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Natural Communities of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve What's New
Pine flatwoods
  • Pine Flatwoods
    This habitat is dominated by slash pine and saw palmetto. Cabbage palm islands are interspersed through some areas. Large areas are covered with various wiregrasses and broomsedges. The assemblage comprises less of the predominant upland vegetation than the cabbage palm/oak habitat. Even though this habitat is indicative of higher, drier land, standing water may cover certain areas in the slash pine habitat for several weeks or months in the rainy season. Despite the water, this is a fire dependent habitat.
Sea oats

Sea oats

  • Coastal Strand
    Coastal strand communities are highly adapted to a harsh environment of high temperature extremes, porous coastal sands, salt spray and abrasive aeolian sand. Sea oat, bay cedar and railroad vine are typical pioneer plants found on the beaches and foredunes. Shorebirds, including the least tern and black skimmer feed and rest along the Gulf beaches. The Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle nests on Keewaydin, Kice, Cape Romano, Gullivan and White Horse keys during summer months.
  • Coastal Xeric Scrub
    Scrub oak species occur on lands where the elevation exceeds five feet. This association is dominated by sand live oak, scrub oak, myrtle oak, Chapman's oak and saw palmetto. In association with these plants is a variety of xerophytic shrubs and annual and perennial weeds such as rusty lyonia and wild rosemary which are adapted to grow in continuously dry, sandy, nutrient-poor soil. Although these areas receive as much rainfall as the contiguous ecosystems, the permeable sand precludes significant water absorption or storage. The vegetation thus assumes a brushy and shrub-like appearance.
Cabbage palm and oak hammock
  • Cabbage Palm/Oak Hammock
    This habitat consists of a series of scattered mixed hardwoods including live oaks and myrtle oaks, red maple, red bay, cabbage palm, and a variably dense understory of saw palmetto, wax myrtle and numerous other shrubs. Depending on the topography, this habitat may be variably inundated with water. This habitat grades into the pine flatwoods habitat in some areas. This is a fire dependant system, benefiting from periodic fires.
Epiphytes on an oak tree

Bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes grow on oaks.

  • Tropical Hardwood Hammock
    This habitat occurs on the coastal barrier islands in RBNERR and scattered among the shell mounds of the mangrove forest. The assemblage is dominated by oaks, cabbage palms, stopper, gumbo limbo and sea grape. The understory contains a variety of lesser hardwood species and ferns. Some areas are also variously invaded with Brazilian pepper, Australian pine and latherleaf.
Open water near a beach
  • Open Water
    Rookery Bay, Henderson Creek, Johnson Bay, Blackwater River, Pumpkin Bay, Faka Union Bay, Fakahatchee and Gullivan Bay are the dominant water bodies in RBNERR. Resident and migratory birds make extensive use of the open waters for feeding and resting.Over 219 species of fishes have been identified in the waters of Rookery Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands.
  • Non-vegetated Bottom
    This habitat, also associated with the open water region. It is comprised primarily of soft mud (i.e. very fine sand and silt/clay) that is not stabilized by vegetation. Non‑vegetated bottom is more extensive in Rookery Bay than the vegetated bottom, and creates a habitat for various benthic invertebrates including polychaetes, assorted crustaceans and mollusks. 
Oyster reef
  • Oyster Reef
    Oyster beds, limited to the mid-intertidal zone, support a variety of wildlife including sponges, bryozoans, mussels, barnacles and slipper shells. Oyster reefs are found in hard and soft bottoms consisting of sand or firm mud.
  • Mangrove Forests
    Three species of mangroves occur in RBNERR: red, black and white. Buttonwood, which is not a true mangrove species, is usually grouped with this assemblage because of its occurrence in higher, less tidally inundated areas. Red mangroves comprise the dominant vegetation on most of the islands and along the immediate shoreline of the bays and tidal creeks. Black mangroves form extensive forests in the periodically tidally flushed basins located landward from the shoreline.
  • Submerged Vegetated Bottom
    Seagrasses are considered seasonally abundant in adjacent waters such as Johnson Bay and Gullivan Bay. Seagrass communities are more extensive in the shallow waters south of Cape Romano. The dominant species is Cuban shoal grass, with manatee grass, star grass and turtle grass occurring to a lesser extent. This important habitat plays a vital role as a nursery area and feeding ground for many of the fishes and invertebrates inhabiting Rookery Bay and adjacent waters.
Salt marsh
  • Salt Marsh
    The saltwater marsh habitat is found landward or interspersed among the inland side of the mangrove fringing forests. Although it does not usually have a direct tidal connection, it invariably contains brackish water and is periodically inundated at the higher spring tides and during storm events. The dominant plants are black needlerush, cord grass and salt grass. Salt marshes are among the most productive systems for organic matter in any estuary and support large numbers of vertebrate and invertebrate species. They are prime feeding sites for many resident wading or migratory game birds, raptors and several species of mammals in RBNERR.
Freshwater marsh
  • Freshwater Marsh
    The freshwater marsh habitat typically borders pine flatwoods and cypress clusters. Although a distinct ecotone may exist between freshwater marshes and upland habitats such as pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes often grade into salt marshes with little noticeable transition. The dominant plants are bulrushes, assorted grasses and sedges, ferns and cattails.
  • Cypress Slough/Prairie
    The habitat is dominated by pond or bald cypress with a mixed understory throughout. It is restricted to areas subjected to flowing fresh water (i.e. sheetflow) and is exposed at one time or another to surface waters flowing through RBNERR uplands. Therefore the quality and quantity of water is important to the system.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Last updated: April 06, 2015

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