Ashton Biological Preserve, home to ABPRI, encompasses an area of nearly 100 acres located in North-central Florida.
Before being acquired by the Ashtons, the land where Ashton Biological Preserve sits had been overgrown and untouched for over 25 years. Ashton Biological Preserve is home to a number of important species of plants and animals. Archer Road, for instance, was known for many years for its diverse wildlife.
Biological researchers from the University of Florida and other universities often visited this area. Many biological collections and research notes originated from locations less than seven miles from the Preserve. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Breeding Bird Survey, an important collaborative effort to record the distribution of bird species across the state, encompassed areas of the Preserve, a fact that the Ashtons discovered upon purchasing the land.
Ashton Biological Preserve sits along the northern end of Brooksville Ridge, an area of rolling hills with xeric upland habitats, wooded hammocks, and sandhill habitat. The latter is particularly important for conservation because Florida has seen an 88% decline in the sandhill habitat since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Because much of Ashton Biological Preserve is undisturbed land, it’s a great location to observe many of Florida’s threatened and endangered species including Sherman’s fox squirrels (Sciurus niger shermani) and indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi).
The Preserve’s low areas contain wetlands and sinkholes, and a variety of springs are found in the region due to the presence of the Floridan aquifer running beneath the Brooksville Ridge. Ashton Biological Preserve has permanent and ephemeral water sources on property and is home to breeding populations of gopher frogs (Lithobates capito), Eastern narrowmouth toads (Gastrophryne carolinensis), and pinewoods treefrogs (Hyla femoralis), as well as many other amphibian species. Breeding Eastern indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi) are present, as well as large populations of Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Croatalus adamanteus), and pygmy rattlesnakes (Sisturus miliarius), among many other snake species.
Ashton Biological Preserve is home to mammals such as bobcats (Lynx rufus) and coyotes (Canis latrans). Our neighborhood is visited by a large variety of birds, as well. Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus), southeastern American kestrels (Falco sparverius paulus), and loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) all hunt the fields in and around the Preserve, while songbirds like Eastern phoebes (Sayornis phoebe), Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum), and Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are frequent visitors.
There was a prescribed burn the day the land was closed, and we have used prescribed burns regularly since then. Virtually every savannah or grassland ecosystem in the world has evolved to include wildfires as a disturbance. These wildfires help maintain a balance in the ecosystem by temporarily eliminating some fire-tolerant plant species while allowing other species to flourish after a fire. The heterogeneity of fires also creates a patchwork of habitats, which benefits a variety of animals by creating grasslands and forests of different sizes and ages. The dry, grassy habitat and small, wooded hammocks of Ashton Biological Preserve are no different. Because people live around Ashton Biological Preserve, structural fires are unwelcome. To simulate the natural cycles of fire the habitat is accustomed to, prescribed burns are held every three to five years.