Southeast Environmental Research Program, Florida International University
Center for Plant Conservation

An Action Plan to Conserve the Native Plants of Florida


Recommendation One: Develop or strengthen feedback loops between biologists, ecologists, and resource managers.

While a significant body of information is now available on the abundance, distribution, and taxonomic affinities of Florida's rare plants, much less is known about the specific factors that are causing their decline or limiting their expansion, or what might improve their condition. Furthermore, what little is known often takes a long time to become generally available and then translated into applied management con texts. Similarly, what are now serious management problems have usually taken a long time to develop, and it is characteristic of our response time for long periods to pass again before these problems become themes for applied research. Limited understanding and inadequate communication within the research and the applied sides of the Florida plant conservation equation have contributed to the superficiality of some Recovery Plans now being produced (Schemske et al. 1994). Without fundamental ecological knowledge of the plants, efforts to rehabilitate failing species rely on guesswork or on restoration models developed for different species or conditions.

The incomplete or fragmentary nature of rare plant knowledge in Florida is a result, in part, of the limited funding allocated to it. An exceedingly small portion of the operating budgets of state and federal land and resource managing agencies is allocated to research activities. Similarly, research programs in conservation biology comprise a minute fraction of overall government funding for science. However, the problem is not entirely a financial one. Institutional factors also hamper applied plant science, the most significant perhaps being the compartmentalization of research personnel and management staff. Because scientists and managers are generally housed in separate administrative units, efforts are needed to promote and facilitate greater exchange between those people generating research results and those people applying this knowledge in management contexts. When scientists lose touch with the application of their results, the vitality and practicality of their work suffers. When managers become less mindful of the need for their activities to be based on the best and the latest research, the plant resource itself suffers. In working together to develop, implement, and assess the results of resource management techniques, researchers and managers must focus on the ultimate goal of maintaining, augmenting, or restoring good habitat, and on increasing the abundance of rare plants within healthy ecosystems. In situations where good cooperation has developed, gaps in information flow can close rapidly as scientifically-based management is practiced, and management lessons and problems are fed back to the researchers for study and, hopefully, solution.

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