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Publication #CNR-2

The MacArthur Agro-Ecology Program at Buck Island1

Center for Natural Resources2

The MacArthur Agro-Ecology (MAERC) project investigates the relationships between cattle ranching, citrus production and Florida native ecosystems. Researching the complex issues surrounding natural resource management in an agricultural environment, program participants hope to develop protective strategies of Florida natural resources while still maintaining economically viable and compatible agricultural industries within the state. Particularly important is understanding how cattle (Figure 1) and citrus production affect water quality and soil nutrients, and how these factors influence invertebrate and wildlife populations.

Figure 1. 

Cattle at MAERC.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Project Goals

  • Understanding the ranch ecosystem and landscape of Central Florida including water quality, nutrient flow, wetland dynamics, and population biology of native and exotic species.

  • Measuring the effects of selected low-input agricultural practices on long-term health and sustainability of the ranch ecosystem and the economic implications of implementing these practices.

  • Cooperating between all community stakeholders to promote natural resource conservation within the context of a viable agricultural economy.


Archbold Biological Station (ABS)
Patrick Bohlen, Project Director
863-669-0242 ext. 22
Archbold Biological Station (ABS)
Hilary Swain, Station Director
863-465-2571 ext. 251
Florida Cattlemen's Association
Kissimmee, FL
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Taufiqul Aziz
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)
Susan Gray
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Science (UF/IFAS)
SW Research & Education Center
Ed Hanlon
UF/IFAS Center for Natural Resources
US Natural Resources Conservation Service
Gene Fults

Web sites

UF/IFAS MAERC at Buck Island Ranch
Archbold Biological Station
MAREC Cattle Stocking Rates Project

Water / Soil

Automated sampling stations (Figure 2) measure the impact of various land uses on surface water quality and runoff volume. Phosphorous levels in soil samples imply how phosphorous moves through soil.

Figure 2. 

Automatic water sampler in use.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Ken Campbell
UF/IFAS Agriculture & Bioengineering Department
352-392-1864 ext.105
Donald Graetz
Soil & Water Science Department
392-1803 ext. 318


Several thousand nematodes can be present in a pint of soil. Research focuses on types of nematodes (herbivores, bacterivores), their prevalence, and their dependence on organic matter from varying cattle populations.
Robert McSorley
Entomology & Nematology Department
392-1901 ext 137


A successful link between modeling and SPA-like (Standardized Performance Analysis) databases requires collaborative fact-finding and sharing among ranchers. The resulting database could more clearly chart management strategies and their outcomes.

Fritz Roka
SW FL REC - Immokalee
Kenneth Portier
Statistics Department
Jim Handley
FL Cattlemen's Association

Ranch Operations

Stocking rates
Stocking rates (number of cattle per acre) affect water quality, plants and wildlife habitat, pasture conditions, cattle standards, and cow-calf performance.
Gene Lollis
Archbold Station
941-699-0242 x. 26
Jim Selph
Desoto County Extension Director
(863) 993 - 4846
Type and quality of forage affects the quality and quantity of beef and cow-calf production. The influences of burning, mowing, and cattle-grazing practices are also studied via soil samples.
Jeff Mullahey
West Florida REC - Jay
684-3780 SUNCOM
Jay 850-994-5215


Frogs and wetland invertebrates are essential to the ranch wildlife food web. Land management for cattle grazing (such as ditch-construction and draining) are planned to accommodate the various split-development needs of different species of frogs and invertebrates.

Buck Island Ranch attracts many migratory and nesting birds (Figure 3) -- as many as 46 bird species in the summer and 54 in the winter.

Figure 3. 

The crested caracara is a threatened raptor/scavenger found in Florida almost exclusively on cattle ranches. Researchers have radio-tagged and monitored the development of nine caracara families on MAERC.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

George Tanner
Wildlife Ecology & Conservation Department
Eric Flaig
SW FL REC - Immokalee
Martin Main
SW FL REC - Immokalee



This publication was produced by the Center for Natural Resources at the University of Florida. CNR 2 is part of a Program Summary Series. First published: September 2000. Minor revision: March 2003. 1051 McCarty Hall D. Post Office Box 110230. Tel: (352) 392-7622 Fax: (352) 846-2856 Email: Web:


Nancy Peterson, Program Coordinator

This publication was produced by The Center for Natural Resources (CNR). Established in 1973, CNR at the University of Florida plays a major role in the conservation, preservation and restoration of our nation's natural resources by facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations between UF faculty and external stakeholders.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.