Practitioners of ground cover restoration live by the doctrine, if we build it they will come. Ground cover restoration is hard work, costly, and the final product is often uncertain due to environmental factors outside human control. Land managers are motivated by the belief that, ultimately, the restored habitat will have greater value for wildlife. The Native Ground Cover Restoration (NGCR) project studies the establishment of native ground cover plants on upland habitat restorations sites.
The FWC is the lead agency charged with the protection and management of approximately 1.4 million acres of land. To include 40 NCGR sites spread over 18 FWC properties including Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) Wildlife and Environmental Areas, and mitigation parks. Many of these lands are former agricultural areas and include areas of improved or semi-improved pasture. In order to enhance wildlife habitat and ecosystem function, the Wildlife Habitat Management Section is restoring these areas to native ground cover. The overall goal for the restoration areas is to restore the historical longleaf pine-wiregrass communities. To achieve this objective, efforts have been aimed at eliminating the exotic ground cover and restoring a functional native ground cover base. FWRI's Upland Habitat Research and Monitoring Program provides scientific assistance in monitoring the development of vegetation on all restoration sites.
FWRI monitors these communities biennially at random sample points located on each site. Botanical data such as species richness, and relative frequency of occurrence is recorded within 2 x 10 ft. quadrats positioned at each sample point. Cover, or the percentage of quadrat area occupied by each species, is visually estimated. Frequency and cover are also recorded for bare ground (mineral soil lacking plant material) and litter (dead plant material standing or lying flat on the ground). This method provides a thorough assessment of the developing community and allows for detailed tracking of changes in numbers and kinds of herbaceous species. These data will document the development of the vegetation community resulting from seeding efforts as well as aid area managers in anticipating possible problems of competition from non-native and/or weed species. Each site is monitored every other year and monitoring is discontinued after five years if the site meets the restoration goals and the site is on track for successful establishment of native species.
While sampling vegetation, staff look for anything notable including rare or listed species, invasive exotics, or signs of wildlife usage. Due to monitoring efforts, many interesting and exciting observations of wildlife at these sites have been recorded. Most notably, Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) tracks were found at several research sites at Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area, and a den with panther kittens was found within the site. At Moody Branch Mitigation Park Wildlife and Environmental Area, Upland Habitat Biologists spotted their first recording of burrowing owls. The group also observed several rare species of plants on the restoration fields, including seaside threeawn (Aristida tuberculosa) and sandhill spiny pod (Matelea pubiflora) at the Spring Creek Units of Big Bend WMA. This observation was the first time either species has been positively identified at this location.
In addition, the results from this project have led to the publication of the “Groundcover Restoration Implementation Guidebook” prepared for the FWC by the Groundcover Restoration Implementation Strategy Team. This document is free to all land managers in the state of Florida who are interested in native ground cover restoration.