Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Re-evaluating Florida's ecological conservation priorities in the face of sea rise

Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) developed a conservation planning dataset that prioritizes Florida's coastal landscapes based on sea-level rise adaptation potential. This dataset will be used to evaluate state land acquisition projects based on their potential to lessen the impacts of sea-level rise on Florida's coastal biota. It will likely also inform other conservation planning efforts such as Florida's State Wildlife Action Plan and the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative.


Florida's location and geography make the state especially vulnerable to sea level rise (SLR), often projected at 1-3 meters by the end of this century. Five to 15 percent of the state could be inundated within 90 years (Figure 1). Hundreds of species and associated ecological communities will be affected, though scientists cannot predict with confidence exactly how biota will respond.  Protecting the "ecological stage" is an adaptation objective recommended in the Yale framework to protect current and future patterns of biodiversity.  This coarse-filter approach recognizes that predicting the responses of individual species and communities to sea level rise involves impractical degrees of complexity and uncertainty.

Protecting the ecological stage is not a new concept (e.g., Anderson and Ferree 2010), but applying this approach to a fine-scale, coastal analysis with a time horizon of only a hundred or so years is new. These specifications raise the issue of whether ecological stages should be defined by "enduring features", such as elevation, slope, soils, and geologic substrate, or by existing natural communities, which may represent ecological stages more accurately in the short run. Defining stages is also complicated in this case by the dynamic nature of Florida's coast--the elevation, slope, soils, and natural communities present along our coast can be changed very quickly by storms. Given these concerns, we have approached stage-definition from both the geophysical and natural-community perspectives, though we have found only one approach to be practical in this context.

Figure 1: Florida's coastal elevation gradients

Project Objectives

  1. Identify coastal areas with high habitat heterogeneity ("hotspots") and evaluate probable SLR impacts on these hotspots.
  2. Identify and prioritize potential linkages between impacted and non-impacted hotspots.
  3. Evaluate the role of geophysical data in SLR-focused conservation planning in Florida.
  4. Consider applications of SLR-focused conservation planning, especially with regard to Florida's land acquisition program.

Geographic Location


Principal Investigators

Gary Knight, Michael O'Brien, Jon Oetting, Amy Knight, Tom Hoctor

Ecosystem Type


Framework focus