Seven different types of habitat are found on Merritt Island NWR: beaches, coastal dunes, scrub, pine flatwoods, brackish impoundments, hardwood hammocks, and vast open water estuaries all provide food, water, and shelter for more than 500 species of wildlife.
Active management of both uplands and wetlands ensures high quality habitat is available for wildlife that depend on the refuge for survival. Water level management in the refuges 70+ impoundments, the use of prescribed fire, and control of invasive exotic plants are all critical components of refuge management.
In some instances, additional active management is needed to restore
degraded or unproductive habitats
to desired conditions. This is
often the best approach on sites
that have altered plant communities that will not return to a desired condition through natural processes.
Scrub Restoration - USFWS Photo
To help improve refuge habitat for Florida scrub jays, scrub habitat restoration projects have been underway at Merritt Island NWR for several years. Refuge personnel use heavy equipment such as dozers, V-blades, and excavators to mechanically alter or remove overgrown oak trees and other vegetation to once again make the habitat available to scrub jays. In some areas, pine trees and cabbage palms are removed to allow additional sunlight to the forest understory. This will enhance the productivity of scrub oak and other shrubs that provide critical habitat not only for scrub jays, but for other less common wildlife species including gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes. Mechanical treatment is often followed by prescribed fire to remove undergrowth and add nutrients to the soil.
Florida Scrub Jay - USFWS Photo
Invasive Species Control
Almost every ecosystem in the United States is currently under siege by one or more plants or animals that should not be there. Merritt Island NWR is no exception. Of the 70,000 upland acres on the refuge, it is estimated that more than 7,000 acres are currently covered by an exotic plant. The plant that is currently most pervasive is Brazilian pepper found growing on every dike and in most wooded areas of the refuge.
Non-native plants often out-compete native plants for space, yet provide little or no wildlife value. In efforts to combat these noxious, invasive plants, chemical and mechanical control of Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, Australian pine, air potato, rosary pea, guinea grass, camphor tree, Chinese tallow tree, cogongrass, and Japanese climbing fern is conducted on the refuge.
Brazilian Pepper - USFWS Photo
How You Can Help
One way to help reduce exotic plants on refuges and in other wild Florida places is to eliminate them in your own yard at home. Brazilian pepper, Chinese tallow tree, and Australian pine are all commonly found yards. Eliminate these species and use Florida native plants!
For a complete list of Florida invasive plants, visit http://plants.usda.gov. For a list of Florida friendly plants, visit the Florida Native Plant Society web page at http://www.fnps.org. For additional information on efforts to control invasive species nationwide, go to http://www.fws.gov/invasives