Assessing Florida’s Species and Ecosystems for the Future


Florida has a high density of species and ecosystems of conservation concern as well as many threats to native species and their habitats, including high human population growth and urbanization, habitat fragmentation, climate change and sea level rise. Mitigating these threats to promote persistence of intact ecological systems in the twenty-first century will require substantial effort and the identification of clear and attainable conservation targets on a landscape-scale. Indicators are an important tool in biological planning to achieve effective outcomes. Indicators provide a focus for planning, design, conservation action and collaborative monitoring of environmental trends to guide landscape-scale conservation to improve the quality and quantity of key ecological resources.

The Florida Ecological report cards are designed to provide a broad, habitat-based framework to evaluate current condition and trends of a set of Conservation Assets - the set of biological, ecological and cultural features and ecological processes collaboratively identified as most important through a series of partner/stakeholder workshops. The Conservation Assets developed for Florida represent broad landcover types, such as High Pine and Scrub, Freshwater Forested Wetlands and Coral Reefs. Two report cards have been developed, one for freshwater and terrestrial Conservation Assets and one for marine and estuarine Conservation Assets. Multiple Indicators were identified for each Conservation Asset. Each Indicator represents a quantifiable attribute of the Conservation Asset, has an appropriate unit of measure, and has an appropriate numerical endpoint to consider as a target. The Indicators will be used to monitor the overall condition and trend of the Conservation Assets. The terrestrial and freshwater report card includes targets for each Indicator – the desired future condition (e.g., quality, quantity, location and spatial configuration) of each Indicator, for the year 2030. To illustrate all this: nesting shorebirds (American oystercatcher and Snowy plover) is an Indicator for the coastal uplands Conservation Asset; the metric for this Indicator is total number of breeding adults with a target of increasing the number of breeding adults by 10% by 2030.  This target provides managers, biologists and stakeholders a clear goal.

The report cards can be used to assess the status and trend of the Conservation Assets by tracking changes across Indicators and progress towards Indicator targets. The information in the report cards will be used to help conservation practitioners working at different scales to contribute to regional conservation goals. The ability to monitor current conditions and progress towards targets will provide researchers and managers with an understanding of how their collective conservation actions are impacting fish, wildlife and their habitats statewide.

Development of Conservation Assets and Indicators was conducted using expert opinion through a series of workshops and webinars. Literature and data searches were conducted to collect and assess the applicability of potential Indicators suggested by workshop/webinar participants. GIS was used to assess spatial and temporal validity of data representing Indicators. Additional criteria were used to evaluate and select Indicators for inclusion in the report cards. For the terrestrial and freshwater Conservation Asset Indicators, additional evaluation was conducted to determine targets. Targets were established through literature review and expert opinion. A "gap" analyses was conducted to determine current status versus the target set for 2030. Graphical representations to illustrate current condition, target and progress towards targets were developed for inclusion in the report cards.

The Ecological Report cards and associated technical reports (version 1.0) are complete and are available on the Florida Conservation Planning Atlas (https://flcpa.databasin.org/). The report cards will be updated on a regular basis to provide current status and trends and progress towards targets. Work has been initiated on version 2.0 of the freshwater and terrestrial report card, including new Indicators, as well as updating the status for Indicators that can be tracked annually. Work has also begun on development of a quick reference document.

FWRI’s Information Science and Management section led this project, but many other groups contributed work as well, thanks to FWC’s Wildlife Research, Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration, Marine Fisheries Research, and Wildlife Diversity Conservation sections and the FWC Landscape Conservation Strategic Initiative. Key partners include theU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tall Timbers Research Station and many others through participation in workshops and providing data.