Pine rockland is a unique type of pine flatwoods that is found exclusively on limestone substrate in the Florida Keys, the Big Cypress Swamp, and the Miami Rock Ridge (the limestone outcropping that rises from the Everglades to heights of 23 feet (7 m) above sea level). The overstory of pine rocklands contains a single canopy species, South Florida slash pine. The dominant pines tower over a savanna-like understory of saw palmettos, locust berry, willow bustic, beautyberry, broom grasses, silver palms, and a rich herbaceous layer. This community is often associated with rockland hammock and other short-hydroperiod freshwater wetland communities. These sub-tropical pine trees and understory plants have adapted to seasonal wildfires and the lack of soil on the exposed limestone rock.
Fire is required for the maintenance of the pine rockland community, with fire frequency ranging from 2 to 3 years to 10 to 15 years, typically burning twice per decade.
Pine rockland communities are globally imperiled and support federal and state listed plant species, such as deltoid spurge and Small’s milkwort which only occur in this habitat.
Pine rockland habitat is likely to have 81% of the current area inundated by 1 m of sea level rise and 99% inundated by 3 m of sea level rise. Altered fire regimes or the absence of fire, along with other climatic changes, could lead to compositional and structural changes, potentially altering suitability to the current suite of species. Lack of fire could lead to an increase in wildfire if other management actions are not applied to manage fuel loads. Use of prescribed fire is already very challenging within the pine rockland communities, given their isolated locations, often within a matrix of developed lands. Drought and heat stress caused by increased temperatures can lead to increased insect outbreaks and mortality.
Increased extreme events (e.g., storms, droughts, floods) will enhance invasive species processes, from introduction through establishment and expansion.
Brazilian pepper is the most widespread invasive currently found pine rocklands. In fire suppressed systems, Brazilian pepper will form a dense, monospecific canopy, almost completely eliminating native vegetation.
More information about general climate impacts to habitats in Florida.
Pine rocklands provide critical habitat for many south Florida and Florida Keys endemic species. Many species, including the Key deer, Rim rock crowned snake, and Miami blue butterfly are dependent upon the pine rockland community and may face extinction in the wild if/when the habitat is gone due to sea level rise and other impacts from climate change that render the habitat unsuitable. Reduction in fire frequency or lack of fire will allow for increased invasion and growth of hardwood species, causing degradation of the habitat for multiple species. Additionally, altered fire regimes will affect wildlife species due to a reduction of the amount and richness of understory and herbaceous plants caused by reduced amount of sunlight penetrating the canopy and midstory.
Patches of dense invasive vegetation would yield areas of unsuitable habitat for all species and increase habitat fragmentation between remaining suitable areas.
Presence of invasive animals will lead to increased competition for resources and mortality of native species as invasives are often better suited to out-compete the natives. Impacts due to sea level rise, increased exposure to salinity, and storm events could cause the reduction or loss of key host/food plants for the Miami blue butterfly. Many of these species are highly restricted within their limited range and are extremely vulnerable to impacts from storms, particularly the Miami Blue butterfly.
More information about general climate impacts to species in Florida.
This habitat was assessed as part of the Standardized Index of Vulnerability and Value Assessment - Natural Communities (SIVVA).
This habitat is within the top 5 SIVVA most vulnerable natural communities or in the top 5 in most of the SIVVA vulnerability categories.
Read more information about SIVVA natural communities.