The four major vegetative communities that exist on the refuge occur as a result of the complex interrelationship of topography, soil, hydroperiod, and the frequency and intensity of fires. These types are: hardwood hammocks; pine forests; cypress, and mixed swamp forests; and prairies, marshes, sloughs and ponds (Duever et al., 1986). Fire either maintains or sets back the successional stage that each vegetative type represents. The hydroperiod controls whether an area will burn or not at a given time of the year, or controls the intensity of a fire by influencing soil moisture, plant growth stage (green or cured), or presence of standing water which may only allow a top burn. In most cases, the type of soil or lack thereof, reflects the prevailing hydroperiod and fire history. The delineation of these communities can be somewhat subtle or abrupt. For example, a cypress domes can be relatively small (less than an acre), yet distinctly ringed by a prairie which is further surrounded by pine flatwoods. The hydroperiod, changes in elevation of only a few inches and soil parameters determine the vegetative divisions. In other areas the vegetative boundaries are blurred; where cypress and pines, seeding from their once distinct habitats, are now found together pioneering among the prairie grasses that once served as the ecotone between pine and cypress. This is likely caused by hydrologic changes over the years. Hammocks are typically found on mounds, only a foot or two above the surrounding habitat, which may be a pine forest or prairie. In this way a hammock can be situated in a pine forest.
Click the links below to visit each of habitats found on the refuge.
The major overstory species of the pine forests is the South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliotti var. densa). Pine land, although comprising only 21% of the refuge habitats, is vital for the Florida panther and other endangered and threatened species.
Hardwood hammock forests include over 300 species of both tropical and temperate plants.
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