South Florida Terrestrial Ecosystems Lab
Southeast Environmental Research Center

Pine Rocklands

Pine rocklands are found in Southern Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas. Within Florida, pine forests are centered on limestone outcrops at the Big Cypress National Preserve, the lower Florida Keys, and along the Miami Rock Ridge. This forest type has a single dominant canopy species, South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa), with a rich sub-canopy layer of tropical palms and hardwood species of either tropical or temperate origins. The sub-canopy layer also contains a wide diversity of  herbaceous species.

Pine rocklands are fire maintained systems. Pinus elliottii var. densa is extremely resistant to fires: mature individuals have thick bark and seedlings over 1 m in height are generally resistant to surface fires. Periodic fires influence sub-canopy stature and composition, understory light-penetration, pine regeneration, and hardwood establishment and growth. Therefore, human-mediated fire suppression can result in the gradual shading-out of pine rockland understory species and the eventual replacement of pine rockland ecosytems. 

Due primarily to their relatively high elevation, pine rocklands in Miami-Dade County were some of the first areas to be developed. Pine rocklands within Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park,

Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys were intensively logged prior to the 1960's. Exotic plant and animal invasion, sea-level rise, plant and animal collection, water-table reduction, plus other factors, may also be affecting the maintenance of pine rockland ecosystems in Florida.  

The pine rocklands of Southern Florida are seriously endangered ecosystems. The high degree of endemism and immense diversity of vascular plant taxa remain threatened by humans and their interaction with pine rockland recovery from disturbance. Fire ecology research enables management agencies to determine the ecological effects of fire and how biological diversity is maintained within pine rocklands. Research regarding pine rockland endemics may help.