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Terrestrial Habitat Research

panoramic view of an upland habitat in Florida


Terrestrial Habitat researchers study the ecology and management of Florida’s forest, savanna, and ephemeral wetland ecosystems, which are essential to wildlife and biodiversity conservation.  Fire features prominently in nearly everything we do, as many of Florida’s most diverse terrestrial ecosystems are fire-dependent. Our work falls into two broad categories: restoration ecology and fire ecology.

Over the past 100 years, Florida’s forests, savannas, and ephemeral wetlands have experienced major changes due to human activities.  Ecological restoration is often necessary in order for these terrestrial ecosystems to once again support an abundance of biodiversity, and fire is nearly always a component of ecological restoration in Florida’s terrestrial ecosystems.

Lightning-ignited wildfires have occurred naturally in Florida for millenia, fostering a diversity of plant and animal species that thrive in the open, grassy landscapes maintained by frequent fire.  Without fire, these landscapes are invaded by woody shrubs and trees, which shade out and smother the herbaceous understory upon which many animal species depend.  In Florida, even ephemeral wetlands depend on periodic fire during dry spells, without which they are overcome by shrub and tree encroachment.

Beginning in the 1930s, the widespread practice of fire suppression caused the degradation of many of Florida’s fire-dependent terrestrial ecosystems, leading to the loss of both plant and animal biodiversity.  Now, land managers throughout Florida are reintroducing fire to these ecosystems, but fire reintroduction is tricky and must be done carefully.  Our lab helps support conservation in Florida through applied research that improves our understanding of fire effects in sensitive terrestrial ecosystems, helps develop techniques for successfully and safely restoring fire to Florida’s ecosystems, and informs strategies for propagating and reintroducing native plant species to sites where they have been extirpated.

Who We Are

Johanna Freeman, PhD
Team Leader

Amber Gardner, PhD
Research Associate

Shawn Clemons
Lab Manager/Research Assistant

Bailey Piper
Research Technician/Project Manager

Scott Gilb
Research Technician/Project Manager

Alyssa Ward
Research Technician/Project Manager

Sean Kearns
Biological Scientist/Research Intern

Recent Publications and Reports


Plant List (Native Florida Species Found In Undisturbed Ecosystems)
The Terrestrial Habitat Plant List, complete with images, includes information such as each species' region, ecosystem type, interesting facts (including edibility, history, medicinal uses, etc), and plant family.

Contact Terrestrial Habitat
Contact information for the FWC's Terrestrial Habitat Research and Monitoring program.