My time at Archbold Biological Station has come to an end, but a new adventure begins just an hour and a half to the southwest! In January 2015, I began work as a Land Stewardship Intern at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a National Audubon Society sanctuary. This photo actually says a lot about Corkscrew and the southern everglades ecosystem. Yes, it’s pretty to look at, but I think it’s fascinating to contemplate why there are such drastic changes in the land in such a small amount of space.
Swaying right in front of us we have a field of grass, with a line of brown trees on the right, and some pine trees on the left horizon. Amazingly, these changes are mostly driven by a change in elevation of just a few inches. We all know that Florida is flat, but tiny changes in elevation make huge differences. In areas that are slightly higher, the soil stays drier and pine forests are able to grow. This is what you see in the far left of the photo.
On the far right, we have the edge of a cypress swamp. Because of the lower elevation, much more water accumulates here, several feet deep in places with fish and huge alligators swimming below. Pine trees can’t grow in places this wet, but Bald Cypress are excellently adapted to do so.
Last, we have the lovely field of grass (Spartina bakeri) in the middle. This narrow strip of land is where the soil is too wet for pine trees, but not wet enough year-round to prevent natural fires from killing off any Bald Cypress that sprout there. (There are may other factors affecting ecosystems such as soil and fire, but elevation plays one of the largest roles.)
So there you have it, one photo that sums up most of the habitats at Corkscrew. There is a marsh past the cypress swamp, but the pine flatwoods, cypress swamp, and wet prairie are the main places I’ll be exploring over the next few months.