Developing Future Habitat Condition Scenarios for Wildlife in the Imperiled Pine Rockland Ecosystem of South Florida

Susan Walls, USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

Proposed Project Completion: March 2020

Implements Science Plan Theme: Adaptation

Cooperators: Kristen Hart (USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), William J. Barichivich (Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), Michael Cherkiss (USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), Jeff Howe (USFWS South Florida Ecological Services Office), John Tupy (USFWS South Florida Ecological Services Office)

Overview

The pine rockland ecosystem is found only in south Florida and the Bahamas and provides important habitat for numerous rare and endemic plants and animals. These include 18 species that are already federally listed as threatened or endangered and four other species petitioned for listing that are scheduled for development of Species Status Assessments (SSAs). Today, south Florida’s pine rockland ecosystem represents less than 3 percent of its original extent. Threats such as saltwater intrusion from hurricanes and sea-level rise pose the greatest risk to the longevity of this ecosystem.

For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make decisions about the potential listing of a species, they must be able to forecast a species’ responses to potential future environmental conditions, as well as to different conservation and management actions. Yet, for many imperiled species in the pine rocklands, the information needed to complete these forecasts—such as population trends, life history traits, habitat use, and future land use and climate conditions–is often lacking. This is especially problematic for assessments of species resiliency to changes in climate and land use.

When these types of data are lacking, information on habitat quality can be used to help determine how a species will respond to change. This project will evaluate habitat conditions for two species found in the pine rockland ecosystem – the rim rock crowned snake and the key ringneck snake. These species are being considered for federal listing, and very little is known about their ecology and demography. Researchers will identify potential future changes in habitat that could result from different management actions, such as habitat acquisition or restoration, and environmental conditions, such as changes in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms and rates of sea-level rise. They will then explore the potential impacts of these habitat condition changes on the rim rock crowned snake and key ringneck snake.

This information can be used to develop future habitat condition scenarios in forthcoming SSAs for these species. While this project focuses on these two species of snakes, the results could inform the conservation, management, and recovery of other at-risk species found in the pine rocklands ecosystem. This work supports Secretary of Interior’s priority to create a conservation stewardship legacy by using science to identify best practices to manage land and water resource and adapt to changes in the environment.