Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute, Inc. (ABRPI) is a non-profit 501c3 corporation headquartered at Ashton Biological Preserve. We are located between Archer and Newberry, Florida on the northern edge of the ancient Brooksville Ridge.
Founded in 1996 to preserve critical uplands habitat for the future, ABRPI is named after its founders, Ray and Pat Ashton. We are a private, non-profit conservation area and research facility located in North-central Florida on approximately 100 acres of upland habitat.
Although we conduct research on many types of wildlife native to the region, we specialize in tortoise care. We are a major captive breeding facility for the critically endangered radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata). We are also actively involved in conservation of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), native to Florida
We pride ourselves on conducting educational and outreach programs designed to get the public interested and involved in caring for Florida’s wonderful ecosystems.
The land that would become Ashton Biological Preserve has been important for biology and conservation for many years. The area is home to a number of important plant and animal species. Archer Road, for instance, was known for many years for its diverse wildlife. Because of this, biologists from the University of Florida and other research institutions often visited the land to conduct their research. Many biological collections and research notes have their origins in locations in and around the Preserve, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Breeding Bird Survey, an important collaborative effort to record the distribution of bird species across the state.
Despite its importance, the land where Ashton Biological Preserve now sits had been overgrown and untouched for over 25 years before Ray and Patricia Ashton acquired it. They understood how special the area is and set out to protect it for the future.
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 sandhill habitat has declined in Florida by about 88% since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. In addition to uplands, the Preserve’s low areas contain wetlands and sinkholes. The Floridian aquifer runs beneath the Brooksville Ridge, creating a variety of springs in the area. Ashton Biological Preserve has permanent and ephemeral water sources on property.
Because so much of it is undisturbed, Ashton Biological Preserve 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). We are also home to mammals such as bobcats (Lynx rufus) and coyotes (Canis latrans).
Caring for the Land
At Ashton, we take great pride in our efforts to be good stewards of the land. In addition to using red lights at night to help nocturnal wildlife, we also grow much of the produce used to feed our tortoises and fertilize it with compose made right on site.
Ashton uses prescribed burns to help manage the Preserve’s wildlands. Like virtually all savannah or grassland ecosystems, our woods have 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.
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.