The purpose of this publication is to provide Florida land managers an up-to-date table that links soil series to potential natural community types. Soils often dictate the presence of different types of natural communities. We synthesized land-management plans, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) documentation of exemplary sites, along with the UC Davis Soil Resource Laboratory Soil Web Survey mapping information system (SoilWeb) (FNAI 2010; UC Davis n.d.) to correlate soil series and natural communities. A table provides a list of soil series with GPS coordinates and conservation site names. Use of this table will help private landowners, land managers, and researchers detect potential, current, and former natural communities on sites. However, this publication is not designed to be used as a single absolute determinant; ground-truthing and historical mapping should always be used when mapping natural communities.
Florida is home to a diverse mosaic of soils and natural communities (FNAI 2010). Soils often dictate the occurrence of different natural communities (USDA 1989; Myers and Ewel 1990). These natural communities, in turn, are distinguished from one another based on differences in disturbance regimes and species present (FNAI 2010; Myers and Ewel 1990; Noss 2018). In Florida, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) classification system is a standard most agencies and organizations use to identify and classify different types of natural communities (FNAI 2010). Distinguishing natural communities is a crucial task for land managers working to restore or conserve natural areas. However, identifying a natural community can be a difficult task, especially in areas significantly modified by humans (e.g., agriculture, silviculture, urbansites). In these cases, knowledge of the soil type present on a site can help determine the previous natural community. Yet, a catalog correlating soils to natural communities is not currently available to land managers.
In Florida, soils are classified based on the taxonomic system developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This system is based on six levels of classification, with orders being the highest and series being the lowest. Generally, there is little correlation between higher soil levels (e.g., orders, sub-orders) and regional vegetational types (Hironaka, Fosberg, and Neiman 1990). However, natural communities can be correlated to more refined lower levels of soil classification (e.g., series) (USDA 1989; Hironaka, Fosberg, and Neiman 1990). In 1989, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) developed a table linking soil series to the occurrence of 26 natural communities found in Florida (USDA 1989). However, the natural community definitions developed by the SCS differ from the modern and more widely used FNAI community definitions in Florida. The purpose of this publication is to provide Florida land managers an up-to-date table (Table 1) that links soil series to potential FNAI natural community types. As can be seen in Table 1, a soil series may support multiple community types.
We correlated soil series and natural communities through the synthesis of land-management plans, FNAI documentation of exemplary sites, and SoilWeb mapping information. A total of 226 soil series were included in this analysis. Soil series not included here had too small a range across Florida or were not found within FNAI reference plots or conservation lands. Additionally, soil subgroups are also included in this publication to help provide supplementary information for users. This compilation provides a framework to include other soil series and community types in future work.
We first located FNAI exemplary sites from the coordinates provided via FNAI documentation and then matched the natural community type(s) to the corresponding soil series present per the SoilWeb. In cases where a soil series was not found on any FNAI exemplary site, an alternative location within a public conservation area was used. Land-management plans were referenced to help verify the soil series and the natural community classification. The GPS coordinates and conservation site names of the selected locations for said soil series were also recorded. Out of 46 terrestrial FNAI community types, 42 were included in this assessment. The four that were excluded are: upland glade, sinkhole, limestone outcrop, and keys cactus barren communities.
In certain instances, soils may not be useful in distinguishing closely related natural communities. For example, various coastal upland communities are located within the landscape based on their proximity to the seashore. Thus, they are not easily distinguished from one another at a broad level using soil mapping alone. This is also true for other sets of communities where elevation and hydrology play a large role in the location of the community. Consequently, certain communities are referred to by their broader FNAI community classifications. These include cypress and tupelo swamps, marshes, and coastal upland communities (see Table 2). Additionally, bottomland forest and alluvial forest communities were combined due to similar issues in distinguishing these communities from one another using soils alone1.
This tool, when used in combination with the USDA NRCS soil map provides insight to potential native plant communities that may be found on a given site. Soil mapping data can be readily accessed through apps such as SoilWeb on a mobile device. Individuals seeking to complete rapid assessment of a parcel for acquisition and conservation purposes may want to identify possible locations of threatened and endangered species (T&E) based on potential plant communities. This tool can be used to assist landowners and managers in determining the desired future condition of a parcel despite the site having been degraded due to past land-use practices.
This matrix should be considered to be a first approximation, and we encourage users to contact the authors with updates.
Table 1. USDA Soil Series and correlated FNAI natural communities, with example locations of where these soil community relationships occur, as well as the order and subgroup each soil series is classified as based on USDA soil taxonomy.
Table 2. Florida natural communities (per FNAI definitions) included in this project. Higher level categories are highlighted in bold. (*) indicates where communities were combined in this project.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). 2010. Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida: 2010 Edition. 223.
Hironaka, M., M. A. Fosberg, and K. E. Neiman. 1990. The Relationship between Soils and Vegetation. Proceedings—Management and Productivity of Western-Montane Forest Soils 29–31.
Myers, R. L., and J. J. Ewel. 1990. Ecosystems of Florida. University of Central Florida Press, Orlando.
Noss, R. F. 2018. Fire Ecology of Florida and the Southeastern Coastal Plain. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
UC Davis California Soil Resource Lab. (n.d.). SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Browser. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/
US Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Service (USDA) 1989. 26 Ecological Communities of Florida. Gainesville, Florida.