This chapter provides an overview of habitat identification and classification methods and short summaries of 45 major terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats in the state of Florida. Information is taken from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) habitat profile descriptions of the habitat range, associated fish and wildlife species, threats, and conservation actions. Habitat information, tools and classification systems presented in this chapter are useful in assessing potential wildlife habitat on land parcels. Short habitat descriptions, conservation references and links to habitat profiles are provided. Identifying habitats, along with investigations of soils, hydrology, and site development history will help screen for potential listed wildlife species and guide the planning of wildlife surveys and other conservation actions.
Finding a land cover mapping scheme that adequately communicates the potential for wildlife habitat can be a challenge. These systems attempt to categorize the various land uses across a landscape. Three commonly used classification schemes for Florida habitats are:
- The Florida Land Use Cover and Forms Classification System is a general purpose mapping system, devised by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT, 1999), that includes both natural and altered categories. This system is used by the five water management districts (WMDs) to produce periodically updated, digitized maps of the entire state interpreted from current aerial photography. This system is the most common for regulatory permit applications, though identifying habitats on site using the following two schemas can be helpful in identifying potential species occurrence on a site.
- The Florida Land Cover Classification System (FLCS) incorporates classifications used by FNAI, the WMDs, and the FWC. This classification system is the basis for the Cooperative Land Cover Map, a statewide digital map of the habitat locations throughout the state. The FLCS can be cross-walked among the previous two described schemas. Cross-walking allows users to classify habitats within their project boundaries using whichever habitat classification system they are most comfortable with, then find the “best fit” habitat in the FLCS. It is a classification system designed to focus on conserving the priority habitats identified in the SWAP. For additional guidance on cross-walking the various classification systems see FNAI’s guide and the FLCS report.
- The Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida (Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI), 2010) seeks to encompass all natural assemblages at a scale that is useful for mapping natural area and communicating about land management.
Geographic information systems (GIS) and other geospatial tools can assist in providing an initial assessment of the potential presence of wildlife habitat on a local or regional scale. A basic surface or topography map will indicate major natural resource features such as a land ridge, a swamp, or named body of water. This list of tools can assist with identifying whether specific species habitat has been observed or modeled to occur on a site or in the nearby area. Some of these links have duplicate content.
- Fish and Wildlife Habitat Data (FWC) – a collection of spatial resources delineating the observed or modeled boundaries of species-specific habitats.
- Critical Habitat Report [United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)] – a collection of spatial data for active proposed and final critical habitat for USFWS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) threatened and endangered species.
- National Wetlands Inventory Wetlands (USFWS) – web mapper showing wetland type and extent using a biological definition of wetlands. There is no attempt to define the limits of proprietary jurisdiction of any Federal, State, or local government, or to establish the geographical scope of the regulatory programs of government agencies, but it can help to determine the types of wetland onsite and the species which occupy those wetlands.
- Reference Natural Communities (FNAI) – web mapper of reference sites representing the highest quality examples of natural communities in the state. FNAI has identified 68 reference sites for 11 natural community types in which detailed descriptions and quantitative characterizations are provided. The map can be used to determine site proximity/similarity to these reference communities as well as the condition of onsite habitats.
- Marine Habitat and Species (NOAA) – large collection of spatial data for coastal species and their habitats.
Land covers classified as agriculture are categorized by plant crops like sugar cane, citrus, row crops, field crops, and other uses like horse farms, nurseries, and dairy farms. In addition to open farmlands, patches of native vegetation and areas dominated by weedy or exotic vegetation can also be present. When properly managed, farmlands can provide habitat for wildlife including listed wildlife species such as Florida sandhill crane, gopher tortoise, southeastern American kestrel, Audubon’s crested caracara, Florida panther and Florida burrowing owl. Landowner assistance programs provide technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to help minimize their impacts on natural resources (e.g. use less water and lower nutrient outputs into Florida's waters and wetlands). The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and other programs are intended to protect agricultural lands and other natural resources using conservation easements. The use of water quality and wildlife best management practices (BMPs) may also improve this land as a resource for wildlife and reduce pollutant contamination and nutrients from stormwater runoff. Agricultural lands have the potential to be good candidates for market-based conservation projects. For more information, visit the agriculture habitat profile. FLUCCS: 200 FNAI type: None.
This type of hardwood swamp is categorized by broadleaf evergreen trees in shallow, stagnant depressions within pine flatwoods or where water collects at the base of sandy ridges. Characteristic trees include sweetbay, swamp bay, and loblolly bay. Understory species can include titi, dahoon holly, wax myrtle, fetterbush, various ferns, and sphagnum moss. Bay swamps are important habitat for Florida black bear and, in south Florida, are critical for supporting wood stork and other wading bird rookeries. Threats specific to bay swamp include degradation that occurs when this habitat is surrounded by development, eutrophication from agricultural drainage, and invasion by exotic plants. State and local governments can create market-based incentives to compensate private landowners for the environmental services bay swamps provide to the natural ecosystems through water storage and nutrient reduction. For more information, visit the bay swamp habitat profile. FLUCCS: 610, 611 FNAI type: Baygall, Shrub Bog.
Beaches are narrow strips of bare sand and shell between the water and dunes shaped by daily, monthly, and seasonal tides and waves. Vegetation in the surf zone consists of wrack composed of drift algae or seagrass blades deposited by the tides. Beach dunes created by wind-blown sand and stabilized by salt and wind tolerant dune vegetation lay beyond the reach of the surf zone. Beaches are important nesting sites for sea turtles, seabirds, and shorebirds. Because of the importance of beach and dune habitats for imperiled coastal species, development projects are encouraged to reduce threats from light pollution, coastal construction, and foot traffic from beach visitors that can reduce nesting and increase predation for these species. Sand placement for beach nourishment, dune restoration, and inlet management may temporarily address erosion problems. For more information, visit the beach/surf zone habitat profile. FLUCCS: 652, 710, 720 FNAI type: Beach Dune.
Bottomland Hardwood Forest
These seasonally flooded wetland forests are composed of a diverse assortment of flood-adapted trees which occur on the rich alluvial soils of silt and clay deposited along the floodplain of several rivers in the Florida Panhandle. Canopy species can include water hickory, swamp chestnut oak, river birch, American sycamore, red maple, Florida elm, bald cypress, and swamp ash. Understory species include bluestem palmetto, hackberry, swamp azalea, peppervine, rattan vine, indigo bush, plume grass, redtop panicum, caric sedges, silverbell, crossvine, and wood grass. The rich organic material that accumulates on the forest floor is carried off by flooding waters during the wet season, and therefore provides an essential source of minerals and nutrients for downstream ecosystems like estuaries. Several listed wildlife species that can be found using these habitats include: Barbour's map turtle, alligator snapping turtles, and gray bats. Invasive animals and plants, fill placement such as for new roads, and changes in stream flows can degrade bottomland hardwood forests. For more information, visit the bottomland hardwood forest habitat profile. FLUCCS: 610, 615 FNAI type: Alluvial Forest, Floodplain Swamp, Freshwater Tidal Swamp.
This habitat occurs in the coastal zone between the beach and maritime hammock and is characterized by dunes, rock formations, and salt tolerant vegetation. Coastal strand plants are highly resistant to wind and salt spray and include: beach morning glory, railroad vines, sea oats, saw palmetto, Spanish bayonet, yaupon holly, and sea grape. Listed wildlife species that can be found using these habitats include: beach mice, Florida scrub jay, Kirtland’s warbler, and gopher tortoise. Coastal strand has been identified as one of Florida’s habitats under the greatest overall threat. Threats to coastal strand and listed species are similar to those for the Beach/Surf Zone habitat and include disturbance by activities of coastal residents and their pets. For more information, visit the coastal strand habitat profile. FLUCCS: 652, 710, 720 FNAI type: Beach Dune, Coastal Berm, Coastal Grassland, Keys Tidal Rock Barren, Keys Cactus Barren, Coastal Strand.
These swamps occur along rivers, creeks, lakes, or depressions and are dominated by bald cypress or pond cypress trees. Along floodplains, these communities also contain hardwood species such as bays, gums, red maple, and tupelo. Frequent flooding and a closed canopy keep the understory sparse and limited to species such as buttonbush, lizard’s-tail, and ferns. Listed wildlife species that can be found using these habitats include: Florida bonneted bat, everglades mink, Florida panther, wood stork, little blue heron, frosted flatwoods salamander, and eastern indigo snake. Cypress swamp habitats depend on frequent flooded conditions. Projects requiring mass grading and drainage that alter the natural hydrology can have negative impacts. Development projects are encouraged to avoid and provide sufficient buffers from this habitat, and consider habitat restoration by removing ditches, dikes, and roads that have altered the hydrology. For more information, visit the cypress swamp habitat profile. FLUCCS: 621 FNAI type: Basin Swamp, Floodplain Swamp, Strand Swamp, Dome Swamp.
This category includes two sub-types of habitats: cleared or graded natural communities and sites altered by the invasion of exotic vegetation. The first type is characterized by extensive ground disturbance that results in complete loss of vegetative cover and often, a dense cover of low colonizing vegetation. The second type is a radically altered natural community comprised of exotic species such as Melaleuca, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, and Eucalyptus. Although highly altered, the open or vegetated conditions and remote locations of these areas can support wildlife habitat, including breeding sites. Wildlife surveys are recommended to include potential disturbed/transitional habitats for listed wildlife species such as gopher tortoise, wood stork, Florida sandhill crane, wading birds, and southeastern American kestrel. Management of these habitats can enhance their wildlife value and protect adjacent conservation lands. For example, disturbed sites, like fields and utility rights-of-way, can be managed by mowing to maintain grasses and low vegetation suitable for prairie and savanna species. Invasive plant control and early detection and monitoring practices can prevent the spread of exotic plants from these sites into conservation areas. For more information, visit the disturbed/transitional habitat profile. FLUCCS: 190 FNAI type: None.
Dry prairies are expansive flat areas of grasses and shrubs that lack trees. These uplands are dominated by grasses, sedges, herbs, and shrubs such as saw palmetto and fetterbush. Dry prairies have been increasingly rare due to fire suppression and its easy conversion to agriculture and development. Fire is needed to maintain its low vegetation and to prevent trees from invading. Listed species that may be found in dry prairies include: Florida grasshopper sparrow, burrowing owl, Audubon’s crested caracara, and Florida sandhill crane. Dry prairie has been identified as one of Florida’s habitats under the greatest overall threat. This and other sensitive upland habitats need to be identified and delineated in early project planning for protection and management. Due to the dependence on frequent fire to restore and maintain this habitat, dry prairie conservation focuses on management of the largest possible contiguous parcels which can be burned on one- to two-year intervals. Habitat values for remnant dry prairies within developed areas can be enhanced or maintained with vegetation management practices such as roller-chopping and other brush or tree removal methods. For more information, visit the dry prairie habitat profile. FLUCCS: 411 FNAI type: Dry Prairie.
Freshwater Marsh and Wet Prairie
These treeless wetlands are characterized by herbaceous plants in shallow flooded areas dominated by emergent and floating plants. They occur in flatwoods depressions, along river and lake shorelines and scattered within other habitats. Dominant plants include herbaceous species such as pickerel weed, sawgrass, maidencane, arrowhead, fire flag, cattail, spike rush, bulrush, white water lily, water shield, and various sedges. Freshwater marsh and wet prairie are maintained by frequent flooding plus fire that is carried from the surrounding uplands. Ground disturbance can allow invasive plants to colonize and dominate this habitat type. Listed wildlife species that can be found in freshwater marsh/wet prairie include: Florida bonneted bat, Florida panther, little blue heron, tricolored heron, roseate spoonbill, Audubon's crested caracara, frosted flatwoods salamander, Florida brown snake (Keys populations), bluenose shiner, and Panama City crayfish. Freshwater marsh and wet prairie have been identified as two of Florida’s habitats under the greatest overall threat. 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. For more information, visit the freshwater marsh and wet prairie habitat profile. FLUCCS: 641 FNAI type: Basin Marsh, Coastal Interdunal Swale, Depression Marsh, Marl Prairie, Wet Prairie, Floodplain Marsh, Slough, Glades Marsh, Slough Marsh.
These open rangelands are characterized by low-growing grasses and herbs, often in monocultures of non-native grasses like bahiagrass. Having some of the characteristics of prairie, savanna and flatwoods natural communities, and grassland/improved pasture provides significant habitat to several listed wildlife species such as Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida panther, Audubon's crested caracara, southeastern American kestrel, Florida sandhill crane, whooping crane, Florida burrowing owl, eastern indigo snake, and gopher tortoise. Partnerships with ranchers and other private landowners are encouraged to maintain these open rangelands. In addition, landowners with these areas are encouraged to use agricultural wildlife and water quality BMPs and, where possible, to enhance wildlife habitat through assistance provided by FWC’s Landowner Assistance Program. For more information, visit the grassland and improved pasture habitat profile. FLUCCS: 210, 211 FNAI type: None.
Hardwood Hammock Forest
Hardwood hammock forests contrast with pine dominated flatwoods by having closed canopies with denser shade, a more diverse mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, sparse understory vegetation, and less frequent or no fires. Hardwood hammocks occur in a variety of compositions due to differences in soil types and moisture levels, geographic regions, and other factors. North Florida mesic hammocks occupy the middle ground between bottomlands and sandhills or clayhills and are dominated by oaks, hickories, magnolias, and more northern tree species. Central Florida’s hardwood hammocks are often a mix of laurel oak, blue beech, sweet gum, cabbage palm, American holly, and southern magnolia. Xeric hammocks, which occur on well-drained sandy soils, have more drought tolerant live oak, sand live oak, and pignut hickory. Cabbage palm-live oak hammocks can be found within prairies and other natural communities while tropical hardwood hammocks can be found throughout south Florida. Some listed wildlife species that can be found in hammocks include: Florida panther, Audubon's crested caracara, Florida bog frog, Kirtland’s warbler, and gopher tortoise. Located on better drained uplands and having attractive tree canopies, hardwood hammocks have been converted to residential developments and other land uses. Site planning and roadway alignments can maintain certain hardwood hammock habitat values. Research has shown that protected hardwood hammocks and other forest stands as small as one to five acres can support forest songbird habitat. For more information, visit the hardwood hammock forest habitat profile. FLUCCS: 425, 426, 432 FNAI type: Xeric Hammock, Maritime Hammock, Slope Forest, Hydric Hammock, Mesic Hammock, Upland Hardwood Forest.
Hardwood Swamp/Mixed Wetland Forest
These forested wetlands occur in low-lying areas that collect water and are dominated by bald cypress; hardwood trees such as black gum, water tupelo, dahoon holly, red maple, swamp ash, and sweet bay; and may also contain cabbage palm. This closed-canopy habitat traps humidity and burns infrequently. The tree composition is mainly influenced by flooding patterns. Listed wildlife species in these habitats may include: gray bats, Everglades mink, Sherman's short-tailed shrew, Florida panther, wood stork, little blue heron, Florida bog frog, and eastern indigo snake. Hardwood Swamp/Mixed Wetland Forest is sensitive to drainage by ditches, other changes to the water table or depth of flooding, as well as invasion by exotic plants which alter species composition. For more information, visit the hardwood swamp and mixed wetland forest habitat profile. FLUCCS: 610, 615, 617, 630 FNAI type: Bottomland Forest, Hydric Hammock, Basin Swamp.
Hydric hammock occurs in poorly drained soils or areas with high water tables. It is a still-water wetland with 75 to 90% canopy cover. This habitat occurs along the Gulf Coast, often in areas where limestone is close to the surface and along the St. Johns River adjacent to salt and brackish water marshes. Common tree species include laurel oak, live oak, cabbage palm, southern red cedar, and sweetgum. This habitat often occurs in coastal areas that are prime for conversion to development. In addition, sea level rise and invasive plants are major sources of stress for hydric hammock habitats. If possible, protection of hydric hammock habitat through land acquisition or conservation easements is highly encouraged. For more information, visit the hydric hammock habitat profile. FLUCCS: 425, 426, 427 FNAI type: Hydric Hammock.
This habitat consists of high-density, single-species stands of planted pine species. The predominant species is slash pine, although loblolly pine and sand pine also occur. Ground cover is dense at early stages but slowly declines when shaded out as pines age and canopies close. Planted pine can provide habitat value as open lands for wildlife such as Florida panther and black bear that may use this habitat as corridors to move between primary habitats. Other listed wildlife species which use tree farms include: gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, southeastern American kestrel, and gray bat. Management practices such as preserving native groundcover, thinning pine stands to lower tree densities and restore groundcover, and prescribed fire may improve the wildlife use of this habitat type. Industrial/commercial pinelands are eligible to enroll in the state’s Silviculture Best Management Practices for State Imperiled Species. For more information, visit the industrial/commercial pineland habitat profile. FLUCCS: 440/441 FNAI type: None.
Mixed Hardwood-Pine Forest
These upland forests occur on sandy clay soils with a mixture of mature pine and oak trees. Groundcover vegetation is often absent under the dense canopy and is replaced by a thick layer of leaves that retains moisture. Some listed wildlife species found in mixed hardwood-pine forest include: Florida Panther, Florida pine snake, eastern indigo snake, and short-tailed snake. This habitat may represent either areas of natural pinelands into which hardwoods have invaded because of fire suppression, or floodplain forest and other hardwood-dominated systems into which pines have invaded due to drainage and altered hydrology.For more information, visit the mixed hardwood-pine forest habitat profile. FLUCCS: 412, 414, 415, 434 FNAI type: None.
This fire adapted habitat type includes mesic (moderately drained), hydric (wet) and scrubby flatwoods, and upland pine forests depending on soils, terrain, and level of flooding. Pinelands can occur on flat sandy terrain or mesic clay hills where pine species, mainly longleaf, slash, or pond pine, are the dominant canopy tree. 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, with almost all of its plants and animals adapted to being burned at least once every eight years. Natural pinelands support numerous wildlife, and listed wildlife include: Florida bonneted bat, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Key deer, southeastern American kestrel, red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida bog frog, frosted flatwoods salamander, Florida sand skink, eastern indigo snake, short-tailed snake, Florida pine snake, gopher tortoise, and Panama City crayfish. This habitat is highly threatened by conversion to more intensive land uses and insufficient management of invasive plant species such as Japanese climbing fern and has been identified as one of Florida’s habitats under the greatest overall threat. Threats specific to natural pinelands include activities that result in fragmentation and loss of habitat or significantly impact the ability to use prescribed fire to manage areas of pineland habitats to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires and to benefit wildlife. Activities such as siting of utility corridors and sensitive energy facilities, alignment of transportation corridors, and placement of residential and commercial developments can be planned in a manner that avoids or minimizes interference with fire management on public and private natural pinelands. Early coordination and acquisition/mapping of data on sensitive habitats during the siting and planning process can help to minimize conflicts between wildlife, important habitats, and development activities. For more information, visit the natural pineland habitat profile. FLUCCS: 410/411, 412, 413, 415, 419 FNAI type: Mesic Flatwoods, Scrubby Flatwoods, Wet Flatwoods, Upland Pine Forest.
Pine rocklands are found in south Florida where 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. Numerous listed species use this rare habitat, including Florida bonneted bat, Big Cypress fox squirrel, key deer, Lower Keys cotton rat, southeastern American kestrel, red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida Keys mole skink, eastern indigo snake, rim rock crowned snake, gopher tortoise, and Miami tiger beetle. This community is globally imperiled and endangered primarily from conversion and fragmentation due to housing, commercial, and industrial development, and has been identified as one of Florida’s habitats under the greatest overall threat. Other specific stresses to this habitat are altered fire regime and impacts from adjacent development such as the introduction of contaminants, fertilizer, and invasive species from landscape maintenance. The implementation of effective education programs and incentives for homeowners, maintenance companies, and municipalities can help reduce development impacts on pine rocklands within neighboring conservation areas. For more information, visit the pine rockland habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Pine Rocklands.
This habitat occurs along gently rolling terrain with well-drained sandy soils of north and central Florida’s uplands. 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, and milk pea. Some wildlife species found in sandhills include: gopher tortoise, Florida sandhill crane, southeastern American kestrel, red-cockaded woodpecker, blue-tailed mole skink, and Florida pine snake. Sandhill habitat is also important to game species like the northern bobwhite quail. The small and temporary wetlands found throughout sandhill landscapes are an integral part of this habitat type, providing breeding and foraging habitat for many wildlife species. Sandhill can be invaded by hardwood trees if it is not managed by natural or prescribed fires or mowing. Intrusion by native hardwoods or invasive species diminishes the capability of grasses and other herbaceous groundcover species to provide important food sources for wildlife. Threats to sandhill habitats include conversion to other land covers and infrequent fire regimes. The presence of urban areas and structures near sandhill habitat makes it more difficult to manage with prescribed burning. Design and planning professionals can work with local, state and federal organizations to identify methods and incentives to minimize impacts to critical habitats/corridors and land management. For more information, visit the sandhill habitat profile. FLUCCS: 412, 436 FNAI type: Sandhill.
This dry, desert-like habitat occurs on deep sandy soils both on relict dunes in coastal and inland areas. In Florida, scrub is distributed in long, narrow, ridges parallel to coastlines and is scarce or absent from lower elevation limestone-dominated flat landscapes of the state. Scrub vegetation community mainly consists of evergreen shrubs and small trees and can have a sand pine overstory. Variations of scrub habitat include oak scrub, sand pine scrub, rosemary scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. It requires being maintained by disturbance, primarily fire, on intervals of 10-20 years or more. Many rare and listed species of plants and animals unique to this Florida habitat type are referred to as endemics and include scrub holly, inopina oak, pygmy fringe tree, scrub plum, Florida scrub-jays, and numerous invertebrates. Other listed wildlife species which use this habitat include: beach mice, skinks, Kirtland's warbler, gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, and Florida pine snake. Threats to scrub habitat are like those for sandhill habitat. High-density pine stands can also be a threat to this habitat and its wildlife like the federally endangered Florida scrub-jays and other endemics which are not tolerant of dense pine stands and require sites with open, bare sand. For more information, visit the scrub habitat profile and the scrub management guidelines. FLUCCS: 436 FNAI type: Scrub.
This wetland habitat is dominated by low-growing shrubs or small trees. Common species include willow, wax myrtle, primrose willow, buttonbush, and small trees of red maple, sweetbay, and black gum species. Most of this shrub swamp habitat was once savanna, wet prairie, or pine flatwoods in north and central Florida and the spatial extent of this habitat has increased significantly from its likely natural distribution through hydrologic alteration and fire exclusion in these other wetland habitat types. Shrub swamp is habitat for Florida black bears, tree frogs, migratory birds, and salamanders. Threats to this habitat can include invasive animals and plants or surface and groundwater withdrawal. These threats may be reduced through education and better management practices which may also increase its suitability for wildlife. For more information, visit the shrub swamp habitat profile. FLUCCS: 610/614, 616, 617, 618, 631, 6417 FNAI type: None.
Terrestrial caves occur in caverns below ground where there is no permanent standing water. They are found in north and central Florida in areas of karst geology. They have stable internal environments with constant temperature and humidity levels. Caves support unique and irreplaceable species with adaptations that may be sensitive to small increases in levels of contaminants, air temperature, or food webs. The endemic and listed wildlife species, such as gray bats, that live in terrestrial caves are at high risk from stresses of development, incompatible recreational uses, and resource extraction. Incentive programs such as liability limitations and cost-sharing can be implemented to secure cave entrances with bat-friendly gating, or to avoid impacts to sensitive habitats from development and mining. For more information, visit the terrestrial cave habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Terrestrial Cave.
Tropical Hardwood Hammock
This community is an upland hardwood forest that occurs in south Florida along coastal uplands and within Everglades tree islands. Plant species include strangler fig, gumbo limbo, mastic, bustic, lancewood, ironwood, poisonwood, pigeon plum, Jamaica dogwood, and Bahama lysiloma. Listed species found in tropical hardwood hammocks include: Florida bonneted bat, Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Florida panther, Key deer, white-crowned pigeon, Key ring-necked snake, striped mud turtle (Lower Keys population), Stock Island tree snail, and other invertebrates. Feral or pet cats and non-native rats have been specifically identified as threatening rare and listed wildlife species in this habitat. Because household garbage can attract and elevate populations of exotic and native predators of rare and listed wildlife, improved handling of garbage and other non-native wildlife attractants can be extremely beneficial in areas adjacent to this habitat. For more information, visit the tropical hardwood hammock habitat profile. FLUCCS: 426 FNAI type: Rockland Hammock, Maritime Hammock.
These areas include habitat on and around built structures as well as within yards and lawns, golf courses, road shoulders, airports, parks, and remnant natural areas surrounded by residential and commercial development. Wildlife either persists in remnant habitats or is attracted to urban and developed areas because of food sources, shelter, less competition, or threats from predators. Listed wildlife species that persist in or adaptable to these areas include: Florida bonneted bat, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida panther, Key deer, wood stork, little blue heron, tricolored heron, southeastern American kestrel, Florida sandhill crane, least tern, and gopher tortoise. Encounters with urban wildlife can encourage public appreciation for wildlife or in some cases can create conflict, such as when bears or raccoons raid unsecured garbage cans. The FWC has numerous resources available for enhancing wildlife habitat within urban and developed areas to address potential wildlife conflicts and provides tools for managing this wildlife habitat in this guide’s Conservation and Development Planning Section. For more information, visit the urban/developed habitat profile. FLUCCS: 100, 180/181, 182, 184, 186, 188, 190/191, 192, 194, 210 FNAI type: None
These are subterranean caverns that are permanently flooded and support aquatic ecosystems. Aquatic caves develop in areas of karst topography as water moves through underlying limestone, dissolving it and creating fissures and caverns. 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. Many aquatic cave systems have listed species such as the Georgia blind salamander and Santa Fe cave crayfish that are specifically adapted to that system and are therefore at risk from even minor changes in the habitat. Threats to aquatic caves are like those of terrestrial caves, and many of the same conservation actions can be used to protect these habitats and the rare and listed species which use them. For more information, visit the aquatic cave habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Aquatic Cave.
These streams receive water from springs and spring run tributaries and, at times of heavy rains, recharge the underlying aquifers through sinks. This habitat occurs in the north and central regions of the state and is comprised of 26 streams originating in or flowing through the Ocala Uplift region of north central Florida and in the Panhandle. Most calcareous streams are clear and cool or are stained a tea color by tannins leached from vegetation in adjacent habitats. Submerged plants are frequently dense, and can include tape grass, wild rice, and giant cutgrass. Listed wildlife that live in and around calcareous stream habitat include: gray bat, West Indian manatee, little blue heron, Barbour's map turtle, alligator snapping turtle, shortnose sturgeon, Gulf sturgeon, and mussels. Calcareous stream-specific threats are due to water quality issues caused primarily by excessive nutrient inputs and invasive plant species. Nutrients from stormwater runoff, agricultural fertilizers, and septic systems change the aquatic vegetation environment with blooms of algae and nuisance plants and decline of beneficial native species. Methods to control invasive aquatic plants are more difficult in these open, flowing systems than enclosed lakes and basins. Other conservation measures that benefit calcareous streams and other waterbodies include development density transfers, nutrient reduction through basin management action plans, and preservation of shoreline vegetation through setbacks. For more information, visit the calcareous stream habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510 FNAI type: Spring-run Stream.
Canals are man-made, linear waterways designed to control floodwaters or provide water for irrigation or other water needs, and are typically maintained to have minimal aquatic, floating, or emergent vegetation. Because canals and ditches often connect wetlands and other water sources to downstream waterbodies, they serve as surrogate habitat for many aquatic species whose native historic habitat has been greatly reduced. In north Florida, the Panama City crayfish (a burrowing species once found in seasonally wet pine flatwoods in a small area of Bay County) now almost exclusively relies on shallow roadside swales and ditches because natural flatwoods in this area have been converted to other land uses. Additional listed fish and wildlife species found in canal/ditch habitat include: Florida bonneted bat, wood stork, little blue heron, tricolored heron, roseate spoonbill, least tern, American crocodile, Atlantic saltmarsh snake, and smalltooth sawfish. To reduce potential impacts to listed species in canal/ditch habitat, FWC staff are available to provide technical assistance for aquatic plant management and canal maintenance in areas where rare and listed wildlife are present. For example, canal maintenance can be scheduled outside of the breeding or feeding times critical for the species. In addition, water releases can be timed and managed to maintain adequate water velocities and dissolved oxygen needed to support fish and other aquatic life. For more information, visit the canal/ditch habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510, 816 FNAI type: None.
Large Alluvial Stream
In Florida, this habitat is mainly confined to the Panhandle. These meandering streams originate in high uplands and have various flood stages and naturally high turbidity from upland sands, silts, and clays. Aquatic and emergent vegetation is minimal and mostly confined to channel edges or backwaters. Flooding carries detritus, minerals, and nutrients from upland habitats to floodplains of bottomland hardwood forests, swamp forests, and downstream estuaries. Aquatic vegetation species found here include spatterdock, duckweed, American lotus, and water hyssop. Some listed species in large alluvial stream habitat include: gray bat, Barbour's map turtle, blackmouth shiner, crystal darter, smalltooth sawfish, and numerous mussels. Upstream dams and water withdrawals pose a serious source of stress to the alluvial stream habitat and its associated fish and wildlife species. This has been experienced on the Apalachicola River and may be becoming a more significant threat to several other alluvial rivers. States and local governments can prevent or reduce the loss of this habitat by coordinating Interstate Action Plans when changing dam operations in shared basins. For more information, visit the large alluvial stream habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510 FNAI type: Alluvial Stream, River Floodplain Lake, Swamp 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 clear, nutrient-deficient, and vulnerable to acidification and nutrient inputs. Lake vegetation varies from bare bottom to attached submergent and emergent plants to complete coverage by floating plants. Listed species of birds which nest on lake shorelines and associated wetlands include: wood stork, tricolored herons, roseate spoonbills, Florida snail kites, and Florida sandhill cranes. Many of the threats to this habitat stem directly or indirectly from lakefront development which is ubiquitous on natural lakes throughout Florida. Like many wetland habitats, natural lakes can be directly affected by the removal of littoral vegetation and nutrient inputs from lakefront development, and indirectly by changes within the surrounding watershed or lake basin which alter the quality and quantity of water supply to the lake. Agricultural best management practices for water quality and conservation designs for residential development can reduce the overall impacts to natural lakes. Some of those actions include conserving littoral zones, riparian habitats, and floodplains. Other lake conservation measures include incentives for maintenance and conversion to agricultural practices that use less water and result in lower nutrient outputs into Florida's waters and wetlands. Finally, there are market-based incentives to compensate private landowners for the environmental services their lands provide to the state through management that increases water storage and nutrient reduction. These types of actions are essential for protecting the wildlife habitat value of lakes. For more information, visit the natural lakes habitat page. FLUCCS: 520 FNAI type: Clastic Upland Lake, Sandhill Lake, Sinkhole Lake.
These are man-made water bodies created by damming streams, excavating within upland areas, deepening wetlands, or maintaining lake elevations through weirs or other water control structures. Reservoirs are created for multiple purposes, many of which are compatible with wildlife habitat. Reservoirs and managed lakes often support listed species which include: Florida bonneted bat, West Indian manatee, wading birds, Everglade snail kite, least tern, and Barbour’s map turtle. At the same time, reservoirs, especially instream impoundments, can be barriers to fish and wildlife movement, alter hydrology, and create other stresses to river and stream habitats. Conservation measures for natural lakes and other wetland systems also apply to reservoir/managed lake habitat. Private landowners and home owners living on these areas can be supplied with educational information on how to minimize runoff of chemicals and toxins into wetlands and aquatic systems. For more information, see FWC’s Guidelines for designing and managing Florida ponds for recreation, or visit the reservoir/managed lake habitat profile. FLUCCS: 530 FNAI type: None.
These stream habitats are canopy-covered flows of groundwater usually less than 40 feet wide, shallow, and often forming tributaries to alluvial and blackwater streams. Seepage and steephead streams are biologically diverse habitats that may be bordered by clumps of green algae, mosses, ferns, and liverworts and are associated with hardwood swamps. Threats specific to this habitat include the operation of dams or water control structures on small streams, especially in north Florida where they have historically been dammed for water supply or fishing ponds. Seepage slopes and bogs are a variation of this habitat with an open tree canopy that does not have regular stream flows and are dominated by grasses and carnivorous plants. Seepage slopes and bogs suffer from inadequate fire, often leading to succession of associated herbaceous communities to hardwood swamp wetlands. Incentives programs that encourage a buffer zone between new development and river, stream or floodplain edges can be implemented to assist in the protection of this habitat and its associated wildlife. For more information, visit the seepage/steephead stream habitat profile. FLUCCS: 550 FNAI type: Seepage Stream, Seepage Slope.
These streams originate from broad wetlands that overflow into narrow, shallow channels. 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. Softwater streams are among the most common stream habitats in Florida and the southeast and have been identified by the FWC as a habitat under the greatest overall threat. They are subject to a wide variety of threats, many of them statewide in scope. Softwater streams are naturally low-nutrient ecosystems vulnerable to even modest increases in nutrients. These small streams are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the conversion of adjoining wetland and upland areas to development, resulting in faster and increased rates of stormwater runoff, stream channelization, and erosion. Some listed species which utilize this habitat include: Atlantic sturgeon, Gulf sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, Okaloosa darter, bluenose shiner, Black Creek crayfish, and Chipola slabshell (mussel). Market-based incentives to compensate private landowners for the implementation of projects and practices that increase water storage and nutrient reduction within the watershed can help improve softwater streams. For more information, visit the softwater stream habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510 FNAI type: Blackwater Stream.
Spring and Spring Run
These habitats originate from artesian openings from the Floridan aquifer where the limestone has dissolved and water is forced to the surface. Springs are characterized by clear water and constant water temperature. Plant species that occur here include tape grass, wild rice, giant cutgrass, and aquatic algae. Listed species are like those listed for calcareous stream habitat. Nutrient loading of groundwater has also led to profound changes in the ecological functioning and composition of spring and spring run, like those resulting from eutrophication in calcareous stream, lake, and wetland systems. Additionally, ever increasing withdrawals of groundwater in areas of central and north Florida continues to alter the hydrology of these systems. Support for programs to conserve important natural areas significant to watershed recharge are crucial to the long-term health and function of springs and spring runs. The discussion of calcareous stream habitat includes conservation measures that also apply for this habitat. For more information, visit the spring and spring run habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510, 550 FNAI type: Spring-run Stream.
Annelid reefs, or worm reefs, are formed by aggregations of sandcastle worms that form sand tubes by cementing sand grains together. They are commonly found in the intertidal and shallow subtidal zone to about 10 m (33 ft) deep. In Florida, they occur in the highest abundances off St. Lucie and Martin counties. Worm reefs provide refugia for juvenile coastal fish and invertebrate species and support listed species that include: loggerhead sea turtle, Gulf sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, West Indian manatee, and Nassau grouper. Many of the threats to annelid reefs are the same as for several other marine and estuarine habitats (e.g. seagrass, hard bottom, and coral reef). Some of the primary threats to these habitats include: channel modification/shipping lanes, climate variability, coastal development, and fishing gear impacts. Actions to abate these threats will be the same or similar for many of the other marine and estuarine habitats. For more information, visit the annelid reef habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Worm Reef.
This habitat includes both artificial reefs and hardened shorelines. Artificial reefs are created to increase reef fish habitat, enhance recreational fishing and diving opportunities, provide socio-economic benefits to local coastal communities, and facilitate reef fish related research. Hardened shorelines result from construction of breakwaters, piers, and docks from rock or concrete for coastal protection or access. These shoreline structures may benefit some species, but they can also have negative effects and disrupt natural shoreline processes. Some fish and wildlife species associated with this habitat include: West Indian manatee, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, smalltooth sawfish, and Nassau grouper. Actions to abate threats to artificial structure habitat include the adoption of in-water construction practices that reduce the threat of pollutant spills and minimize turbidity and sedimentation. For more information, visit the artificial structure habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: None.
Oyster beds are the most common form of bivalve reefs, which are concentrations of bottom dwelling mollusks within intertidal and subtidal zones. In Florida, oyster beds are restricted to bays and sounds where salinity concentrations range from 15 to 30 parts per thousand. Oyster beds serve as nurseries, refugia, and foraging areas for many marine, avian, and terrestrial species. Some listed fish and wildlife species which utilize this habitat include: American oystercatcher, Rufa red knot, and Gulf sturgeon. Changes in water management that alter freshwater deliveries to estuaries are detrimental to this habitat. Another habitat-specific threat to bivalve reefs is contamination from pollutant spills. Government agencies and landowners can work together to create incentives to maintain buffers around coastal areas and promote the implementation of conservation easements. For more information, visit the bivalve reef habitat profile. FLUCCS: 654 FNAI type: Mollusk Reef.
Coastal Tidal River or Stream
This habitat is the freshwater or brackish portion of a river that connects with estuarine or marine habitat. Tidal fluctuations mix saltwater with freshwater, alter water elevations and salinities, and change the composition of plants and animals in the natural community. Some listed fish and wildlife species which utilize this habitat include: West Indian manatee, wood stork, roseate spoonbill, least tern, shortnose sturgeon, saltmarsh topminnow, and Atlantic salt marsh snake. Some significant threats to these habitats include: channel modification, freshwater withdraws, chemicals and toxins, and nutrient pollution. Interstate coordination and basin management of freshwater inflows to this habitat can be significantly important to the protection of fish and wildlife resources within this habitat. Landscape buffers, development setbacks, density transfers, and acquisition and conservation incentives can assist developments to reduce direct impacts to coastal tidal river or stream wetlands and floodplains. For more information, visit the coastal tidal river or stream habitat profile. FLUCCS: 510, 540 FNAI type: None.
Coral reefs are concentrated areas of massive corals and other sessile organisms attached to the bottom such as sponges and sea fans. 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 areas less than 50m deep. Listed fish and wildlife species found in highly productive coral reef habitat include: green sea turtle, Nassau grouper, and giant manta ray. Additionally, seven species of stony coral found in this habitat are federally-threatened in Florida. Known threats to this habitat are climate variability, inadequate stormwater management, coastal construction, nutrient loading, coral diseases, impacts from boating and fishing, and turbidity and sedimentation related to channel dredging and beach nourishment. Promoting ecological awareness of the values of threats to this habitat and the application of water quality BMPs in urban and agriculture development upstream can be beneficial in reducing chemical and nutrient loading in coral reef waters. For more information, visit the coral reef habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Coral Reef.
This habitat consists of algae, sponges, octocorals, and stony corals found along the subtidal, intertidal, and supratidal areas of Florida’s coasts. Hard bottom provides important refuges for a variety of fish and invertebrates. Listed species found in hard bottom include: West Indian manatee, green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, Atlantic sturgeon, and giant manta ray. Listed stony coral species that are associated with Hard Bottom include: staghorn coral and elkhorn coral. Threats to hard bottom habitats are associated with beach nourishment activities, damage from ship and boat groundings, cumulative impacts from anchors of all size vessels, alteration of species composition, and parasites/pathogens. Activities like those proposed for coral reefs will benefit hard bottom habitat. For more information, visit the hard bottom habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Consolidated Substrate, Octocoral Bed, Sponge Bed.
Inlets are breaks along barrier island shorelines that connect coastal and inland water bodies. The mixing of marine and estuarine waters and diverse substrates of these dynamic environments provide essential spawning habitat for several marine fishes. Coastal inlets tend to be hot spots of biodiversity and are critical in the life cycle of many fish and invertebrate species. Listed fish and wildlife species present in this habitat include: American crocodile, little blue heron, West Indian manatee, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, American oystercatcher, least tern, Atlantic saltmarsh watersnake, sea turtles, Atlantic sturgeon, and Gulf sturgeon. Many of the threats to inlet habitat are shared with other coastal habitats. Consequently, actions to abate these threats will be the same or similar to the actions recommended for abating threats to beach/surf zone, tidal flat, coastal tidal river or stream, coral reef, hard bottom, and seagrass. For more information, visit the inlet habitat profile. FLUCCS: 540 FNAI type: None.
Mangrove swamps are dense forests of mangrove trees found in brackish water along low-energy shorelines. The dominant species that occur here are red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove, and buttonwood. This community type is composed of freeze-sensitive tree species and is with some limited exceptions found south of Cedar Key on the Gulf coast and south of St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast. The listed fish and wildlife species which use mangrove habitat include: Florida bonneted bat, Everglades mink, Key deer, wood stork, tricolored heron, roseate spoonbill, reddish egret, American crocodile, and Atlantic saltmarsh watersnake. Habitat-specific threats to mangrove swamp include reduction in freshwater flows from dam operations, lack of tidal fluctuation caused by mosquito impoundments, loss of mangroves from inappropriate pruning by coastal property owners, and coastal development. Property owners and associations can require landscape managers to participate in continuing education credits for proper mangrove trimming and herbicide/fertilizer application. It is also important to better understand how watercraft speed limits/zones affect this habitat. For more information, visit the mangrove swamp habitat profile. FLUCCS: 612 FNAI type: Mangrove Swamp.
Pelagic waters are those lying over and beyond the continental shelf in the water column above the seafloor and below the surface. In Florida, this environment extends three nautical miles off the Florida east coast and nine nautical miles off the Florida Gulf coast. Maximum depths vary from approximately 30 feet (9 m) in the Gulf of Mexico to more than 1,000 feet (304 m) off the Florida Keys and southeast Florida. Many threats to pelagic habitats are the same as for several other marine and estuarine habitats and the actions to improve these threats will be similar (e.g. coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass). For more information see the Pelagic habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: None.
Salt marsh habitat is among the most productive in the world and is characterized by herbaceous plants that experience varying tidal influences. Saltmarsh cordgrass dominates the areas of greatest inundation and needle rush occupies less frequently flooded areas of the marsh. Listed fish and wildlife species of salt marshes include: Lower Keys marsh rabbit, West Indian manatee, roseate spoonbill, American oystercatcher, Rufa red knot, least tern, Scott's seaside sparrow, Wakulla seaside sparrow, American crocodile, Atlantic saltmarsh watersnake, and saltmarsh topminnow. Two major stresses to saltmarsh and associated species are from rapid sea level variation and coastal development. Coastal development projects must consider long term management of landscaping and stormwater management to minimize potential adverse effect of stormwater runoff on adjacent wetlands and aquatic systems. Significant reductions in nutrient loading can be realized through low-maintenance landscaping and implementing BMPs for chemical/herbicide/fertilizer application. Coastal communities can consider planning tools and financial incentives to reduce development impacts through density transfers or payment for ecosystem services. Additionally, targeted restoration projects to remediate damage to saltmarshes provide secondary benefits for coastal storm protection and sea level rise resiliency. For more information, visit the salt marsh habitat profile. FLUCCS: 642 FNAI type: Salt Marsh.
Seagrass beds are found in bays, lagoons, and clear, shallow coastal waters where wave energy is moderate, and the bottom consists of unconsolidated substrates like marl, muck, or sand. The most common seagrass species are turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass. Algae and invertebrates often attach to seagrass and support a diverse marine community. Some of the listed fish and wildlife species which depend on seagrass beds for their survival include: West Indian manatee and Gulf Sturgeon. Conservation measures described for other marine and estuarine habitats and education campaigns on environmental and boating regulations can benefit seagrass. Significant success in seagrass restoration has been realized through multi-partner restoration programs like those in Tampa Bay. For more information, visit the seagrass habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Algal Bed, Seagrass Bed, Composite Substrate.
Subtidal Unconsolidated Marine/Estuary Sediment
This habitat consists of areas with little to no seagrass within bays, lagoons, other coastal waters, and offshore. Substrate types consist of coralgae, marl, mud, sand, or shell. This habitat is an important foraging area for many shorebirds and seabirds, invertebrates, and bottom feeding fish. Some listed fish and wildlife species found in this habitat include: wading birds, American crocodile, sea turtles, and sturgeon. Habitat-specific threats to subtidal unconsolidated marine/estuary sediment are boating impacts, solid waste, and thermal pollution, which also affect several other marine and estuarine habitats. Consequently, actions to abate these threats will be the same or similar to the actions recommended for reducing threats to several other marine and estuarine habitats (e.g. coastal tidal river or stream, mangrove swamp, seagrass, tidal flat). For more information, visit the subtidal unconsolidated marine/estuary sediment habitat profile. FLUCCS: N/A FNAI type: Unconsolidated Substrate.
Tidal flats are sandy or muddy areas that are exposed at low tide and are adjacent to beaches, inlets, and bay shorelines. Listed fish and wildlife species which are found on tidal flats include: tricolored heron, piping plover, least tern, reddish egret, loggerhead sea turtle, and smalltooth sawfish. Sources of stress to this habitat include coastal development and incompatible industrial operations. Actions to abate these threats will be the same or similar to the actions recommended for abating threats to several other marine and estuarine habitats (e.g. mangrove swamp, saltmarsh, seagrass, coastal tidal river or stream). For more information, visit the tidal flat habitat profile. FLUCCS: 651 FNAI type: None