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Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve - Wildlife and Plants

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Submerged aquatic vegetation plays an integral role in providing adequate protection and resources for waterfowl, fish and other species within Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve. The two dominant native species of vegetation within the aquatic preserve are strap-leaf sagittaria (Sagittaria kurziana) and eelgrass (Vallisneria americana), also known as tapegrass.
Approximately 600 species have been recorded in and near the aquatic preserve, including several protected species such as the wood stork (Mycteria americana), little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), and the American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis).

A 1942 study found that the the dominant turtle species was the Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis), which primarily feeds on aquatic vegetation such as strap-leaf sagitarria. However, an annual study that has been ongoing since 1990 has found a dramatic shift in turtle populations. Today, the dominant species of turtle is the loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor), which comprises more than 66 percent of the total turtle population. The loggerhead musk turtle is native to Florida, but is believed to have been introduced to the Withlacoochee River basin in the 1950s or 1960s. Meanwhile, larger turtle species such as the Suwannee cooter declined. Other turtles that were collected in the study include peninsula cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis), Florida red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys nelsoni), common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), Florida softshell (Apalone ferox), chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia), snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), and red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). The red-eared slider is not native to Florida, but was imported through the pet trade and has become established through releases.

In recognition of the diversity of bird life that can be seen and/or heard from the aquatic preserve and the adjacent woodlands, the Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve lies within the East Florida section of the Great Florida Birding Trail. The many species that can be found at Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve include bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus), wood duck (Aix sponsa), and anhinga (Anhinga anhinga). Wood ducks are the only cavity-nesting waterfowl species in Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve, which classifies them as a specialist species. Rainbow Springs Aquatic Preserve staff assist Rainbow River Conservation Inc. in installing and maintaining nesting boxes to provide supplemental nesting cavities for this specialist species.

Last Modified:
February 24, 2023 - 3:18pm

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