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Florida State University
Florida Resources and
Environmental Analysis Center
at the Institute of Science
and Public Affairs

A Network Connecting Science with Conservation

Field Guides

Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida - 2009 Update

In 2007, with funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Division of State Lands, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) began a process of updating the "Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida" (the Guide), first published in 1990 by FNAI and the then Florida Department of Natural Resources (now FDEP). Only the forty-five land-based communities (23 terrestrial and 20 palustrine communities, plus tidal marsh and tidal swamp in the marine category) were included in the current update, leaving the remaining twenty-one aquatic communities to be updated at a later time. The purpose of the update is to clarify distinctions between communities by listing characteristic species and features distinguishing similar communities, as well as to add information for each community on variations throughout its range (with common variants noted specifically), range, natural processes, management, and references.

View drafts of new natural community accounts

View capsule descriptions of updated natural communities (140k pdf document)

View current natural community guide

The outline followed in each community account is:

Descriptiongives an overall picture of the community with a description of the general vegetation structure and composition, landscape position, soils, hydrology, salinity, and/or fire.
Characteristic Set of Speciesshort list of typical species.
Rare Speciesa discussion of rare species for which the community is critical habitat. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.
Rangediscussion of Florida range and notes on the distribution of similar communities elsewhere in the US or worldwide.
Natural Processesa discussion of important natural processes including fire, hydrology, etc.
Community Variationsdiscussion of commonly occurring variation, both regional and within community.
Variantnames and short descriptions of notable variants of the natural community. These are optional names that are meant to convey further information about specific community occurrences. For example, a swamp found at the mouth of a river might be designated “floodplain swamp – freshwater tidal swamp variant.”
Associated Communitiesaddresses similar and/or adjacent communities and gives guidelines for recognition.
Management Considerationsaddresses fire recommendations and any other management oriented issues stemming from disturbance of natural processes.
Reference Sitesexemplary sites. These may be specific place names or managed areas (full name) with county listed in parentheses.
Global and State Rankscurrent ranking of community by FNAI.
Crosswalk and Synonymscrosswalk to other classifications and a list of synonyms commonly found in the literature.
Referencesliterature cited in account.

How to Comment

Drafts of the new community accounts will remain on the FNAI website for a six-month comment period (June - December 2009). In January 2010 a final version will be posted incorporating any revisions, and at that time it will become the official version used by FNAI.

We welcome all comments and suggestions on the draft accounts and would particularly appreciate information about vegetation with which you are familiar that does not fit into this classification and references which we have overlooked.

Email comments to nccomments@fnai.org

Putting the name of the community(s) about which you are commenting in the subject header of the email will facilitate its being routed to the attention of the appropriate person.


Changes include 1) minor changes to the classification itself, 2) a new organization for grouping the communities, and 3) the addition of a list of altered landcover types.

1) Natural community concept changes were generally minor. Six community names were removed – bog, coastal rock barren, freshwater tidal swamp, prairie hammock, swale, and upland mixed forest. These concepts were variously incorporated into the new guide by placement into existing or new communities. Seven new communities were added to the guide – glades marsh, Keys cactus barren, Keys tidal rock barren, shrub bog, slough marsh, limestone outcrop, and upland mixed woodland. In addition, four communities underwent a simple name change – upland pine forest to upland pine, floodplain forest to alluvial forest, and seepage slope and wet prairie were combined under the single heading of wet prairie/seepage slope. A complete crosswalk between the existing guide and the updated guide and vice versa is provided here with further explanation on changes made.

View crosswalk between existing and updated natural community guides (69k pdf document)

Notable variants are named and briefly described in some community accounts. These are optional names that are meant to convey further information about specific community occurrences. For example, a swamp found at the mouth of a river might be designated “floodplain swamp – freshwater tidal swamp variant.”

2) The 2009 FNAI natural community classification groups natural communities based on a combination of landscape position, vegetation, and hydrology. The category is meant to be an intuitive grouping of similar natural communities that allows the user to apply a broader level name to an area when the community determination is ambiguous. In some cases, an intermediate group (ex. “Cypress/Tupelo”) is identified for further clarification. For a brief description of each of these higher order groupings, see the short descriptions. A link is provided for each updated natural community account. Variants (if any) are described within the community accounts.


3) Habitats that have been severely impacted by humans and do not fit into FNAI’s Natural Community Classification are recognized using the altered landcover types. These are used to describe the most common non-natural habitats observed on conservation lands in Florida.

View list of altered landcover types (40k pdf document)


We owe a large debt of gratitude to Dr. O. Greg Brock, bureau chief of the Office of Environmental Services at FDEP, whose support and encouragement made this project possible. We would like to thank the following experts for their helpful comments on the individual accounts: Wilson Baker, Chris Bergh, Keith Bradley, Anne Cox, Melanie Darst, Mark Deyrup, Janice Dusquesnel, Kathy Ewel, Elise Gornish, Michael Jenkins, Kay Kirkman, Helen Light, Eric Menges, Tom Miller, Gil Nelson, Eliane Norman, Dan Pearson, Kevin Robertson, Anne Rudloe, Paul Schmalzer, Bob Simons, James Snyder, Bruce Sorrie, Walt Thompson, and John Tobe.