How do you read the Florida landscape?
What are questions you could ask yourself when you are out in Florida nature?
James V. Buckner (B.S., M.S.) is currently a Florida Master Naturalist Program Instructor in Marion County, and a retired Naturalist/Instructor for the Silver River Museum & Environmental Ed. Center and Central Florida Ecologist, State of Florida, Division of Forestry.
“Here is a general outline reflecting things I often ask my students to consider, in order to evaluate an ecosystem in front of them as part of the Florida landscape.” Buckner contributed these questions:
1. Look at the topography of the area. What do you notice about the landscape? For example: is the landscape hilly? Flat? Sloping? Noticeably wet? Dry? Consistent?
2. Look up/Look high! Describe what you see.
3. Look around! What is the structure of this ecological community like? Is the inside of the community shaded, or open and sunny? What might influence this structure to be as it is.
4. Look down! Describe what you see on the ground.
5. What is the soil like here? Take a soil sample, if you can.
If you can’t take a soil sample, look at mounds excavated by digging or burrowing animals (including ants & other insects). How does the soil in those mounds compare to the soil on the undisturbed surface?
Try to get a sense of soil moisture and fertility in this place. How will those affect this ecological community as a whole?
6. How are a) the structure of the community, b) what you discovered on the surface of the ground, and c) the soil characteristics all interrelated?
7. What are the dominant plants in various layers of this community?
Plants (if any) in the:
c) Shrub layer
d) Ground cover
If you know that any of the above plants are not native to Florida, put [brackets] around their names.
8. Name or describe any animals that you see, or discover evidence of, in this community. Remember, animals don’t have to be large (worms and insects count too, for example).
9. What kinds of evidence can be used to determine an animal’s presence, even if the animal, itself, is not seen? Which of those types of evidence did you find here? If you know which animals were indicated by the evidence you found, name them.
10. Try to discover evidence of physical factors that could affect this community or its individual inhabitants? What evidence did you find?
Is it likely that this community is occasionally burned? How can you tell?
Is it likely that this community is occasionally flooded? What evidence can you describe for that? Could the physical disturbances, described above, have happened naturally (without human influence)?
11. Try to find evidence of other disturbances to the community, either influenced or not influenced by humans. List them below. Predict how each one may affect this community, over time.
12. What ecological community most likely would have preceded the one that is here now? What evidence supports your above answer? How long ago do you think that may have been?
13. Under what circumstances might this community succeed to (change to) a different community? Under those circumstances, what community might it become?
14. What do you think the best outcome of the above change might be? Why do you think that outcome would be best? What would probably be the worst outcome? What do you think will be the most likely outcome, here, in this particular location?
15. What can you personally do to positively influence the outcomes you predicted in the question above?
As you continue to read, travel and learn more in nature, refer back to these questions. Perhaps keep a diary of your observations and see how your knowledge of reading the landscape improves.
Get out and enjoy The Great Florida Outdoors!
Dr. Norman’s new book Reading the Florida Landscape will be published in 2020
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Photo caption: Cow House Creek in May Photo by Dr. Robert Norman