can be used to determine the possible habitats that may be present in an area of interest. 

Short descriptions and links to the full FLCS habitat profiles are provided in the following section.  Links to the FNAI natural community profiles are also provided, which have more finely delineated habitats than the habitat profiles provided by the FLCS. 

Agriculture

These lands are categorized by plant crops like sugar cane, citrus, row crops, field crops, and others.  Much of the native vegetation has been disturbed or replaced, but some remaining fragments may occur at the edges of this habitat. 
FNAI type: None.

Bay Swamp

This is a type of hardwood swamp categorized by broadleaf evergreen trees in shallow, stagnant depressions that often occur in pine flatwoods or at the base of sandy ridges where water collects.  Characteristic tree species include sweetbay, swamp bay, and loblolly bay.  Understory species include titi, black titi, dahoon holly, wax myrtle, fetterbush, greenbrier, royal fern, cinnamon fern, and sphagnum moss.  
FNAI type: Baygall, Shrub Bog.

Beach/Surf Zone

This is the narrow strip of sand and shells between the tides along the coast.  It is characterized by daily flooding and waves.  Beyond the reach of the surf lies beach dunes that are created by wind-blown sand.  These areas are important habitat for shorebirds, horseshoe crabs, beach mice, and sea turtles.  Important conservation actions include coastal protection and restoration of sand dunes and associated vegetation, maintain beach wrack, and encourage restoration of natural sediment transport processes.  
FNAI type: Beach Dune.

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

Characterized by seasonal flooding, hardwood trees, and rich alluvial soils found along the floodplains of rivers in the Panhandle, such as the Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee, and Escambia.  Canopy species include water hickory, overcup oak, swamp chestnut oak, river birch, American sycamore, red maple, Florida elm, bald cypress, blue beech, and swamp ash.  Understory species include bluestem palmetto, hackberry, swamp azalea, greenbrier, poison ivy, peppervine, rattan vine, indigo bush, white grass, plume grass, redtop panicum, caric sedges, silverbell, crossvine, American wisteria, and wood grass.  Cumulating, rich, organic material supplies the community with essential minerals and nutrients.
FNAI type: Alluvial Forest, Floodplain Swamp, Freshwater Tidal Swamp.

Coastal Strand

This habitat is the area between the beach and maritime hammock characterized by dunes, rock formations, and associated vegetation.  Plants are highly resistant to wind and salt spray and consist of vines, grasses, and shrubby species.  Species found in coastal strands include beach morning glory, railroad vines, sea oats, saw palmetto, Spanish bayonet, yaupon holly, wax myrtle, and sea grape.
FNAI type: Beach Dune, Coastal Berm, Coastal Grassland, Keys Tidal Rock Barren, Keys Cactus Barren, Coastal Strand.

Cypress Swamp

These swamps occur along rivers, creeks, lakes, or depressions and are dominated by bald cypress or pond cypress trees.  Along floodplains, these communities may be dominated by hardwood species such as bays, gums, maple and tupelo.  Frequent flooding keeps understory sparse, but some occurring species include buttonbush, lizard’s-tail, and fern species.  These habitats depend on frequent flooding and any activity that reduces the flooding potential can have negative impacts.
FNAI type: Basin Swamp, Floodplain Swamp, Strand Swamp, Dome Swamp.

Disturbed/Transitional

This category includes two types of transitional habitats: disturbed upland communities and disturbed sites mainly comprised of exotic species.  The first type is characterized by extensive disturbance that results in complete loss of vegetation cover and often results in a successional dense layer of herbaceous vegetation.  The second type is an invaded community comprised of exotic species such as Melaleuca, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, and Eucalyptus.
FNAI type: None.

Dry Prairie

Dry prairies are expansive areas of grass and shrubs that lack overstory cover.  This category is dominated by grasses, sedges, herbs, and shrubs such as saw palmetto, fetterbush, and wiregrass.  Fire is needed to maintain its low-lying vegetation and to prevent trees from invading.  It is highly threatened by conversion to agriculture and development.  Partnerships to conserve this habitat and its associated wildlife species are important to the survival of this habitat type.
FNAI type: Dry Prairie.

Freshwater Marsh and Wet Prairie

These treeless communities are characterized by herbaceous plants in an inundated area, dominated by emergent and floating plant species.  They occur in depressions, along freshwater shorelines, and scattered within fire-maintained habitats.  Dominant plant species include pickerel weed, sawgrass, maidencane, arrowhead, fire flag, cattail, spike rush, bulrush, white water lily, water shield, and various sedges.  These herbaceous communities are maintained by fire that is carried from the surrounding matrix community.  Physical disturbance can allow invasive plants to colonize and dominate this habitat type and should be avoided.  Wetland buffers, a strip of upland habitat surrounding the wetland, can be used to protect the natural processes and water quality of this habitat type.  
FNAI type: Basin Marsh, Coastal Interdunal Swale, Depression Marsh, Marl Prairie, Wet Prairie, Floodplain Marsh, Slough, Glades Marsh, Slough Marsh.

Grassland/Pastureland

This upland community is made of low-lying grasses and forbs, mostly comprised of non-native species.  Although this habitat is not natural, it does provide significant habitat to wildlife who are naturally adapted to open habitats.  Partnerships are encouraged to enhance this habitat for wildlife species.  
FNAI type: None.

Hardwood Hammock Forest

This hardwood forest occurs in xeric and mesic variations and comes in a variety of compositions due to differences in soils and geographic regions.  Northern mesic hammocks consist of American beech, southern magnolia, Shumard oak, white oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, sourgum, basswood, white ash, mulberry, and spruce pine.  Southern mesic hammocks consist of laurel oak, blue beech, sweetgum, cabbage palm, American holly, and southern magnolia.  Xeric hammocks, which occur on well-drained sandy soils, have live oak, sand live oak, bluejack oak, blackjack oak, southern red oak, sand post oak, and pignut hickory.  Cabbage palm-live oak hammocks are another variation that are found within small clumps in prairie communities.  
FNAI type: Xeric Hammock, Maritime Hammock, Slope Forest, Hydric Hammock, Mesic Hammock, Upland Hardwood Forest.

Hardwood Swamp

This community occurs on low-lying areas that are dominated by hardwood species, such as black gum, water tupelo, bald cypress, dahoon holly, red maple, swamp ash, cabbage palm, and sweetbay.  It is a closed-canopy habitat that traps humidity and burns infrequently. 
FNAI type: Bottomland Forest, Hydric Hammock, Basin Swamp.

Hydric Hammock

Hydric hammock occurs on poorly drained soils or areas with high water tables.  It is a still-water wetland with 75 to 90% canopy cover.  Common plant species include laurel oak, live oak, cabbage palm, southern red cedar, and sweetgum.  This habitat occurs along parts of the Gulf Coast and along the St. Johns River.  
FNAI type: Hydric Hammock.

Industrial/Commercial Pineland

This habitat consists of high-density, single-species stands of pine species, mainly slash pine, although longleaf and loblolly also occur.  Ground cover is dense at early stages but slowly dwindles as pines age and canopies close.  This habitat can provide value for wildlife; and management practices such as lowering tree densities, preserving native groundcover, and burning or mechanical control of groundcover may improve the utility of this habitat type.  
FNAI type: None.

Mixed Hardwood-Pine Forest

These forests occur on sandy clay soils with a matrix of mature pines and oaks.  The groundcover is often absent and is replaced by a thick layer of leaves that retains moisture.  Variants of this community can include forests on the rolling hills in the Panhandle and those that occur elsewhere in upland areas with a co-dominant overstory of conifers and hardwoods.
FNAI type: None.

Natural Pineland

This type includes mesic, hydric, and scrubby flatwoods, and upland pine forests.  They can occur on flat sandy terrain or mesic clay hills where pine species, mainly longleaf, slash, or pond pine, are the dominant canopy.  Understory species include saw palmetto, gallberry, wax myrtle, and a variety of grasses and herbs.  Fire is necessary to maintain the pine-dominated canopy of this habitat.  
FNAI type: Mesic Flatwoods, Scrubby Flatwoods, Wet Flatwoods, Upland Pine Forest.

Pine Rockland

Pine rocklands are in South Florida where South Florida slash pine occurs on limestone substrate.  The understory consists of saw palmetto, locust berry, willow bustic, beautyberry, broom grasses, silver palms, and various herbaceous plants.  This community is globally imperiled and endangered by development and fragmentation.  Several protected species use this rare habitat, including Big Cypress fox squirrels, key deer, various Florida Keys reptiles, and endangered invertebrates.  
FNAI type: Pine Rocklands.

Sandhill

This habitat occurs along gently rolling terrain with well-drained sandy soils.  It is characterized by an open overstory of longleaf pine, a mid-story comprised of turkey oak, sand post oak, and bluejack oak, with a groundcover of various grasses and herbs, such as wiregrass, lopsided Indian grass, bluestems, blazing star, partridge pea, beggar’s tick, milk pea, etc.  Sandhill is maintained by frequent fire to minimize hardwood intrusion and sustain herbaceous groundcover. 
FNAI type: Sandhill.

Scrub

This xeric habitat occurs on deep sandy soils both in coastal and inland areas.  It is fire-maintained with an interval of 10-20 years, or more.  The vegetation community mainly consists of evergreen shrubs and small trees and can be associated with a pine overstory.  Many species of both plants and animals are unique to only this habitat type (endemism), such as scrub holly, inopina oak, pygmy fringe tree, scrub plum, Florida scrub-jays, and sand skinks.  Variations of scrub habitat include oak scrub, sand pine scrub, rosemary scrub, and scrubby flatwoods.  
FNAI type: Scrub.

Shrub Swamp

This wetland habitat is dominated by low-growing shrubs or small trees.  Common species include willow, wax myrtle, primrose willow, buttonbush, and small trees species, such as red maple, sweetbay, and black gum.
FNAI type: None.

Terrestrial Cave

Terrestrial caves occur below ground with no permanent standing water.  They are found in north and central Florida in areas of karst topography.  They have stable internal environments with constant temperature and humidity levels.
FNAI type: Terrestrial Cave.

Tropical Hardwood Hammock

This community is an upland hardwood forest that occurs in South Florida along coastal uplands and within tree islands.  Plant species include strangler fig, gumbo limbo, mastic, bustic, lancewood, ironwood, poisonwood, pigeon plum, Jamaica dogwood, and Bahama lysiloma.  
FNAI type: Rockland Hammock, Maritime Hammock.

Urban/Developed

These areas include built structures and include lawns, golf courses, road shoulders, airports, parks, and natural remnants surrounded by residential/commercial development.  
FNAI type: None.

Aquatic Cave

These are subterranean cavities that have permanent standing water.  These caves develop from dissolving limestone in areas of karst topography.  The water is generally clear but may become stained from decaying plant matter.  Organisms inhabiting aquatic caves are dependent on detritus inputs from areas that are connected to the surface. 
FNAI type
: Aquatic Cave.

Calcareous Stream

These streams are associated with sinks where flooding waters recharge the aquifer and the aquifer will recharge the stream in drought conditions.  This habitat shares many of the same characteristics of spring/spring run habitat.  
FNAI type: Spring-run Stream.

Canal/Ditch

These waterways are man-made, linear pathways that connect wetlands and other water sources with downstream habitats.  These serve as drainages, flood control, irrigation, navigation, and recreation. 
FNAI type: None.

Coastal Tidal River or Stream

This habitat is the freshwater or brackish portion of a river that is adjacent to an estuary or marine habitat.  Tidal fluctuations alter the inundation of this habitat and change the vegetative community.  
FNAI type: None.

Large Alluvial Stream

These meandering streams originate in high uplands and have various flood stages.  They naturally have high turbidity from the sandy and silty clay habitats from which they originate.  Flooding carries detritus, minerals, and nutrients from upland habitats to downstream estuaries.  Species found here include spatterdock, duckweed, American lotus, and water hyssop.  In Florida, this habitat is mainly confined to the Panhandle.
FNAI type: Alluvial Stream, River Floodplain Lake, Swamp Lake.

Natural Lake

Natural lakes are greater than one acre and usually less than 45 feet deep, with sand, silt, or organic bottom substrates.  Naturally, these lakes are nutrient-deficient and vulnerable to acidification and nutrient inputs.  Vegetation varies from nonexistent to emergent plants to complete coverage of floating plants.
FNAI type: Clastic Upland Lake, Sandhill Lake, Sinkhole Lake.

Reservoirs and Impoundments

These are man-made water bodies created by damming flowing water bodies or excavating within terrestrial habitats.   
FNAI type: None.

Seepage/Steephead Stream

These streams are canopy-covered flows of groundwater that often form the headwaters of alluvial and blackwater streams.  They are biologically diverse habitats that may be bordered by clumps of green algae, mosses, ferns, and liverworts.  Seepage bogs, a variation of this habitat, do not have regular inundations of water and are dominated by grasses and carnivorous plants.  
FNAI type: Seepage Stream, Seepage Slope.

Softwater Stream

These streams originate from broad wetlands that overflow into a narrower flow of water.  They are usually acidic, tannic, and slow flowing.  Plant species include golden club, smartweed, sedges, and grasses.  They are characterized by having high steep banks with minimal floodplain.  
FNAI type: Blackwater Stream.

Spring and Spring Run

These habitats originate from artesian openings from the Floridan aquifer where the limestone has dissolved away.  These springs are characterized by clear water and constant water temperature.  Vegetation species that occur here include tape grass, wild rice, giant cutgrass, and aquatic algae.  
FNAI type: Spring-run Stream.

Annelid Reef

Annelid reefs, or worm reefs, are formed by aggregations of sandcastle worms (Phragmatopoma lapidosa) that form sand tubes by cementing sand grains together.  They provide refugia for juvenile coastal fish and invertebrate species. 
FNAI type: Worm Reef.

Artificial Structure

This includes artificial reefs and hardened shorelines.  Hardened shorelines result from coastal development that results in breakwaters, piers, and docks.  These shoreline structures may benefit some species, but they can also have negative effects and disrupt natural shoreline processes.    
FNAI type: None.

Bivalve Reef

Bivalve reefs, or mollusks reefs, are concentrated areas of sessile mollusks within intertidal and subtidal zones.  In Florida, these are mainly formed by American oysters, but can also be formed by mussels or worm shells.  These areas serve as nurseries, refugia, and foraging areas for many marine, avian, and terrestrial species.
FNAI type: Mollusk Reef.

Coral Reef

Coral reefs are concentrated areas of massive corals and sessile organisms.  Two variations, patch reefs and barrier reefs, occur along the southeast coast of Florida and in the Florida Keys.  Most corals are temperature and light sensitive, restricted to areas above 21°C (70°F) and less than 50m deep.
FNAI type: Coral Reef.

Hard Bottom

This habitat consists of algae, sponges, octocorals, and stony corals found along the subtidal, intertidal, and supratidal areas of Florida’s coasts.  They support a diversity of species of sessile bivalves, fish, and invertebrates.   
FNAI type: Consolidated Substrate, Octocoral Bed, Sponge Bed.

Inlet

Inlets are breaks in the shoreline that connect coastal and inland water bodies.   
FNAI type: None.

Mangrove Swamp

Mangrove swamps are dense clumps of mangroves found in brackish water along low-energy shorelines.  The dominant species that occur here are red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove, and buttonwood.  This habitat is restricted to tropical regions of South Florida due to their temperature sensitivity.  
FNAI type: Mangrove Swamp.

Pelagic

Pelagic waters are those lying over and beyond the continental shelf in the water column above the seafloor and below the surface.  
FNAI type: None.

Salt Marsh

Salt marsh is a habitat type characterized by herbaceous plants that experiences varying levels of inundation.  Saltmarsh cordgrass dominates the areas of greatest inundation.  Needle rush occupies less frequently flooded areas of the marsh.  This habitat is highly productive and supports many marine, avian, and terrestrial species.  
FNAI type: Salt Marsh.

Seagrass

Seagrass beds are found in estuaries and shallow coastal waters where wave energy is moderate.  The most common seagrass species are turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass.  They occur in clear water areas and usually areas of unconsolidated substrates of marl, muck, or sand.  Algae and invertebrates often attach to seagrass and support a diverse marine community.   
FNAI type: Algal Bed, Seagrass Bed, Composite Substrate.

Subtidal Unconsolidated Marine/Estuary Sediment

This habitat consists of areas with little to no seagrass within subtidal, intertidal, and supratidal zones.  Substrate types consist of coralgae, marl, mud, sand, or shell.  This habitat is an important foraging area for many shorebirds, invertebrates, and bottom feeding fish.  
FNAI type: Unconsolidated Substrate.

Tidal Flat

Tidal flats are sandy or muddy areas that are exposed from receding tides.    
FNAI type: None.