Restoration Ecology is the newest research program at Archbold. The program was initiated with the acquisition of the 3,648-acre Archbold Reserve in 2002 and the hiring of a fulltime program director, Dr. Betsie Rothermel, in 2008. With the acquisition of the Reserve, Archbold gained an opportunity to restore one of the few remaining examples of the ecotones between scrub in the uplands and flatwoods and cutthroat seep on the slopes of the LWR. From a research standpoint, the Station provides undisturbed examples of scrub, seasonal ponds, and other habitats, which are useful as reference sites in experimental studies. Decades of past research on scrub and other LWR habitats provide a strong foundation for the data-hungry enterprise of restoring critical ecological interactions and ecosystem functioning. As in other lines of research, Archbold can support truly long-term post-restoration research and monitoring, whereas short grant funding cycles and other constraints often force researchers to take a chronosequence approach. Thus, Archbold is well-positioned to address some of the most significant challenges in the emerging field of restoration ecology and we welcome visits from scientists and restoration practitioners interested in working in this unique landscape.
As a result of past agricultural practices, most of the Reserve was ditched and drained and nearly all the natural hydrological features, such as seasonal depression wetlands and seepage streams, were modified for irrigation and livestock use. Invasive exotics, such as torpedograss (Panicum repens), smutgrass (Sporobolus indicus), and limpograss Hemarthria altissima), are now pervasive. Three large restoration projects encompassing approximately 1,190 acres are underway with funding from the USDA’s Wetland Reserve Program. These WRP projects involve close coordination with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and other collaborators. Similar WRP projects have been completed during the last three years at Buck Island Ranch. The WRP sites are in permanent easements, giving us the ability to implement long-term experiments and follow plots through time, which is important because annual climatic variability will greatly influence the restoration outcomes.
Past boom-and-bust economic cycles have left a legacy of highly disturbed (but not yet paved-over) lands in Central Florida, suggesting an important role for restoration of degraded lands in future conservation strategies. Looking ahead, human population in the seven-county Heartland Region that includes Highlands County is expected to increase by at least 42% in the next 50 years according to the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. The unpredictable consequences of climate change provide further impetus for protecting and restoring lands that have the potential to provide habitat in the future. One concern is that existing conservation lands may not be adequate to protect biodiversity as climate change brings new stressors, such as greater environmental variability and emerging diseases. In Florida, there is the possibility of inland migration by people living in coastal areas because of rising sea levels. Although land-use planners are beginning to address the daunting question of how to proactively manage and distribute the state’s burgeoning population away from coastal areas, such population shifts could well occur in a haphazard manner, putting Lake Wales Ridge ecosystems on the front lines. The uncertainty surrounding the impacts of future climate change argues for expansion of networks of protected areas to give species a better chance to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. One way to accomplish this is to restore degraded habitats, but this will require substantially more scientific information than exists currently. Likewise, mitigation strategies designed to offset destruction of wetland and scrub habitats will only be successful if based on sound science.