- Connecting Fragments of the Pine Rockland Ecosystem of South Florida:The Connect to Protect Network
Globally, critically imperiled pine rockland ecosystems occur only in south Florida, USA and the Bahamas (Snyder et al. 1990). Once encompassing 51,193 ha along the Miami Rock Ridge in south Florida, today Everglades National Park protects 8,029 ha, while outside the park approximately 920 ha remain as small fragments within the dense urban matrix of Miami-Dade County, FL (Bradley 2005, Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2010; Figure 1). Since the late 19th century, pine rocklands have been cleared for timber, agriculture, and urban development. This unique ecosystem evolved with a diverse mix of temperate and tropical plant and animal species. Of the 432 native plant species found within pine rocklands, 31 are endemic to Florida, 5 are federally endangered, and 5 are candidates for federal listing (Gann et al. 2002, Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2010). Realizing a sense of urgency in 1990, Miami-Dade County voters approved a property tax that created the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL), which has purchased 242 ha of pine rockland forest fragments for protection. On private lands small pine rockland parcels still exist in various stages of health.
Because the ability to move successfully from fragment to fragment and find new patches to colonize is critical for a species' persistence (Kindlmann et al. 2008), corridors and stepping stones can potentially connect isolated populations, increase seed dispersal, and provide areas for new colonization. In this spirit, Fairchild Tropical Botanic [End Page 285] Garden founded the Connect to Protect Network (CTPN), a corridor program that uses public outreach, education, and restoration support to help establish healthy native pine rockland corridors and stepping stone gardens on both public and private properties. Initially we used GIS data to locate and prioritize potential areas for corridor and stepping stone development. Quickly realizing that physical connections between existing pine rocklands were nearly impossible to accomplish in the urban matrix and that few intact tracts =2 ha existed, we sought residential, school, and business areas of any size in close proximity to natural forest fragments as potential natural or restored stepping stones (Figure 1). Although stepping stones do not physically connect natural forest patches, they may be able to facilitate seed and pollen dispersal between fragments. There is great capacity to create planted and managed stepping stone gardens within the urban patchwork, especially on private lands.
Connect to Protect Network Framework
Integrating conservation gardens as high-quality islands within the urban matrix may be the solution to conserving this rare ecosystem (Janzen 1999). Since 2007, CTPN has grown to 47 homeowners, 46 schools, and 5 institutions, who have voluntarily enlisted (Figure 1). We recruit new members via presentations throughout the community, brochures, and promotions on our institution's website (www.fairchildgarden.org/centerfortropicalplantconservation/connecttoprotect/). Our goals to educate members about issues surrounding pine rockland conservation and to encourage an interactive network are accomplished through biannual meetings and newsletters where information about growing pine rockland species and managing invasive plants are enthusiastically shared. CTPN is connecting natural and human communities.
Providing restoration support to members...