University of Florida

Managing Forests to Promote
Wildlife Biodiversity

Gopher Tortoise

The diversity of wildlife species in Florida is remarkably high relative to most other states.  However, Florida also has the second highest number of endangered species among all 50 states.  The extraordinary human population growth anticipated in the state during the next several decades is likely to put more of our valuable natural resources at risk, making the wise management of remaining forests more critical than ever before.

Two approaches can be utilized to increase biodiversity of forest wildlife across the state.  First, in areas where biodiversity is a higher priority than timber production, the specious longleaf pine forests that previously occurred throughout much of the state can be restored.  Second, in areas where timber production is a higher priority, small changes in management of pine plantations can be made to enhance wildlife biodiversity.

  • Historically, longleaf pine stands covered much of Florida.  Stands were characterized by a single-species canopy, a sparse mid-story/shrub layer, and a species rich layer of herbaceous plants at the ground level.  Restoring the vegetation composition, structure, and disturbance regimes typical of historic longleaf forests can provide much-needed habitat for the wildlife species dependent on these forests.
  • Wildlife biodiversity can be increased within pine plantations through simple manipulations.  Rotation length can be extended so that habitat is provided for those wildlife species requiring mature forest stands.  Wide spacing and thinning can allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, stimulating growth of herbaceous vegetation.  Prescribed burning can increase palatability of herbaceous vegetation for wildlife and suppress the hardwood midstory.
  • In all forest stands, habitat elements such as snags, logs, live trees with cavities, nut-producing trees, and fruit-producing shrubs and trees should be protected, especially during timber harvest, so that food and cover are present during the early successional stages of the next stand. 
  • Wetland areas provide unique resources to many species of wildlife, and are especially critical to amphibians.  In areas where biodiversity is a priority, large buffer zones should be established around wetland areas, within which habitat manipulations are severely restricted.
  • Prior land use should be considered when deciding where to manage for biodiversity versus where to maximize timber yields.  Old field sites (those previously used for agriculture) generally contain few seeds and sprouts of native species, and are therefore unlikely to harbor high herbaceous diversity, but they do tend to have high timber yield.  Cutover sites are likely to have higher understory biodiversity and lower timber yields, so these sites are better locations for prioritizing biodiversity enhancement.