1 - Ecology and Conservation of Florida Scrub  pp. 7-22

Ecology and Conservation of Florida Scrub

By Eric S. Menges

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Florida scrub exhibits a multitude of contradictions. It is a shrubland dominated by xeromorphic plants in a region of subtropical temperatures, abundant rainfall, and luxuriant primary productivity. Florida scrub is resilient to fire, but sensitive to short fire return intervals and fire suppression. Although scrub has low species diversity, its level of endemism is among the highest of any North American plant community. To many, Florida scrub appears harsh and unappealing, but it inspires rhapsody among its defenders. Finally, although scrub plants and animals have persisted for millennia of drought, fire, and infertility, the unique biota of Florida scrub is vulnerable to continuing human development.

Scientific knowledge of Florida scrub is as patchy as the remaining distribution of this endangered ecosystem. Many studies on community responses to fire have been completed or are ongoing, but data suggesting the normal range of fire return intervals are sketchy. Information on nutrient cycling, herbivory, and belowground competition is scarce. The distributions and habitat requirements of several endemic plants are well known, although the reasons for high endemism remain controversial. New species of invertebrates, and even new trophic interactions, are being described continually. A sense of urgency pervades the basic scientific study of Florida scrub because (1) habitat destruction is proceeding rapidly, and (2) it is clear that unanswered land management questions will be crucial to conserving the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the remnant scrub.