Emergency protection sought for Miami tiger beetle

Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed emergency petitions to protect the exceedingly rare Miami tiger beetle, Cicindela floridana, a South Florida pine rocklands endemic, as a protected species under Florida law and as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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Pine rocklands once stretched from the Florida Keys up to the northern edge of Miami-Dade County, but widespread urbanization and agricultural development destroyed the majority of Floridian pine rockland. This fire-dependent community, found on limestone outcroppings, is comprised of a sparse canopy dominated by Florida slash pine, Pinus elliotti var. densa, and a varied understory. Today, only a fraction of the original Miami pine rockland habitat remains; by some estimates as little as 1.8%. Moreover, most of these remaining areas are quite small and often widely separated by miles of heavy development.

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The pine rockland habitats are home to many endemic species, many of which are listed as endangered including the Florida Bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Bartram’s hairstreak (Strymon acis bartrami), Florida leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), Florida brickell-bush (Brickellia mosieri), deltoid spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea deltoidea), Carter’s small-flowered flax (Linum carteri carteri), tiny polygala (Polygala smallii).

Today many of these remaining pine rocklands and their inhabitants now face another danger; due to the lack of fire, both native and non-native vegetation are taking over the habitats which incrementally transitioning to hardwood hammocks.

Of greatest concern is the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, where the Miami tiger beetle was rediscovered in 2007. In addition to vegetation encroachment, there are plans to develop significant portions of the pinelands. The first, and most immediate, is Ram Realty’s plan to develop and 88-acre parcel of rocklands purchased from the University of Miami.

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While Ram has set aside some of the land for nature preserves, any development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessity for the continued health of the habitats. The second, and most expansive in scope, is the county’s plan to develop a major amusement park in and around the rocklands.

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This plan calls for major development including a four lane highway and major transportation corridor through the rocklands. This development will irrevocably damage all of the Richmond pine rocklands, through fragmentation, pollution, and stifling fires within the remaining habitat.

Both development pose real and immediate risks to endangered and rare species, including the Miami tiger beetle. These developments will results in the destruction and degradation of pine rocklands and will kill endangered and candidate species including the adults and larvae of the Miami tiger beetle.

Even before the current plans for development the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species of concern. Additionally, Knisley et al (2014) assigned the Miami tiger beetle a 1+ grade, their “highest level of rarity and/or threats” in a comprehensive review of the conservation status of United States tiger beetles. With over 98% of the potential former habitat gone and direct threats to the only remaining habitat this species is in need of urgent action to prevent its extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s press release is available at their website.

References

Knisley, C., M. Kippenhan, and D. Brzoska. 2014. Conservation status of United States tiger beetles. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews. 7: 93-145.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan: Appendix C. Species of Concern and their Associated Community Types in South Florida.

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.

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