About Field Sites
The Disney Wilderness Preserve (DSNY) is a terrestrial NEON site hosted by The Nature Conservancy. The 48.5 km2 (12,000 acre) preserve is situated at the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem in south-central Florida between Polk and Osceola Counties. It is a patchwork of forest, grassland, and wetland communities embedded in a matrix that is increasingly dominated by a fast-growing human population. The site is encompassed within the NEON Southeast Domain that is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The Domain hosts five other NEON field sites: three aquatic and two additional terrestrial sites, located in Florida and Georgia.  
Located in a sub-tropical climate, the Disney Wilderness Preserve periodically experiences extreme weather including heavy rainfall, flooding, droughts, thunderstorms, lightning, extreme heat/humidity, and tropical weather. Most of this extreme weather happens during the summer rain season from June to September, which overlaps with the Atlantic Hurricane Season that runs from June to November. Daily high temperatures may average between 26°C and 32°C (79-90°F), with afternoon and evening thunderstorms that provide relief from intense heat. The dry-cool season that runs from October to May has more pleasant temperatures with daily highs only reaching 25°C (77°F). Very rarely does the temperature drop below 0°C (32°F); the site is frost free on average 342 days out of the year. The mean annual temperature for this area is 22.5°C (72.5°F) and annual precipitation is about 1216 mm (48 in.) with most of the rainfall occurring during the summer months brought by storms or tropical weather. The site has a low elevation between 13 - 21 m (42 - 69 ft.) above sea level, leaving the area prone to flooding. Florida is annually subjected to tropical storms and hurricanes brought by the warming waters of the Atlantic Ocean in summer with peaking activity in August. These storms often bring other damaging weather events such as precipitation, tornadoes, or storm surges. Lightning is a concern for this state that holds the title of 'lightning capital of the country.' The preserve falls in the lightning belt of Florida, which has the highest number of lightning strikes as well as experiencing more than one hundred days of thunderstorms annually.    
Geological characteristics of the Disney Wilderness Preserve are undifferentiated clay, mud, and beach sand .
The dominant soil type is Smyrna fine sand. These soils are sandy, siliceous, hyperthermic Aeric Alaquods. Major soil series are Immokalee, Hontoon, Smyrna, and Myakka; these are 59% of the area. These soils occur on the following landforms: Flatwoods, low broad flats, slough, drainageways, depressions, and low rises.  
The Disney Wilderness Preserve site is on the Penholoway Marine Terrace. The Marine Terraces show former sea levels and are floored with sand, clay, silt, and shells. They are bounded along their inner margin by shoreline features (e.g., relict beach ridges, swales, inner lagoons, seaward facing wave-cut scraps or sea cliffs, and offshore and bay bars). It is located on the Kissimmee Watershed.  
The Southeast Domain is a patchwork of forest, grassland, and wetland communities. Dominant vegetation types within the Disney Wilderness Preserve include Pine Flatwoods, Southern Coastal Plain Non-riverine Cypress Dome and Florida Dry Prairie. The Disney site is composed of short gasses interspersed with pine saplings. The dominant perennial grass at the site is wiregrass (Aristida stricta Michx.), along with numerous other species of perennial grasses including Andropogon sp., Bottlebrush threeawn (Aristida spiciformis), and Broom sedge (Andropogon spiciformis). 
Animals native to the Southeast region include black bear (Ursus americanus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), bobcat (Lynx rufus), and numerous species of small mammals. The Disney Wilderness is host to numerous species of wildlife such as the southeastern big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii), Sherman’s fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani), and threatened species including the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) and the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Even the elusive Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) has been documented on site. The site is home to over 80 species of reptiles and amphibians and 200 species of birds including the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), wood stork (Mycteria americana), and sand hill crane (Grus canadensis). The preserve also has a population of Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) which are endemic to the state of Florida. NEON provides data on five types of wildlife: small mammals, birds, mosquitoes, ticks, and ground beetles.   
Past Land Management and Use
The Disney Wilderness Preserve was previously known as the Walker Ranch. The site had been heavily logged and used as ranchland for decades. In the past, most of the area was used as improved pasture and rangeland for cattle. In the early 1990s, the ranch was slated for residential and commercial development. The Walt Disney Company purchased the 8,500-acre cattle ranch to mitigate its expansion. The company then transferred the property to The Nature Conservancy to create a nature preserve dedicated to wetland areas for restoration and protection. In 1995, an addition 3000 acres was added by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority to mitigate expansion for the Orlando Airport. The 11,500-acre preserve is now a conservation site used for research and site restoration by The Nature Conservancy.    
Current Land Management and Use
The Disney Wilderness preserve is shaped by fire and has a relatively open structure. It is largely managed with prescribed burns at a frequency of 3-4 years. Other management activities on site include removal of non-native invasive plants and grasses as well as the removal of agricultural ditches. The preserve is surrounded by water boundaries, Lake Russell to the north and Reedy Creek on the east. Lake Hatchineha is located to the southwest; an important bird area called The Lake Wales Ridge is found across the lake. To the west are private lands that are sought for public acquisition.  
NEON Site Establishment
Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) plots were allocated at Disney Wilderness Preserve according to a spatially balanced and stratified-random design. The 2006 National Land Cover Database (NLCD) was selected for stratification because of the consistent and comparable data availability across the United States. TOS Tower Plots were allocated according to a spatially balanced design in and around the NEON tower airshed. NEON plot establishment at DSNY began in 2011 and was completed in 2012. The site transitioned to operations in February 2015. Preliminary data collection of terrestrial sampling and observations began in 2012. Construction of the site’s 6-meter, 4 level instrumentation tower was completed in August 2014, and the tower came online and began streaming data in October 2014.  
 Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 03. NEON.DOC.003887vB
 U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, Mineral Resources Data System: U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia. Retrieved from https://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/
 Prink, Craig. (2018). NEON Site-Level Plot Summary, Delta Junction, Alaska (DEJU), March 2018. Retrieved from https://data.neonscience.org/documents/10179/2361410/DSNY_Soil_SiteSumm…
 Terrestrial Instrument System (TIS, FIU) Site Characterization Supporting Data: Domain 03. NEON.DOC.011035vD
 https://floridaclimateinstitute.org/docs/climatebook/Ch20-Collins.pdf Weather data: ncdc.noaa.gov https://w2.weather.gov/climate/xmacis.php?wfo=mlb
 PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University. Retrieved from http://prism.oregonstate.edu, created 4 Feb 2004.
Remote sensing surveys of this field site collect lidar, spectrometer and high-resolution RGB camera data.
This site has a flux/meteorological tower that is 8 m (26 ft) tall with four measurement levels. The tower top extends above the vegetation canopy to allow sensors mounted at the top and along the tower to capture the full profile of atmospheric conditions from the top of the vegetation canopy to the ground. The tower collects physical and chemical properties of atmosphere-related processes, such as humidity, wind, and net ecosystem gas exchange. Precipitation data are collected by a tipping bucket at the top of the tower and a series of throughfalls located in the soil array.
Soil Sensor Measurements
This site has five soil plots placed in an array within the airshed of the flux tower. Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) at soil surface, soil heat flux, solar radiation, and throughfall are measured at the soil surface in each soil plot. Soil moisture, soil temperature, and CO2 concentration are measured at multiple depths in each soil plot.
At terrestrial sites, field ecologists observe birds and plants, and sample ground beetles, mosquitoes, small mammals, soil microbes, and ticks. Lab analyses are carried out to provide further data on DNA sequences, pathogens, soils, sediments, and biogeochemistry. Learn more about terrestrial observations or explore this site's data products.
Field Site Data
The Nature Conservancy
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
New research requests may be restricted to limited portions of the preserve - coordination required with preserve management.
NEON Field Operations Office
NEON Field Operations Address
4579 NW 6th Street, Unit B-2
Gainsville, FL 32609
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant Wind Direction
Mean Canopy Height
Dominant NLCD Classes
Pasture/Hay, Woody Wetlands
Average number of green days
Average first greenness increase date
Average peak green date
Average first greenness decrease date
Average minimum greenness date
Number of Tower Levels
USGS Geology Unit
USGS Geology Name
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Sand, clay, and silt. Undifferentiated sediments consisting of siliciclastics, organics and freshwater carbonates.
USGS Geology Age
Pleistocene tp Holocene
Megapit Soil Family
Sandy, siliceous, hyperthermic. Aeric Alaquods.
Other Domain D03 Field Sites
Other Field Sites in FL